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The Piraha (last vowel nasalized)

A discussion of the peculiarities of languages and the differences between them.

The Piraha (last vowel nasalized)

Postby bnjtokyo » Thu May 10, 2007 5:26 am

The April 16, 2007 New Yorker has an article about the Piraha who live in Brazil. Unfortunately, it is not available on line. (The New Yorker promises that an archieve of old stories and articles is "coming soon," but they won't say when.) The title is "The Interpreter" and the author is John Colapinto.

These people and their language were in the news briefly last year because they are said to have no concept of numbers larger than 2. (3 and above objects are "many" and two groups of many objects are of equivalent size in their minds.) They are of quite some interest in linguistics for what evidence they provide for or against the Woorfian hypothesis. The current article focuses on the evidence they provide for the existence or non-existance of a universal grammar.

An interesting article and well worth reading for on verbivores. Any comments?

Cheers,

BNJTOKYO
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Postby Ferrus » Mon May 28, 2007 1:13 pm

Is this article available online?
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Postby sluggo » Mon May 28, 2007 7:03 pm

Piraha is a common misspelling from sources too lazy to display diacriticals: the spelling is properly Pirahã.
Here's an interesting article from Der Spiegel (shockingly, they have Strunk-and-Whiteicised the plural possessive on the caption).

The language is incredibly spare. The Pirahã use only three pronouns. They hardly use any words associated with time and past tense verb conjugations don't exist. Apparently colors aren't very important to the Pirahãs, either -- they don't describe any of them in their language.

From another article:
Yet despite the simplicity of its grammar, the Piraha language matches other languages in complexity, Everett says. The villagers communicate almost as much by singing, whistling, and humming as they do with spoken words, he reports. Moreover, they convey a rich spectrum of emotions as they speak by systematically varying syllable intonations.

Cool stuff.
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Postby bnjtokyo » Tue May 29, 2007 2:22 am

Dear Ferrus,

Unfortunately, no, the piece is not available (yet) on line. The New Yorker Archive pages say "Coming soon" but they don't say when. In the mean time, you will have to go to the library (a nice place anyway) and read a physical copy.

Dear Sluggo,

I am not sure I have the resources available to add the diacritical marks within this website. That's why I said "last vowel nasalized," which is at least as troublesome as actually using the diacritics if they were available.

And thanks for the links to Der Spiegel.

Cheers,
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Postby sluggo » Tue May 29, 2007 2:40 am

Bitte, BJ!
But you know, if you set your keyboard to "International" setting, you have tildes, umlauts, cedillas, circumflexes and accents at the fingertips anywhere you put text. That's how I've always done it.

(btw just to be clear, my "sources too lazy" referred to publications like my 2nd link above, not to you)
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Postby anders » Wed Aug 01, 2007 8:46 am

For debunking of lots of stupid Pirahã claims, I recommend searching http://itre.cis.upenn.edu/~myl/languagelog/.
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