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Desc:Language that challenges current Chomskyan beliefs of universal grammar.
Category:Educational, Science & Technology
Tags:Language, linguistics, amazon, Dan Everett
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Comment count is 31
AgentOrange - 2008-07-30
Thanks to GatoMalodoro for finding the video.
AgentOrange - 2008-07-31
Great article about it here, http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2007/04/16/070416fa_fact_colapi nto.

Thanks to jxl for the article.

baleen - 2008-07-30

There aren't many internet sites where people word clips with things like "challenges current Chomskya beliefs in universal grammar." That is why I care.
dueserpenti - 2008-07-30
Fascinating, but I still think these people are putting him on.
Aelric - 2008-07-30
Well, I can see it as a theory against UG, but hardly proof. Also, what if this tribe is just stupid?
CornOnTheCabre - 2008-07-30
well, they ARE living in a tribe, and not driving yachts or running hedge funds, so OBVIOUSLY they are total idiots.

hooray for ethnocentrism

Aelric - 2008-07-30
christ, i can never make a joke anymore without someone getting all huffy

baleen - 2008-07-30

don't say christ. huffy what do you mean by that.

ChocFullOfFunk - 2008-07-31
this is no place for jokes. these are people's lives.

heyitslozeau - 2008-07-30
interesting, but could this study have been conducted a bit more condescendingly?
futurebot - 2008-07-30
The counterpoint deserves to be made every time this comes up: it doesn't challenge UG. It challenges some theories of and elaborations on UG, but it does not challenge UG. A science of linguistics without some kind of UG is inconceivable.
Helena Handbasket - 2008-07-30
After getting to hear this and see the test he's doing I really want to know more. The example of "Koxoi's child's dog" just strikes me as an example of how ownership is preceievd not neccessarily a specifiic challenge to Chomsky's theory. I mean, it could make perfect sense logically to the man that if Koxoi's child has a dog the dog is Koxoi's by extension... maybe?

Also, that guy was totally smirking.

Twitch - 2008-07-30
You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.

ChocFullOfFunk - 2008-07-31
A science of linguistics without UG is, in fact, very conceivable. Linguistics is the study of formal languages. So I write a generative grammar that allows those (and only those) statements that a native speaker will tell you are grammatical. Cool. That says nothing about UG, which is, at its core, Chomsky's tenet that all humans share some sort of roughly identical linguistic facility that manifests itself in different languages, making them all similar. So, the idea is, what sorts of things do all languages share? If there is a universal grammar, all languages will exhibit it. The strongest candidate is what this video calls recursion (if any of you have studied computability, "recursive languages" there are very different from "recursive" languages here). This is a distinct counterexample to recursion as one of the properties of this so-called Universal Grammar; these people are pretty clearly speaking a language. So we're back to step one, it seems.

ChocFullOfFunk - 2008-07-31
That is not to say that this evidence precludes the existence of UG, but we can't just say "a universal grammar" clearly exists without rigorously defining what it consists in (linguistics is, after all, about giving a concept a rigorous symbolic formulation). This is just saying that it really seems like recursive languages (actually, again, for you computability theorists, what they mean here by "recursive language" is no more than "context-free languge", which is a very unfortunate terminological confusion). And, without recursive embedding of clauses, we're really hard-pressed to define this so-called UG.

(sorry to ramble, but Natural Language is one of the relatively few things around that I'm really passionate about -- if you guys wanna talk about it further I'd be very happy to.)

Oh! Back to the first point -- you don't need UG for linguistics. A completely coherent and comprehensive theory of a given language in no way depends upon the existence of a universal grammar; they're completely different concepts.

(Also, did any of you read about those canaries who embedded things recursively in their songs? What happened to that?)

Camonk - 2008-07-31
Man in about three years, when I've finished my PhD, I'm comin' back to TOTALLY discuss the SHIT out of this.

ChocFullOfFunk - 2008-07-31
Man, you ain't need no damn PhD. I ain't got no damn PhD. 'The hell you need a damn PhD for before you got opinions on things, man? Hell.

JackDenials - 2008-07-30
As a native Spanish speaker and an old interpreter for America's major over-the-phone interpretation company, I can tell you that Hispanics with poor educational background speak like a "cadavre exquis": they have a general idea about what they want to say and they just start saying words about it randomly, like they're pulling them out of a hat. Spanish does stick to the UG rules, but some people -not just Hispanics but human beings in general- simply speak like that because it sounds just about sufficiently clear and economic to them: they think the point gets across, message's prestige be damned. I know that's probably not what happens with Paraha, I'm that just goes to show what a slippery bitch language is.
jangbones - 2008-07-30
I like this video.

Also, I want to fuck Sandrine and make her lisp-scream my name.
Knuckles - 2008-07-30
This is Jangbones. This is Sandrine.

Jangbones fucked Sandrine. Sandrine lisp-screamed Jangbone's name. When did Sandrine lisp-scream and whose name did she lisp-scream?

Rodents of Unusual Size - 2008-07-31
I love you.

Knuckles - 2008-07-30
I'd like to see Noam Chomsky talk about this instead of his opinions on porn.
Xenocide - 2008-08-01
I'd like to see him combine both subjects into an ultimate megatheory which will destroy people's minds.

boner - 2008-07-30
Are these the people who killed Klaus Kinski?
hornung - 2008-07-30
i want to call them paraha the rappas,
but the word sounds more like peter pan.

even our language is fucked.
Spike Jonez - 2008-07-31
Take that, Chomsky!
kingarthur - 2008-07-31
The comments from jangbones on down to here made me love this site all over again.
ChocFullOfFunk - 2008-08-01
(also, it's usually spelled Pirahã)
1394 - 2008-11-29
Suck it, Chomsky.
Goethe and ernie - 2008-12-09
This language doesn't challenge any Chomskyan notions. Everett's a fucking fraud, and a transparent one at that. His argument for Piraha being unique is basically "because it is, now if you want proof go talk to them yourself". If his assertions were true, that would be like me accidentally outdoing Einstein whilst tinkering around in the shed.
Goethe and ernie - 2008-12-09
I recommend you all give his book a sniff, by the way, if only to see what a bullshitter he is. He talks about how the Piraha barely make anything because they have no concept of needing/owning any sort of material possessions, but later talks about them buying and keeping tools and clothes; he claims to be the first non-Piraha to learn Piraha, but talks about their contact with traders from other cultures; he talks about the purity of their culture and the way they've avoided all the problems associated with modern culture, but he talks about them having had serious problems with alcohol... His claims about the language are spurious at best, too. Apparently, Piraha has no future tense at all, and no way of referring to events outside of the speaker's memory. He doesn't do a very good job of backing it up, and he says he's not going produce or publish any sort of grammar of Piraha, and that if anybody else wants to, they're welcome. He's a huge huge shit-talker. Also, ChocFullOfFunk is now my hero because linguistics is sexy.

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