Pirahã: the world’s most controversial language

It’s probably true to say that Pirahã is the most controversial language in the world owing to Daniel Everett arguing that the language doesn’t have recursion, as Chomsky’s ‘universal’ language theory predicts, and doesn’t have fixed words for numbers or colours.

New Scientist has just put a video online that is a superbrief introduction to Everett’s theory, but best of all, we get to hear the language spoken.

Everett is also interviewed in this week’s issue of the science magazine, but it’s behind a pay wall, so I’d just read it in the newsagent.

However, if you want more detail over the controversy, it’s been well covered in other places.

Edge had an article by Everett that put his case forward, NPR had a radio show on the debate, and The New Yorker has some wonderfully in-depth coverage of the issue.

Link to brief video of Everett at work.

3 thoughts on “Pirahã: the world’s most controversial language”

  1. There was a cool symposium at teh AAAS annual meeting about the Pirah√£ and kids who are deaf but make up their own signing language that doesn’t include math. Neither group has a handle on identifying groups of things as being larger or smaller as well as being terrible on sequences of numbers. Drop me a note if you want the references.

  2. There was a cool symposium at teh AAAS annual meeting about the Pirah√£ and kids who are deaf but make up their own signing language that doesn’t include math. Neither group has a handle on identifying groups of things as being larger or smaller as well as being terrible on sequences of numbers. Drop me a note if you want the references.

  3. Bob, do you mean that the kids don’t have a grasp on what is larger or smaller? Isn’t it true that the Piraha have a sense of what is larger and smaller (how could they not?), but just not after three or four items? Their conceptualization of numerosity may not operate on a fixed plane, such as ours. They have impeccable sense of geographic direction, as opposed to body-specific direction sense, like is dominant in our culture. Do you think this somehow plays a role in how they view the numerosity of objects in their environment?

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