Thursday, May 17, 2012

Monday, May 7, 2012

The Grammar Joke

Past, present and future met in a bar.

It was Tense!

Everett Update

Dan Everett's been busy of late. He has been involved in a documentary about his beloved Pirahã, and has a new book out. The documentary is called "The Grammar of Happiness" and the book is called "Language The Cultural Tool." Naturally, all this activity is firmly directed against the school of Chomsky and against Pinker's multi-million best-sellers. Everett appears intent intent on publicly discrediting the generativist/minimalist school. 
Trailer for "The Grammar of Happiness"

The debate rages on about whether the Pirahã language has recursion or not (and if it does not, does it really matter), but just to stoke the fires  higher, Everett has published a new book, called "Language The Cultural Tool." Yes, that's right. You would be hard pushed to pick a phrase that more succinctly says "No. Syntax is not autonomous." For years, generativists have been misrepresenting the ideas of Whorf and Sapir, not least in combining them into a mythical Whorf-Sapir hypothesis that simply does not exist. I hope that Everett is able to bring the debate back onto neutral ground and really tackle the question of how our language construes our perception of the world. For all his image as a 'radical' or 'the U.S. dissident', Chomsky's linguistics is deeply ideologically conservative (Chris Knight explains this very well in Weekly Worker 655, 656 and 657). Maintaining that you do not need to analyse language linguistically in order to identify its power structures, or that habitual language use does not blind one to the legitimacy of incumbent power structures, contributes to the obscuring of the ideological role of language.

You can find reviews of the new book from New York Times and The Guardian, among others.

On a separate but related note, I was on DubaiEye's 'Talking of Books' programme on June 9th, where I  championed Everett's earlier popular book "Don't Sleep there are Snakes" (reviewed in an earlier blog). You can hear most of that segment of the show on Grooveshark.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Bring Hope to the Bonobos - Again

The Great Ape Trust desperately needs your help to keep their research and the apes alive. Donate to if you love language, animals or Des Moines, Iowa. Hey, Bill Bryson, I think that must mean you. Anybody have his number?? Join me, Bill Greaves and Peter Gabriel in trying to keep Sue Savage-Rumbaugh's great work going. We do not want another Nim!

More Video links: 
BBC: Super Smart Animals (Great Ape Trust segment starts at time 50:20) 
Oprah Show: Kanzi the talking Ape 
Anderson Cooper (CNN): Anderson as the Easter Bunny (with Kanzi) 
60 Minutes (in Australia): Talk to the Animals
And the latest appeal from Sue & The trust:

Update: I am very happy to report that this year's Target has been achieved. 

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Michael Halliday @ Connecting Paths, Nov.2010

Thanks again to Annabelle Lukin for posting this video to the Vimeo SFL Linguists Group. In this talk, Michael Halliday draws various links from SFL to Sydney Lamb's linguistic theories, including stratificational linguistics, and points out that the differences between their approaches are mostly a result of their different  research areas rather than a difference in their views on language.
Other talks from the same Connecting Paths Symposium are also available from Annabelle's vimeo page, including the talks by Ruqaiya HasanJim Martin and Sydney Lamb. Congratulations to City University of Hong Kong and to Sun Yat-sen University, Guangzhou for hosting such an interesting forum and for making it accessible to the rest of us.