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2011-06-08 21:01:44
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Don't Sleep There Are Snakes - Daniel L. Everett review


Funded by the SIL, missionary Daniel Everett goes to the Amazon to convert the Pirahã people to Christianity. He is to learn the Pirahã language well enough to translate the bible.
Very early on you discover that he eventually lost his faith in God and fell entirely into his love for linguistics; as you read his notes on language and culture you understand how much that change was suited to him.

The linguistic ideas and explanations of existing linguistic theories are explained in a way that even I, with limited to no previous knowledge of linguistics, was able to understand. His concepts and viewpoints on linguistics should be exciting to those that already know much of the basics he explains. Those interested in anthropology should also enjoy this book, and the idea that linguistics and anthropology and closely linked should interest everyone.

The greatest lesson for me in this book was that in order to truly learn a language one must understand the culture behind it. This has helped me so much in my learning German, and I would think it would help with any language in the way he explains it.

The Pirahãs refuse most tools and almost all knowledge from other cultures, learning only a few words of Portuguese in order to trade. Their language is unique, and relates strongly to the river they live on and their life in the jungle. They had no numerical system and no colour names, only descriptions.

Every part of life with the Pirahãs, and life in the Amazon is described in such a magical way that it's hard to feel for the darker parts of the book - but this I goes perfectly with the way of the Pirahãs themselves: never worrying (they don't even have words for war or worry!), living peaceful and almost always smiling despite (or perhaps because of) having no personal possessions.
/ [Karithina]

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