- Series: Vintage Departures
- Paperback: 320 pages
- Publisher: Vintage; Vintage Departures edition (November 3, 2009)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0307386120
- ISBN-13: 978-0307386120
- Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.7 x 8 inches
- Shipping Weight: 10.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars See all reviews (149 customer reviews)
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #21,139 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Don't Sleep, There Are Snakes: Life and Language in the Amazonian Jungle (Vintage Departures) Vintage Departures Edition
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From Publishers Weekly
SignatureReviewed by Christine KenneallyThe ways language and thought intertwine have long intrigued scientists. Does language shape the way we see the world? Does the world influence the structure of language? Do we think in words? Such lofty questions pondered in many an ivory tower would go unanswered without the mostly anonymous work of field linguists. These scholars venture into isolated communities and wrestle with culture shock, broken tape recorders and dysentery—all to learn an unfamiliar language from the ground up. Their work is painstaking, and no matter how smart or how educated they are, their projects must begin with the most elementary communicative tactics—they point at a rock or a tree or a bird, and whether they are in Australia's Western Desert, the remote islands of Indonesia or the jungles of Brazil, their interlocutor will respond, rock or tree or bird in the native tongue. Dan Everett's life as a field linguist began when he entered a Pirahã village in the Amazonian jungle in December 1977. After being greeted by a happy, chattering crowd, he walked over to a man cooking on a small fire. First, he tapped his own chest and said, Daniel, then he pointed at the animal being cooked on the fire. Káixihí, said the man. Everett pointed at a stick. Xií said the man. Everett dropped the stick and said, I drop the xii. Xií xi bigí kíobíi, his new friend replied, meaning stick it ground falls. Thus began 30 years of dedication to the Pirahã and their native tongue, a mystifying system of sound and rules unrelated to any other language in the world. In this fascinating and candid account of life with the Pirahã, Everett describes how he learned to speak fluent Pirahã (pausing occasionally to club the snakes that harassed him in his Amazonian office). He also explains his discoveries about the language—findings that have kicked off more than one academic brouhaha. Everett learned that Pirahã does not use what are supposed to be universal aspects of grammar, an observation that runs counter to linguistic dogma about how culture, the brain and language connect. For Everett, Pirahã is evidence that culture plays a crucial and previously unacknowledged role in the creation of language.Everett's life with the Pirahã cost him dearly. He almost lost two family members to malaria, and his first marriage broke down after years of highly productive shared field work. But life in the Amazon taught him a great deal about human nature, too, perhaps more about his own than that of the Pirahã. Everett began his linguistic work as a Christian missionary, but the Pirahã were marvelously impervious to his promise of a life with Jesus. They pointed out that Everett simply had no proof for the supernatural world he described, and in the end he found himself agreeing with them. He left the church, choosing a world that more honestly integrated his goals as a scholar with the world view of his Pirahã friends—one where evidence matters. (Nov. 11)Christine Kenneally is the author of The First Word: The Search for the Origins of Language, a finalist for the L.A. Times Book Prize.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
"Absorbing. . . . Shares its author's best traits: perseverance, insight, humor and humility. Both the Pirahas and their interpreter make splendid company."--The Plain Dealer
"Immensely interesting and deeply moving. . . . One of the best books I have read."—Lucy Dodwell, New Scientist
"In this fascinating and candid account of life with the Pirahã, Everett describes how he learned to speak fluent Pirahã (pausing occasionally to club the snakes that harassed him in his Amazonian "office"). He also explains his discoveries about the language-findings that have kicked off more than one academic brouhaha."--Publishers Weekly, Signature Review
"Rich account of fieldwork among a tribe of hunter-gatherers in Brazil . . . introduce[s] non-specialists to the fascinating ongoing debate about the origin of languages. . . . Everett's experiences and findings fairly explode from these pages and will reverberate in the minds of readers."--Kirkus, starred review
"Dan Everett has written an excellent book. First, it is a very powerful autobiographical account of his stay with the Pirahã in the jungles of the Amazon basin. Second, it is a brilliant piece of ethnographical description of life among the Pirahã. And third, and perhaps most important in the long run, his data and his conclusions about the language of the Pirahã run dead counter to the prevailing orthodoxy in linguistics. If he is right, he will permanently change our conception of human language."
–John Searle, Slusser Professor of Philosophy, University of California, Berkeley
"Dan Everett is the most interesting man I have ever met. This story about his life among the Pirahãs is a fascinating read. His observations and claims about the culture and language of the Pirahãs are astounding. Whether or not all of his hypotheses turn out to be correct, Everett has forced many researchers to reevaluate basic assumptions about the relationship among culture, language and cognition. I strongly recommend the book."
–Edward Gibson, Professor of Cognitive Sciences, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
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Top Customer Reviews
I found the book a fascinating account of a USA born linguist and Christian missionary given an extremely difficult challenge, to decipher an isolated language of an Amazonian jungle people and then translate the New Testament into their language. Which translation, after he had learned their language, turned out to be impossible. Not only were these happy, independent (dangerous if drinking alcohol) people unimpressed with religion, their effect on the author caused him to abandon blind faith in favor of trusting his perceptions and reason.
Dr Everett provides an exciting, astounding account of the Pirahas, their daily lives, and his life living among them with his wife and three children, especially their life-changing effect on him. He also goes into much detail about the difference between his changed views about the relationship between grammar, culture, and human ‘grammar instinct’. I’m not that interested in the fine points of linguistics, but I could see how being aware of such could be valuable in examining other little-known languages and avoiding errors through theory-bias.
For me the anthropological descriptions and information of these unique Piraha, all 300 or so of them, made this a worthwhile read. The difficult linguistics discoveries very interesting, as well as the author’s struggle with his beliefs and the eventual triumph of reason over blind faith. It could have been edited for a smoother read, but that would be nitpicking when I think of what torture the author went through, eg, clouds of mosquitos and other biting insects, ubiquitous 3-inch long cockroaches, tarantulas, snakes, crocodiles, jaguars, 110 degree humid heat, malaria which almost killed his wife and a daughter, dangerous confrontations with Brazilian traders,etc.in this heroic project.
The more I study, the more convinced I am that we humans haven't only accumulated information over the millennia, we've quite literally taught ourselves how to think. Not just what to think, but how to think. Everett's book underscores that conviction for me. Here we have a group of people who intentionally don't want contact with the rest of the world and whose very thinking is so strange to us as to make us wonder whether they might in fact be imports from some other planet. (I, of course, don't mean the "other planets" seriously.) The Piraha don't think like most of the rest of the world thinks, often not even at very low levels.
What can you make of a culture that has no numbers at all and apparently can't learn them? How about a culture with no sense of history and no projections for the future? They have no words for colors or for the simple concepts of "left" and "right." While I certainly wouldn't want to live among them, they apparently are so satisfied with their lives that centuries of attempts to evangelize them have fazed them not in the slightest. The missionary's expectation that something about the Gospel will inevitably resonate with any human heart is thus proven to be unfounded. This fact so discombobulated Everett that he eventually abandoned his own faith.
No, this isn't a novel. In fact, it's not even a simple story. It shouldn't be read that way. And, yes, it can get a little technical toward the end. (Seriously, somebody here had the nerve to say that Everett, who chairs the linguistics department at Illinois State University and who holds a PhD in the subject doesn't know what he's talking about?) But if you're as fascinated as I am by, well, humanness, I think you'll have a hard time putting the book down, too.
This true story should be a Hollywood movie..I kept visualizing a young Tom Hanks.
I'm now a committed fan of Everetts work. I've learned a lot and shifted my view on quite a few aspects of culture, languages, cognition, etc.
And that's an amazing anagram btw, my review title.
Most Recent Customer Reviews
have no business messing with it.