The Power of Speech – Living in the Amazon

“When Daniel Everett first went to live with the Amazonian Pirahã tribe in the late 70s, his intention was to convert them to Christianity. Instead, he learned to speak their unique language – and ended up rejecting his faith, losing his family and picking a fight with Noam Chomsky. Patrick Barkham meets him

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Daniel Everett looks and talks very much like the middle-aged American academic he is – until he drops a strange word into the conversation. An exceptionally melodic noise tumbles from his mouth. It doesn’t sound like speaking at all. Apart from his ex-wife and two ageing missionaries, Everett is the only person in the world beyond the sweeping banks of the Maici river in the Amazon basin who can speak Pirahã.

Just 350 Pirahã (pronounced Pee-da-HAN) hunt and gather from their simple homes in the Brazilian rainforest. Linguists believe their language is unrelated to any other; racist Brazilian traders say the Pirahã talk like chickens. This obscure Amazonian people speak using only three vowels and eight consonants (including the glottal stop) but their language is far from simple. Like Chinese, for example, Pirahã is tonal and speaking in a different pitch transforms the meaning of a word. Unlike other tonal languages, Pirahã can also be hummed and sung.”

The rest of the in-depth article can be found on The Guardian UK

Daniel’s book relating his experiences in the Amazon can be found on Amazon.com (of course), and a 17-minute interview with him is also on BBC Radio (not sure if it will be there forever).

Special thanks to Céline at Naked Translations where I found these links.

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