On Everett & Piraha: "history holds the key"

Daniel L. Everett dlevere at ilstu.edu
Tue Apr 24 17:58:19 UTC 2007

Yes, that is a very important chapter and, as usual, Sapir  
illustrates his care as a linguist in writing it.

It is difficult to find a more balanced approach to language in the  
history of American linguistics than Sapir. One that combines  
function, form, culture, society, etc. so well.


On Apr 24, 2007, at 11:33 AM, Lise Menn wrote:

> 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]

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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