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Daniel Everett: Wikis


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Daniel Leonard Everett (born 1951 in Holtville, California[1]) is a linguistics professor best known for his study of the Amazon Basin's Pirahã people and their language.

He currently serves as Chair of the Department of Languages, Literatures and Cultures at Illinois State University in Normal, Illinois. He previously taught at the University of Manchester and is former Chair of the Linguistics Department of the University of Pittsburgh. He is married to Linda Ann Everett and divides his time between Louisville, Kentucky and Normal, Illinois. He has three children from his first marriage of 35 years to Keren Graham: Dr. Caleb Everett (Assistant Professor of Anthropology, University of Miami); Dr. Kristene Diggins (DrNP in Charlotte, North Carolina); and Ms. Shannon Russell (missionary with the Summer Institute of Linguistics in Porto Velho, Brazil).


Early life

Everett was raised near the Mexican border. His father was an occasional cowboy, mechanic, and construction worker. His mother was a waitress at a local restaurant in Holtville. Everett played in rock bands from the time he was 11 years old until converting to Christianity at age 17, after meeting missionaries Al & Sue Graham in San Diego, California.

He was married at age 18 to the daughter of these missionaries, Keren Graham. He completed a diploma in Foreign Missions from the Moody Bible Institute of Chicago in 1975. He and Keren subsequently enrolled in the Summer Institute of Linguistics (now SIL International), which trains missionaries in field linguistics so that they can translate the Bible into all the world's languages.

Because Everett quickly demonstrated a gift for language, he was invited to study Pirahã, which previous SIL missionaries had failed to learn in 20 years of study. In 1977, after four months of jungle training and three semesters of courses in linguistic analysis, translation principles, and literacy development, the couple and their three children moved to Brazil, where they studied Portuguese for a year before moving to a Pirahã village at the mouth of the Maici River in the Lowland Amazonia region.[2]

Education in linguistics

Everett had some initial success learning the language, but when SIL lost their contract with the Brazilian government, he enrolled in the fall of 1978 at the State University of Campinas in Brazil, under the auspices of which he could continue to study Pirahã. Everett focused on the theories of Noam Chomsky. His Master's thesis, Aspectos da Fonologia do Pirahã, was written under the direction of Dr. Aryon Rodrigues, one of the leading experts on Amazonian languages. It was completed in 1980. His Ph.D. dissertation, A Lingua Pirahã e Teoria da Sintaxe, completed in 1983, was written under the direction of Dr. Charlotte Chamberlland Galves. This dissertation provided a detailed Chomskyan analysis of Pirahã.[2]

On one of his research missions in 1993, he discovered a new language, the Oro Win language, which is one of the few languages that uses the rare voiceless dental bilabially trilled affricate (phonetically, [t̪͡ʙ̥]).



Universal Grammar

Everett eventually concluded that Chomsky's ideas about universal grammar, and the universality of recursion in particular, are falsified by Pirahã. His 2005 article in Current Anthropology, titled "Cultural Constraints on Grammar and Cognition in Pirahã,"[3] has caused a controversy in the field of linguistics.[2][4] Though a supporter of Everett in the early part of Everett's career, Chomsky refuses to further discuss Everett's works and has called him a charlatan.[5] The June 2009 issue of the Journal of the Linguistic Society of America, Language, contains a nearly 100 page debate between Everett and some of his principal critics.

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

In November of 2008 Everett's book on the culture and language of the Pirahã people, and what it was like to live among them, was published in the United Kingdom by Profile Books and in the United States by Pantheon Books. Translations are due to appear in 2009 and 2010 in German, French, Korean, Thai, and Mandarin. Vintage Paperbacks will publish the book in November of 2009 and a new British paperback is due for release in August 2009, from Profile. Although the book has been discussed widely on the internet for the chapter that discusses his abandonment of religious faith, it is mainly about doing scientific field research and the discoveries that this has led to about the grammar and culture of the Pirahã people. Don't Sleep There are Snakes was runner-up for the 2008 Award for Adult Non-fiction from the Society of Midland Authors [6].

Cognitive Fire: Language as a Cultural Tool

Everett's website describes his newest book, to appear in 2010 from Pantheon in the US and Profile in the UK. This book develops an alternative to the view that language is innate, whether as in Chomsky's Universal Grammar or Pinker's Language Instinct. It argues that language is, like the bow and arrow, a tool to solve a common human problem, the need to communicate efficiently and effectively.

Religious beliefs

Influenced by the Pirahã's concept of truth, he slowly lost his Christian faith and became an atheist. He says that he was having serious doubts by 1982, and had lost all faith by 1985 after having spent a year at MIT. He would not tell anyone about his atheism for another 19 years; when he finally did, his marriage ended in divorce and two of his three children broke off all contact. However, by 2008 full contact and relations have been restored with his children, who now seem to accept his lack of faith. [7]


  1. ^ Curriculum Vitae
  2. ^ a b c John Colapinto, "The Interpreter: Has a remote Amazonian tribe upended our understanding of language?", The New Yorker, April 16, 2007
  3. ^ Daniel Everett, "Cultural Constraints on Grammar and Cognition in Pirahã", Current Anthropology, Volume 46, Number 4, August-October 2005, pp. 621-46.
  4. ^ Robin H. Ray, "Linguists doubt exception to universal grammar", MIT News, April 23, 2007.
  5. ^ Folha de S.Paulo, 1 February 2009.
  6. ^ 2008 Award of the Society of Midland Authors for adult nonfiction
  7. ^ Middleton, Liz Else, Lucy (2008-01-19). "Interview: Daniel Everett". New Scientist.  

External links


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