On Everett & Piraha: "history holds the key"

Lise Menn Lise.Menn at Colorado.EDU
Tue Apr 24 16:33:15 UTC 2007

Indeed, Sapir's 1921 very accessible book 'Language' devotes a full  
chapter (Chapter 10, Language, Race, and Culture) to the independence  
of language and culture. The description of the chapter in the first  
edition reads:

Native tendency to consider linguistic, racial, and cultural  
groupings as congruent.
Race and language need not correspond.
Cultural and linguistic boundaries not identical.
Coincidences between linguistic cleavages and those of language [sic]  
and culture due to historical, not intrinsic psychological, causes.
Language does not in any deep sense "reflect" culture.

Don't forget that this was written at a time when nationalistic  
invocations of the 'spirit of the folk' and its embodiment in  
language had been going on for some decades in Europe, culminating,  
of course, in the pseudo-scholarly ditherings that supported national  
socialism, and that are probably still to be found among apologists  
for 'ethnic cleansing'.

On Apr 23, 2007, at 9:03 PM, David B. Kronenfeld wrote:

> Yeah, I never thought of Sapir as that extreme a relativist either,  
> even though he sometimes was spoken of as such--especially when  
> linked with a popular reading of Whorf.
>                         David
> At 04:53 PM 4/23/2007, Daniel L. Everett wrote:
>> I won't comment on the first choice. On the second, I doubt if anyone
>> would disagree with you either. But I don't think that Sapir himself
>> was an extreme relativist. I don't know anyone who is in fact. Martin
>> Joos maybe was.
>> D
>> On Apr 23, 2007, at 6:36 PM, Tom Givon wrote:
>>> Of course, if I had to choose between Chomsky and Pike as to which
>>> one was more arrogant, insulated and selef-centered, I'm not sure I
>>> could make a principled decision; maybe flip a coin? Not quite in
>>> the same vein, if I were forced to choose between Chomskian extreme
>>> universalism/innatism and Sapirian extreme relativism/inputism, I
>>> would consider it a bad intellectual choice. I'd bet on somewhere
>>> mid-way between the two; sort of like nature-nurthure or chicken-  
>>> egg. Cheers,  TG
>>> ============
>> snip snip

Lise Menn                      Office: 303-492-1609
Linguistics Dept.           Fax: 303-413-0017
295 UCB                         Hellems 293
University of Colorado
Boulder CO 80309-0295

Professor of Linguistics, University of  Colorado
Secretary, AAAS Section Z [Linguistics]

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