On Everett & Piraha: "history holds the key"

Daniel L. Everett dlevere at ilstu.edu
Mon Apr 23 15:18:22 UTC 2007

I happily accept Esa's admonishment and judgements.


On Apr 23, 2007, at 9:14 AM, Esa Itkonen wrote:

> 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.
> Esa
> 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."

Daniel L. Everett, Professor of Linguistics, Anthropology, and  
Biological Sciences

Department of Languages, Literatures, and Cultures
Campus Box 4300
Illinois State University
Normal, Illinois 61790-4300
OFFICE: 309-438-3604
FAX: 309-438-8038

Dept: http://www.llc.ilstu.edu/default.asp
Recursion: http://www.llc.ilstu.edu/rechul/
Personal: http://www.llc.ilstu.edu/dlevere/

Honorary Professor of Linguistics
University of Manchester
Manchester, UK
β€œThe notion that the essence of what it means to be human is most  
clearly revealed in those features of human culture that are  
universal rather than in those that are distinctive to this people or  
that is a prejudice that we are not obliged to share... It may be in  
the cultural particularities of people β€” in their oddities β€” that  
some of the most instructive revelations of what it is to be  
generically human are to be found.” Clifford Geertz (1926-2006)

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