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"Buenos dias", "buenas noches" -- this was the first words in a foreign language I heard in my life, as a three-year old boy growing up in developing post-war Western Germany, where the first gastarbeiters had arrived from Spain. Fascinated by the strange sounds, I tried to get to know some more languages, the only opportunity being TV courses of English and French -- there was no foreign language education for pre-teen school children in Germany yet in those days. Read more

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Discussion Details

Title: Discussion on Piraha
Submitter: Daniel Everett
Description: Ian Goddard's posting on Piraha generics does show that the Immediacy of
Experience Principle that I proposed in Everett (2005) did not carefully
distinguish between generics and universal quantification, which even in a
25,000 page article, I didn't have time to do.

Generics are something that all languages need. Human evolution has
equipped us to discuss events and entities, perhaps the most salient facts
about our environment that we must distinguish to survive. Communication
requires them and so does evolution. So we do not expect any culture to get
by without them. But Universal Quantification, on the other hand, is not
required and imposes the idea of exceptionless abstraction beyond
experience, far stronger than generics. So it is missing.

The Pirahas, like many other societies, constrain their discourse in
various ways, including the IEP. Evolution and the nature of communication
impose other constraints. Sorting out the different cultural,
communicational (in this general sense), and biological constraints on
language (for which there is little if any evidence that the biology
includes specifically linguistic constraints) is part of a research program
that needs to be developed further.

A number of items related to these issues will be discussed in a special
issue of The Linguistic Review, still in planning, dedicated to recursion
in human language.

Dan Everett
Date Posted: 07-May-2007
Linguistic Field(s): Anthropological Linguistics
LL Issue: 18.1379
Posted: 07-May-2007

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