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Chomsky's Error

It's always nice to see Noam Chomsky shown up as a self-important windbag who doesn't know what he's talking about. In this case, his linguistic theories are shown up as flawed by an Amazonian tribe of hunter-gatherers that just refuses to conform to his language models.

The Pirahã language does not have color words or grammatical devices for putting phrases inside other phrases. They do not have fiction or creation myths, and they have a lack of numbers and counting. Despite 200 years of contact, they have steadfastly refused to learn Portuguese or any other outside language. The unifying feature behind all of these characteristics is a cultural restriction against talking about things that extend beyond personal experience. This restriction counters claims of linguists, such as Noam Chomsky, that grammar is genetically driven system with universal features.


I find this truly stupendous.

Comments

the_monkey_king
Aug. 3rd, 2005 12:52 am (UTC)
While I enjoy tweaking Chomsky, the part that impresses me as a writer is the "They do not have fiction or creation myths, and they have a lack of numbers and counting. Despite 200 years of contact, they have steadfastly refused to learn Portuguese or any other outside language."

No creation myths!? No fiction! No numbers! And staunch isolationists. I just gotta respect any culture that's so... Zen. So unconnected to everything I think of as "my daily life."

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