Don't Sleep, There are Snakes: Life and Language in the Amazonian Jungle

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Don't Sleep, There are Snakes: Life and Language in the Amazonian Jungle

Don't Sleep, There are Snakes: Life and Language in the Amazonian Jungle

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On page 169 we have this story of a little boy who is upset that his grandmother will not let him have a Coca-Cola.

Whilst I understand the sentiment, frankly, I would rather that others sent out with that as their missionary mindset, should rethink not only what, but why they are doing what they are doing. They are a happy, productive, well-balanced people who live a life free from anxiety, depression, obsession with sin and punishment, and other Western constructs that one could argue have done more harm than good in our society. If you enjoy reading about language evolution, it's a huge bonus to learn about language isolates such as that spoken by the Pirahas. For example, Everett discusses general theories of language long after describing his conclusions about the specific characteristics of the Pirahas' language. The lack of a clear structure and aim to the book certainly didn't endear the author to me, and, while I come from a "faith-perspective" myself, I found his approach to the Piraha tribe he was working with, and his own inability to reflect on his own thinking and behaviour, deeply frustrating long before he revealed his loss of faith.His perplexing objective was “to convince happy, satisfied people that they are lost and need Jesus as their personal savior. Don’t Sleep, There Are Snakes” means a few things: It means it first in the literal way, that you should be careful of sleeping too soundly because there are dangerous animals like snakes. I'm not going to comment on the linguistic debate other than to say that the more controversial and polemical it is, the more entertaining it is. I wanted to like this book but I never really trusted its author, a linguist with an editor who used the phrase "a myriad of" in the first chapter. But it wasn’t true, it’s been heavily challenged since and it seems the Hopi’s concepts are much like everyone else’s after all.

The stoicism that he finds suggests that these are a people satisfied with life as it is, without a need for a new world view. This section reads like an adventure/travel memoir, with descriptions of several harrowing events and bizarre customs (from a Westerner's point of view). This last study that showed that Pirahã lacked an indication of recursivity, but also lacked any evidence of non-recursivity, is ridiculous.

Thanks Trevor for the link – all the photos in the book are by the same photographer, who presumably accompanied Everett and his family on some of their stays with the Piraha. You can see where the failure to persuade them of the benefits of organised religion is going to come. Everett's malaria-stricken wife, a member of the tribe giving birth alone on the riverbank, or a woman effectively gang-raped by the males of the tribe.

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