Monday, May 7, 2012

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.

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