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LINGUIST List 16.2326

Thu Aug 04 2005

TOC: Current Anthropology 46/4 (2005)

Editor for this issue: Maria Moreno-Rollins <marialinguistlist.org>

        1.    Benjamin S. Orlove, Current Anthropology Vol. 46, No. 4 (2005)

Message 1: Current Anthropology Vol. 46, No. 4 (2005)
Date: 03-Aug-2005
From: Benjamin S. Orlove <curranthucdavis.edu>
Subject: Current Anthropology Vol. 46, No. 4 (2005)

Publisher: University of Chicago Press

Journal Title: Current Anthropology
Volume Number: 46
Issue Number: 4
Issue Date: August/October 2005

Main Text:

Areas of Inquiry: Amazonia

Two new studies of Amazonian languages challenge linguistic theories

Cultural Constraints on Grammar and Cognition in Pirahã: Another Look at the
Design Features of Human Language, by Dan Everett

New research by Dan Everett (University of Manchester) into the language of the
Pirahã people of Amazonas, Brazil disputes two prominent linguistic ideas
regarding grammar and translation. The Pirahã are intelligent, highly skilled
hunters and fishers who speak a language remarkable for the complexity of its
verb and sound systems. Yet, the Pirahã language and culture has several
features that not known to exist in any other in the world and lacks features
that have been assumed to be found in all human groups. The language does not
have color words or grammatical devices for putting phrases inside other
phrases. They do not have fiction or creation myths, and they have a lack of
numbers and counting. Despite 200 years of contact, they have steadfastly
refused to learn Portuguese or any other outside language. The unifying feature
behind all of these characteristics is a cultural restriction against talking
about things that extend beyond personal experience. This restriction counters
claims of linguists, such as Noam Chomsky, that grammar is genetically driven
system with universal features. Despite the absence of these allegedly universal
features, the Pirahã communicate effectively with one another and coordinate
simple tasks. Moreover, Pirahã suggests that it is not always possible to
translate from one language to another.

Ethnogeneis, Regional Integration, and Ecology in Prehistoric Amazonia: Toward a
System Perspective, by Alf Hornborg

In addition, Alf Hornborg's (Lund University) research into the Arawak language
family counters the common interpretation that the geographical distribution of
languages in Amazonia reflects the past migrations of the inhabitants. At the
time of Christopher Columbus, the Arawak language family ranged from Cuba to
Bolivia. Yet, geneticists have been unable to find significant correlations
between genes and languages in the Amazonia. Moreover, Arawakan languages spoken
in different areas show more similarities to their non-Arawakan neighbors than
to each other, suggesting that they may derive from an early trade language. As
well, Arawak languages are distributed along major rivers and coastlines that
served as trade routes, and Arawak societies were dedicated to trade and
intermarriage with other groups. But, the dispersed network of Arawak-speaking
societies may have caused ethnic wedges between other, more consolidated
language families with which they would have engaged in trade and warfare.
Finally, there is increased evidence that language shifts were common
occurrences among the peoples of Amazonia and were used as a way to signal a
change in identity, particularly when entering into alliances, rather than
migratory movement.

Linguistic Field(s): Anthropological Linguistics

Subject Language(s): Múra-pirahã (MYP)

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