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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: Mundurucu and Piraha counting
Submitter: Daniel Everett
Description: Re: Linguist 15.3085 (http://linguistlist.org/issues/15/15-3085.html)

In his report on his Science article on Mundurucu counting, Pierre Pica
makes the strange comment that the research on Mundurucu ''...casts doubt
on Dan Everett's proposal that culture is the determining factor in
language design and
more precisely in the availability of words for counting.''

This is strange for a couple of reasons. First, he has done no research at
all on Piraha. If it is thought that because the Mundurucu people live near
the Piraha that the Mundurucu results can be extended to Piraha, this is
like saying that V to C movement in German undermines claims that there is
no such movement in French, say. After all, German is spoken in the same
region, is it not?

It is also strange because Piraha has NO number words at all, period,
whereas Mundurucu does have number words and a system of tallying (which
Piraha also lacks).

Finally it is strange because I never claim that 'culture is the
determining factor in language design'. The reason I do not claim that is
because I do not believe that there is a 'determining factor' in language
design. There are many and their interaction in subtle and important ways
is what we need to be researching.

Pica cites the work in Science by Gelman and Gallistel. After reading that
article, I think it makes a good deal of sense and see nothing in it or its
suggestions that contradict my own research (still only available on the
web, via my website below).

Again: the fact that your research shows that an analysis in Language A is
different from an analysis in Language B cannot be taken to have 'cast
doubt on' the analysis of Language B, especially when the only connection
between them is that they are 'only' separated by about 1000 miles of
Amazon rain forest.

Daniel L. Everett
Professor of Phonetics & Phonology
Linguistics and English Language
University of Manchester
Manchester M13 9PL UK
Date Posted: 03-Nov-2004
Linguistic Field(s): Language Documentation
Cognitive Science
LL Issue: 15.3096
Posted: 03-Nov-2004

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