Don't Sleep, There Are Snakes: Life and Language in the Amazonian Jungle

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A riveting account of the astonishing experiences and discoveries made by linguist Daniel Everett while he lived with the Pirahã, a small tribe of Amazonian Indians in central Brazil. Daniel Everett arrived among the Pirahã with his wife and three young children hoping to convert the tribe to Christianity. Everett quickly became obsessed with their language and its cultural and linguistic implications. The Pirahã have no counting system, no fixed terms for color, no concept of war, and no personal property. Everett was so impressed with their peaceful way of life that he eventually lost faith in the God he'd hoped to introduce to them, and instead devoted his life to the science of linguistics. Part passionate memoir, part scientific exploration, Everett's life-changing tale is riveting look into the nature of language, thought, and life itself.


From the Trade Paperback edition.
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A bold and provocative study that presents language not as an innate component of the brain—as most linguists do—but as an essential tool unique to each culture worldwide.
 
For years, the prevailing opinion among academics has been that language is embedded in our genes, existing as an innate and instinctual part of us. But linguist Daniel Everett argues that, like other tools, language was invented by humans and can be reinvented or lost. He shows how the evolution of different language forms—that is, different grammar—reflects how language is influenced by human societies and experiences, and how it expresses their great variety.
 
For example, the Amazonian Pirahã put words together in ways that violate our long-held under-standing of how language works, and Pirahã grammar expresses complex ideas very differently than English grammar does. Drawing on the Wari’ language of Brazil, Everett explains that speakers of all languages, in constructing their stories, omit things that all members of the culture understand. In addition, Everett discusses how some cultures can get by without words for numbers or counting, without verbs for “to say” or “to give,” illustrating how the very nature of what’s important in a language is culturally determined.
 
Combining anthropology, primatology, computer science, philosophy, linguistics, psychology, and his own pioneering—and adventurous—research with the Amazonian Pirahã, and using insights from many different languages and cultures, Everett gives us an unprecedented elucidation of this society-defined nature of language. In doing so, he also gives us a new understanding of how we think and who we are.
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Additional Information

Publisher
Vintage
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Published on
Nov 11, 2008
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Pages
304
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ISBN
9780307377791
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Language
English
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Genres
Language Arts & Disciplines / Linguistics / General
Philosophy / Language
Social Science / Anthropology / General
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Content Protection
This content is DRM protected.
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Eligible for Family Library

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A bold and provocative study that presents language not as an innate component of the brain—as most linguists do—but as an essential tool unique to each culture worldwide.
 
For years, the prevailing opinion among academics has been that language is embedded in our genes, existing as an innate and instinctual part of us. But linguist Daniel Everett argues that, like other tools, language was invented by humans and can be reinvented or lost. He shows how the evolution of different language forms—that is, different grammar—reflects how language is influenced by human societies and experiences, and how it expresses their great variety.
 
For example, the Amazonian Pirahã put words together in ways that violate our long-held under-standing of how language works, and Pirahã grammar expresses complex ideas very differently than English grammar does. Drawing on the Wari’ language of Brazil, Everett explains that speakers of all languages, in constructing their stories, omit things that all members of the culture understand. In addition, Everett discusses how some cultures can get by without words for numbers or counting, without verbs for “to say” or “to give,” illustrating how the very nature of what’s important in a language is culturally determined.
 
Combining anthropology, primatology, computer science, philosophy, linguistics, psychology, and his own pioneering—and adventurous—research with the Amazonian Pirahã, and using insights from many different languages and cultures, Everett gives us an unprecedented elucidation of this society-defined nature of language. In doing so, he also gives us a new understanding of how we think and who we are.
Is it in our nature to be altruistic, or evil, to make art, use tools, or create language? Is it in our nature to think in any particular way? For Daniel L. Everett, the answer is a resounding no: it isn’t in our nature to do any of these things because human nature does not exist—at least not as we usually think of it. Flying in the face of major trends in Evolutionary Psychology and related fields, he offers a provocative and compelling argument in this book that the only thing humans are hardwired for is freedom: freedom from evolutionary instinct and freedom to adapt to a variety of environmental and cultural contexts.

Everett sketches a blank-slate picture of human cognition that focuses not on what is in the mind but, rather, what the mind is in—namely, culture. He draws on years of field research among the Amazonian people of the Pirahã in order to carefully scrutinize various theories of cognitive instinct, including Noam Chomsky’s foundational concept of universal grammar, Freud’s notions of unconscious forces, Adolf Bastian’s psychic unity of mankind, and works on massive modularity by evolutionary psychologists such as Leda Cosmides, John Tooby, Jerry Fodor, and Steven Pinker. Illuminating unique characteristics of the Pirahã language, he demonstrates just how differently various cultures can make us think and how vital culture is to our cognitive flexibility. Outlining the ways culture and individual psychology operate symbiotically, he posits a Buddhist-like conception of the cultural self as a set of experiences united by various apperceptions, episodic memories, ranked values, knowledge structures, and social roles—and not, in any shape or form, biological instinct.

The result is fascinating portrait of the “dark matter of the mind,” one that shows that our greatest evolutionary adaptation is adaptability itself.
Popular assumptions about gender and communication - famously summed up in the title of the massively influential 1992 bestseller Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus - can have unforeseen but far-reaching consequences in many spheres of life, from attitudes to the phenomenon of 'date-rape' to expectations of achievement at school, and potential discrimination in the work-place. In this wide-ranging and thoroughly readable book, Deborah Cameron, Rupert Murdoch Professor of Language and Communication at Oxford University and author of a number of leading texts in the field of language and gender studies, draws on over 30 years of scientific research to explain what we really know and to demonstrate how this is often very different from the accounts we are familiar with from recent popular writing. Ambitious in scope and exceptionally accessible, The Myth of Mars and Venus tells it like it is: widely accepted attitudes from the past and from other cultures are at heart related to assumptions about language and the place of men and women in society; and there is as much similarity and variation within each gender as between men and women, often associated with social roles and relationships. The author goes on to consider the influence of Darwinian theories of natural selection and the notion that girls and boys are socialized during childhood into different ways of using language, before addressing problems of 'miscommunication' surrounding, for example, sex and consent to sex, and women's relative lack of success in work and politics. Arguing that what linguistic differences there are between men and women are driven by the need to construct and project personal meaning and identity, Cameron concludes that we have an urgent need to think about gender in more complex ways than the prevailing myths and stereotypes allow. A compelling and insightful read for anyone with an interest in communication, language, and the sexes.
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