Start A Petition

Angry Words -- Noam Chomsky Fights Ideas From Daniel Everett

Science & Tech  (tags: discovery, environment, history, humans, habitat, investigation, language and linguistics, research, scientists, society )

- 2207 days ago -
A Christian missionary sets out to convert a remote Amazonian tribe. He lives with them for years in primitive conditions, learns their extremely difficult language, risks his life battling malaria, giant anacondas, and sometimes the tribe itself.

Select names from your address book   |   Help

We hate spam. We do not sell or share the email addresses you provide.


Kit B (276)
Sunday June 3, 2012, 10:33 am
Illustration by Steve Brodner for The Chronicle Review

A Christian missionary sets out to convert a remote Amazonian tribe. He lives with them for years in primitive conditions, learns their extremely difficult language, risks his life battling malaria, giant anacondas, and sometimes the tribe itself. In a plot twist, instead of converting them he loses his faith, morphing from an evangelist trying to translate the Bible into an academic determined to understand the people he's come to respect and love.

Along the way, the former missionary discovers that the language these people speak doesn't follow one of the fundamental tenets of linguistics, a finding that would seem to turn the field on its head, undermine basic assumptions about how children learn to communicate, and dethrone the discipline's long-reigning king, who also happens to be among the most well-known and influential intellectuals of the 20th century.

It feels like a movie, and it may in fact turn into one—there's a script and producers on board. It's already a documentary that will air in May on the Smithsonian Channel. A play is in the works in London. And the man who lived the story, Daniel Everett, has written two books about it. His 2008 memoir Don't Sleep, There Are Snakes, is filled with Joseph Conrad-esque drama. The new book, Language: The Cultural Tool, which is lighter on jungle anecdotes, instead takes square aim at Noam Chomsky, who has remained the preeminent figure in linguistics since the 1960s, thanks to the brilliance of his ideas and the force of his personality.

But before any Hollywood premiere, it's worth asking whether Everett actually has it right. Answering that question is not straightforward, in part because it hinges on a bit of grammar that no one except linguists ever thinks about. It's also made tricky by the fact that Everett is the foremost expert on this language, called Pirahã, and one of only a handful of outsiders who can speak it, making it tough for others to weigh in and leading his critics to wonder aloud if he has somehow rigged the results.
By Tom Bartlett for The Chronicle Review.

The full article available in 2 pages at Visit Site. This is but one of many articles on the "debate" between the very powerful Chomsky and far less influential Everett. I find Everett's work fascinating and more then credible, with Chomsky using his educational and political power the tribe that Everett knew and wrote about will soon not exist as it was.

Sheryl G (360)
Sunday June 3, 2012, 12:31 pm
I'm glad he feels he learned something from these people. Everyone in the so called civilized world thinks of the people as primitive. I do wish people would start to realize that you do these people no benefit by trying to change them and the ways that have worked for them for many years. They are free in ways that us serfs are no longer, why make them join the rat race.

Freya H (357)
Sunday June 3, 2012, 1:22 pm
When that Christian missionary dies, I hope he ends up in the very pit of hell that he prepared for all those who refused to kiss his @$$.

Being butt-raped by fiery elephants wearing condoms of red-hot razor wire.

Right next to his hero, Adolf Hitler.

Nancy C (806)
Sunday June 3, 2012, 1:37 pm
"With that in mind, why should anyone care about the answer? Because it might hold the key to understanding what separates us from the rest of the animals." Everett decided that the Piraha weren't "lost" and didn't need saving.It's difficult to read about the adversity and ostracizing his findings bring to Everett. His enemies, (FUNAI), found a way to keep him from visiting his Piraha friends.Chomsky and his chronies wish to maintain their own legacy (Universal Grammar) with no interruptions.

Kit B (276)
Sunday June 3, 2012, 2:24 pm

Here is a link to the only documentary about Daniel Everett and his struggle to protect the lives of the Piraha people.
The Grammar Of Happiness ~

In really don't understand the comment by Freya, Everett is in no way asking anyone to follow his lead only demonstrating that this is a unique language and a very happy people. Well, they were happy before Chomsky brought them electricity and TV.

Vallee R (280)
Sunday June 3, 2012, 4:55 pm
As an educational therapist I had to study Noam Chomsky - so is is quite interesting to me - so glad he didn't try to change them - hadn't realized that he was a Christian missionary - only new him for his linguistic work.

Kit B (276)
Sunday June 3, 2012, 6:31 pm

Daniel Everett was a Christian missionary when he began this journey, he no longer is, and it is his work with the Piranha Indians that has introduced their language to the world. Noam Chomsky has thrown a childish fit that anyone would challenge his self-righteous authority on the topic of linguistics.

reft h (66)
Monday June 4, 2012, 9:34 pm
thought provoking

Lucy Bell (9)
Tuesday June 5, 2012, 2:10 pm
I have only taken a few psychology classes but have to say that I never felt comfortable with Chomsky's notion of Universal Grammar. As Tom Bartlett writes, it's hard to have a constructive opinion on the matter when one's not a linguist, but to me it makes more sense "that the structure of language doesn't spring from the mind but is instead largely formed by culture". Anyhow, even respected intellectuals such as Noam Chomsky need their theories to be challenged

Diane Piecara (14)
Tuesday June 5, 2012, 5:02 pm

Aurea Aurea Walker (226)
Wednesday June 6, 2012, 11:37 pm
Freya H what a lovely Jesus loving human being you are, I do so thank you for your incredibly graphic detailed torture of what you wish on Mr. Everett is just so Christian. By the way do pray tell what has hitler got to do with anything? Freya, you really must be off your meds or seriously need them along with heavy duty therapy. The best thing you have done at least for me is to stay on course about my opinion on you hate filled Christian WRONG!

The article is truly informative and Chomsky needs a little recursion himself! The irony on the whole, but they omitted one very important fact, that 93% of our understanding is from non verbal communication!


Patricia R (13)
Friday June 8, 2012, 2:50 am

Suzanne L (99)
Friday June 8, 2012, 7:48 am
Studied Chomsky years ago as an anthropology student. I like Aurea W's comment about the importance of non-verbal communication.

John B (185)
Friday June 8, 2012, 12:16 pm
Thanks for posting the The Chronicle Review article by Tom Bartlett. Very lengthy and detailed but interesting read.

Patricia N (9)
Sunday June 10, 2012, 1:18 am
I think there should be a law against all mission work in the world

Kristen H (25)
Friday June 15, 2012, 10:56 am
Every rule has its exception....
Or, log in with your
Facebook account:
Please add your comment: (plain text only please. Allowable HTML: <a>)

Track Comments: Notify me with a personal message when other people comment on this story

Loading Noted By...Please Wait


butterfly credits on the news network

  • credits for vetting a newly submitted story
  • credits for vetting any other story
  • credits for leaving a comment
learn more

Most Active Today in Science & Tech

Content and comments expressed here are the opinions of Care2 users and not necessarily that of or its affiliates.

New to Care2? Start Here.