On Cultural Constraints on Pirahã Grammar: A Reply
Everett (Daniel)
Source: Current Anthropology, Vol. 47, No. 1 (February 2006), pp. 143-145
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Author’s Introduction

  1. The authors of this comment are courteously critical of my proposal that culture constrains grammar in Pirahã. Their objections are three.
    1. First, since Pirahã obviously shares features with other grammars, then, they reason, since universal grammar is the only source available for such similarities, Pirahã cannot be a problem for universal grammar.
    2. Second, Piraha˜ clearly shows recursion, so how can I claim that it doesn’t have it?
    3. Third, they find my proposal that culture constrains grammar in Pirahã “daring” (a nice euphemism) — in other words, they are far from convinced.
  2. I will answer these in turn. I will also take this opportunity to answer a number of queries on the immediacy-of-experience principle proposed in my article so that the connection between culture and grammar will be clearer to syntacticians, naturally sceptical of such a connection.

Author’s Final Comment
  1. I am making no claims that Pirahã reasoning lacks recursion, for example. In fact, I would be shocked to learn that it did. But this recursion is lacking in the grammar.
  2. The crucial point again is that Pirahã culture constrains Pirahã grammar and that the lack of embedding, etc., follow from the cultural value in the immediacy-of-experience principle, showing that cultural forces may play an evolutionary role in shaping grammars.


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