>For example, to describe something as red, islanders say “mtyemtye,” which is derived from “mtye,” or “red parrot species.” Another example is “mgîdîmgîdî,” which can be used to say something is black, but is directly derived from the word for night, “mgîdî.”
...all I get is the impression that the names of colours in Yélî Dnye are derived from known objects which happen to be of that colour—an interesting bit of trivia, but nothing shocking. Then:
>Not only that, writes Levinson, but the islander’s grammar reinforces this metaphorical slant, saying, “The skin of the man is white like the parrot,” rather than “He is white.”
...I am confused by what is supposed to be that surprising in this way of expressing themselves. Does "is white like the parrot" stand for a literal mention of both the word for white parrot and a word derived from it? Or is it a stand-in for the fact that they don't refer to things being a colour but rather being like specific coloured things? I feel like something has been lost in translation, both literally from Yélî Dnye and metaphorically from the field of linguistics.
There's lots of really weird and interesting things about Australian languages that would make better subjects for an article, like the avoidance register in Warlpiri. Hard to see why they chose that particular one.
You’d use the red parrot if I may say to describe an angry wordy person becoming red of anger.
And you’d use another object/animal to describe the exact same colour in another context. Say red frog for your shining new prince or whatever.
Imagine the benefit of verb tenses such as "I am an expert in this area", "I read something about this topic a while ago", "I know nothing about the topic and am confidently speculating", or "I didn't read the article and am commenting off the title." Edit: the key point is that this verb tense is required; you can't say anything without stating your confidence.
There are huge differences between English and Matses, such that naively talking what's encoded in the verb morphology is misleading at best. If you look at the section on verbs in the thesis on Matses, the author has this to say in the first paragraph:
>Epistemic modality (e.g., -chit 'Uncertainty') and evidentiality (e.g., -nëdac 'Distant Past: Inferential', -ash 'Recent Past: Conjecture' and -denne 'Remote Past: Experiential') are coded in Matses by derivational suffixes or as part of the meaning of inflectional suffixes, while English uses adverbs and modals like perhaps, evidently, really, must, etc.
Matses actually encodes the same information as English, it just does so through a series of particles attaches to the verb, which is not surprising in a highly synthetic language. Mind you, I haven't read all 1200+ pages, but I'd doubt the article's take on things.
In Chinese, one may of course indicate the gender of a third party, but this isn't mandatory, where in Romance languages, it is.
If evidentiary particles are mandatory grammar, and that is the claim, then uttering a sentence without including those particles would just sound wrong, the way the Russian tendency to leave off the article of a noun when speaking English sounds wrong to us. Native speakers simply wouldn't do so.
Romance languages have gender as a grammatical category, and it exists on all nouns. Semantically, gender is arbitrary, except in the case of natural gender on animate nouns. The need to express the gender of a noun is a purely syntactic requirement, which Chinese does not have. It seems like a valid comparison, but it's not really.
> If evidentiary particles are mandatory grammar, and that is the claim
And that's probably not really true. Instead, there's a conflation of epistemic mode and tense (and maybe aspect because why not) the verb system, and that's all tangled up with the other affixes. It's not clear from the article, (or the paper I don't have time to wade through) if there's a default mode/tense that speakers use, and then only clarify when necessary.
I get your point, but I think the actual facts are probably much less stark or interesting than the article makes out.
Some people have a pattern of speech that implies a level of authority that they don't actually feel.
It's obvious when some people need to 'police their tone', less obvious for others.
Ginosko, oida, epiginosko, proginosko, epistamai, sunoida, agnoeo, gnorizo
Gnosis, epignosis, agnosia
If you live in a country where several languages are spoken, you might realize some media will happily say two different things on the same subject in different languages! Politicians too!
Whenever I learn enough of a new language to speak sentences I feel as though the person speaking isn’t quite “me” but rather a remix of me. We all have facets and speaking a different language brings that out.
After about a month there, keeping track of the cardinal points became second nature because it was a necessary part of functioning in those countries. Since directions in conversations usually are "Just walk two blocks then one East"
However when I'm home, I stop keeping track where the North is, because it is not that necessary. And while we also speak Spanish in my country, we tell directions in a different way, using words like "Turn right, the left, downhill, uphill.
 Addresses in Nicaragua and Costa Rica are very unusual for the rest of the world. For example "From the Cowboy's Sour Milk, Two Blocks West, Right hand" is a completely valid address in Managua.
I traveled extensively to the US for 15 years but never managed to subconsciously keep track of the cardinal directions.
Would you consider "sân bay" to be two words but "airport" to be one? If so, then that's just an artifact of the writing system. After all, it could just be "sânbay" and "air port". There are no spaces in speech.
A quibble with something in the article -- why would the Pirahã borrow words from Spanish? They're in Brazil. And as it turns out, they do have a few loanwords from Portuguese.
> Brazil’s immigrant languages include Catalan, Dutch, Japanese, Korean, North Levantine Spoken Arabic, Turoyo and Vlax Romani, as well as more mainstream European languages like German, Italian, Polish and Ukrainian.
I wonder about that (maybe internationalization for Latin America?). Portuguese, as far as I know, is very dominant in Brazil (spoken by 98% of the population). Spanish might be spoken as an L2 in the border states, but I don't know that there's any significant Spanish internationalization in Brazil. Most Brazilians I know say that whenever they have to communicate with Spanish speakers, they generally muddle through with Portuñol, a made-up pidgin of Portuguese with a few Spanish words thrown in to ease comprehension. Ironically, Spanish isn't a very popular language in Brazil (only 4% of the population speak it).
Come to think of it, I've seen more signage in Spanish in the United States than I've ever seen in Brazil. That said, I've only ever been to Rio and São Paulo. Would be interesting to get thoughts from Brazilians.
Those 2% (that feels way too high, I don't trust this number) are insulated immigrants (probably speaking German, Japanese, or Italian) or native communities speaking their own language. Those are very small and fringe communities, most first generation immigrants and natives speak Portuguese too (but as a second language).
In fact, it seems there are many more German speakers in Brazil (about 4.5m), especially in the southern states.
If you squint hard enough Portuguese is a dialect of Spanish, as is Italian. Native speakers will disagree with that statement, but most non-native speakers who have learned Spanish and one of the other agree that once you know Spanish it isn't a big deal to learn the other.
I think Portuguese and Castilian Spanish have common roots (they're on a continuum of West Iberian). Italian is also related but belong to a different branch of the linguistic family. Here's a nice diagram:
The French situation in Canada is a little different (speaking as a former Quebec resident). French is a co-official language in Canada spoken as an L1 by 20% of the population (and L1 speakers aren't only in Quebec, but also Alberta, Manitoba, Ontario and New Brunswick). Also, internationalizing for French isn't just a good idea, it is the law. Retailers in the U.S. know that consumer products without French labeling cannot be sold commercially in Canada.
I read Everett's popular book on the Pirahã, "Don't Sleep, There Are Snakes", and found his descriptions believable, but I'm definitely not a professional linguist.
There's a nice interview with Everett in https://www.edge.org/conversation/daniel_l_everett-recursion... which includes details on the controversies with Chomsky's ideas.
Given Chomsky's refusal to admit he was wrong in his political judgments about Cambodia and Sudan, which some observers go so far as to label hypocrisy, I'm tending to cheer for Everett and hope he is correct.
So who/where are the disinterested supporters of Everett's work? What do they believe that the Chomskians are getting wrong about Everett's work?
The key word in my query here is disinterested, because almost all criticism of Chomsky is (implicitly or explicitly) based on his political views, rather than his linguistic scholarship.
My experience: several years ago I watched Everett give a talk on Pirahã, with only a quick skim of his paper (the first one that got him attention, forgot the name). He gave a basic talk about his work, with examples and translations, etc. I wasn’t convinced by his argument, and some of his answers to fairly reasonable questions were defensive.
Part of the problem is that (at the time, maybe still) all of the data on the language was collected by Everett (maybe with help). I believe he did the the translation, too. It’s reasonable to be skeptical about the data, particularly given the claims based on it. Also, he’s asserting a negative - that Pirahã lacks syntactic recursion, and you can’t prove that adequately with limited data that comes only from you (logical difficulties aside).
An interesting thing to follow would be if there are other people who went into the field to work with the Pirahã; and if not, why not, given the extraordinary nature of the claims?
A bit more insight here: https://news.mit.edu/2016/data-amazonian-piraha-language-deb...
> In the other two cases, Everett’s translations of the sentences differ from those of Sheldon. Everett believes there is no conjunction in those sentences, although Sheldon’s original translations suggested there was.
For instance, a Pirahã sentence transliterated as “ti xaigia ao ogi gio ai hi ahapita” was interpreted by Sheldon to mean, “Well, then I and the big Brazilian woman disappeared.” The conjunction of “I and the big Brazilian woman” could be an example of recursion. But Everett believes a better translation is: “Well, [with respect to me], the very big foreigner went away again.” And that sentence has no recursion.
> a graduate student at the University of British Columbia, Raiane Salles, has conducted recent fieldwork among the Pirahã unearthing potential evidence of “possessor recursion” — which creates phrases that could expand infinitely, such as “the foreigner’s parent’s dog” and “Migixoi’s husband’s mother’s clothes.”
So it seems there are already some signs of possible recursion in the language. On top of this, there's always the possibility that the Pirahã can understand recursion, but they just don't use it in their language. In the end this would be the more important thing to establish - do these people have a different mental apparatus from the rest of mankind? or do they just make use of the same thing differently...
Minor spoiler: In Vance's said novel, the different segments of the population of a planet are taught three separate languages in order to develop and specialize economically, industrially, and militarily.
How much of how we construct ideas is constrained by historical accident? This is the Sapir–Whorf hypothesis and a well known question. But Ithkuil makes me wonder, what thought is possible if we build a language with expressiveness that goes beyond anything we have naturally?
The Player of Games, by Iain M. Banks
I think we downplay how much 'international trade' went on, and for how long. The Hopewell civilization seems to have flirted with Egyptian levels of long-distance trade. The Mississippi river valley is a hell of a highway system.
They probably didn't need much money then. Between being a barter society in general, and the affects of a small population relative to what the land could support there just wasn't as much to trade with each other. When someone did want to trade the Europeans had much better goods so even more of their old money wouldn't be used much anymore.
Or in different words it is a lot easier to give gifts when almost all your relatives just died each leaving you a large inheritance of things. We can guess that some amount of selfishness would have come [back] to the gift giving cultures if things would have been allowed to return to "normal". That isn't to say gifts wouldn't have been important to the culture, only that they would be relatively rarer as there wasn't as much excess anyone could afford to give.
I didn't say they didn't have a gift culture before - those exist in other places as well. I suggested that at the time we were able to observe them there were a lot more gifts than normal, and had been for a hundred years or so - just long enough to seem like normal, but not really normal. Before and after the disruption there would be gifts - many people like to give gifts and it is a way to show your love for someone which is important. However in normal times there is a large scarcity limit to how many gifts you can give that doesn't apply.