On Everett & Piraha: "history holds the key"

Esa Itkonen eitkonen at utu.fi
Mon Apr 23 14:14:40 UTC 2007

Dear Friends: On Funknet, in the mid and late 90's, I had some delightful discussions with Dan Everett concerning the relative weaknesses and strengths of generativism. When speaking of my then-forthcoming article 'Concerning the generative paradigm' (Journal of Pragmatics 1996, 471-501) I remember saying, among other things, that "history holds the key" for properly understanding the nature of the current situation. "His brow in deep furrows", Dan responded: "I don't understand." By now, however,  it has become evident that he does understand. As much is evident from the New Yorker article (April 2007) where he declares that, having in the late 90's discovered Edward Sapir, the long-forgotten genius of American linguistics, he now understands that it will take 20 years to for us to get out of the hole that Chomsky has dug. Surely he would have reached this insight earlier if, instead of going directly from SIL to MIT, he had devoted some time to history (of linguistics) whic
h indeed seems to hold the key.


P.S. The point of my 1996 paper (arrived at, literally, on the last page) was anticipated by Dell Hymes & John Fought on p. 242 of their book  American Structuralism (Mouton, 1981 [1975]). In another context (= p. 160) they quote the following perceptive remark: "You can't fight arrogance with humility."

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