The Pirahã Language: Possibly The Most Primitive and Controversial Language on Earth

Jun 4 09:21 2012 Charlene Lacandazo Print This Article

Pirahã is quite possibly a language like no other, with features that don't exist in any other language, and are in fact predicated not to exist at all by prominent theories. We owe most of our knowledge about this language to the tireless work of Daniel Everett.

Pirahã is an indigenous language of the Pirahã people living in the jungles of the Amazon with a population of less than 400. Pirahã is the only living dialect of the Mura language; others have become extinct in the last few centuries,Guest Posting since most of the Mura people have shifted to Portuguese.The Pirahã language is exclusively spoken by the Pirahã people; who incidentally also seem to lack a social hierarchy, and even this group of people don’t use a writing system as a form of communication. There are many interesting aspects of the Pirahã language that makes it a quite unique language. Daniel Everett is a linguist who released a book that discussed about the uniqueness and standard features of what is possibly the most controversial language on earth. He was a missionary, teaching the Pirahã people about religion, but his religion was influenced by the Pirahã’s concept of truth, his Christian belief waning slowly, and he became an atheist.An anthropological linguist by trade, Daniel Everett studied the Pirahã language and its people. He found out that Pirahã people don’t write history, or anything else for that matter. Daniel Everett was fascinated about one of his observations about the Pirahã language, namely the fact that Pirahã does not possess some vocabulary words that seem to otherwise be common to all  other languages in the world. Thus, the Pirahã people have no words for numbers, and they have no concept of writing at all. In addition, Pirahã doesn’t use the past tense; no definite terms for colours, and doesn’t have equivalent words to distinguish between left and right. Pirahã can be whistled, hummed or sung with no notable problems or variations. Most importantly, Pirahã lacks what is known as ‘’recursion’’, or the ability to embed clauses into other clauses. Although, Pirahã is famous among linguist around the world because of its uniqueness, and is helping people to shape their knowledge of language in interesting ways, it is one of the endangered languages in the world.  Due to the decreasing numbers of native speakers of the Pirahã language, it has to be believed that saving this language is not that easy.For many people, like the Pirahã people, the loss of language brings a loss of identity and sense of community, and somehow the loss of the will to live. Saving endangered languages just like the Pirahã language will require a massive effort from linguists, anthropologists, and from the community. It is necessary to produce dictionaries and books written in the Piranha language, in order to train linguists, teachers, and the community itself in preserving and protecting the Pirahã language. This would, for example, also better enable the government to respect and support one of their own native languages; it may be a broad and difficult task, but it would be worthwhile  to exert an effort in giving support and priority towards keeping the Pirahã language alive.

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Charlene Lacandazo
Charlene Lacandazo

Charlene Lacandazo works for Rosetta Translation, a leading translation and interpreting agency.

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