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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 [Format Kindle]

Daniel Everett
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“Look! There he is, Xigagaí, the spirit.”
“Yes, I can see him. He is threatening us.”
“Everybody, come see Xigagaí. Quickly! He is on the beach!”

I roused from my deep sleep, not sure if I was dreaming or hearing this conversation. It was 6:30 on a Saturday morning in August, the dry season of 1980. The sun was shining, but not yet too hot. A breeze was blowing up from the Maici River in front of my modest hut in a clearing on the bank. I opened my eyes and saw the palm thatch above me, its original yellow graying from years of dust and soot. My dwelling was flanked by two smaller Pirahã huts of similar construction, where lived Xahoábisi, Kóhoibiíihíai, and their families.

Mornings among the Pirahãs, so many mornings, I picked up the faint smell of smoke drifting from their cook fires, and the warmth of the Brazilian sun on my face, its rays softened by my mosquito net. Children were usually laughing, chasing one another, or noisily crying to nurse, the sounds reverberating through the village. Dogs were barking. Often when I first opened my eyes, groggily coming out of a dream, a Pirahã child or sometimes even an adult would be staring at me from between the paxiuba palm slats that served as siding for my large hut. This morning was different.

I was now completely conscious, awakened by the noise and shouts of Pirahãs. I sat up and looked around. A crowd was gathering about twenty feet from my bed on the high bank of the Maici, and all were energetically gesticulating and yelling. Everyone was focused on the beach just across the river from my house. I got out of bed to get a better look—and because there was no way to sleep through the noise.

I picked my gym shorts off the floor and checked to make sure that there were no tarantulas, scorpions, centipedes, or other undesirables in them. Pulling them on, I slipped into my flip- flops and headed out the door. The Pirahãs were loosely bunched on the riverbank just to the right of my house. Their excitement was growing. I could see mothers running down the path, their infants trying to hold breasts in their mouths.

The women wore the same sleeveless, collarless, midlength dresses they worked and slept in, stained a dark brown from dirt and smoke. The men wore gym shorts or loincloths. None of the men were carrying their bows and arrows. That was a relief. Prepubescent children were naked, their skin leathery from exposure to the elements. The babies’ bottoms were calloused from scooting across the ground, a mode of locomotion that for some reason they prefer to crawling. Everyone was streaked from ashes and dust accumulated by sleeping and sitting on the ground near the fire.

It was still around seventy- two degrees, though humid, far below the hundred- degree- plus heat of midday. I was rubbing the sleep from my eyes. I turned to Kóhoi, my principal language teacher, and asked, “What’s up?” He was standing to my right, his strong, brown, lean body
tensed from what he was looking at.

“Don’t you see him over there?” he asked impatiently. “Xigagaí, one of the beings that lives above the clouds, is standing on the beach yelling at us, telling us he will kill us if we go to the jungle.”

“Where?” I asked. “I don’t see him.”

“Right there!” Kóhoi snapped, looking intently toward the middle of the apparently empty beach.

“In the jungle behind the beach?”

“No! There on the beach. Look!” he replied with exasperation.

In the jungle with the Pirahãs I regularly failed to see wildlife they saw. My inexperienced eyes just weren’t able to see as theirs did.

But this was different. Even I could tell that there was nothing on that white, sandy beach no more than one hundred yards away. And yet as certain as I was about this, the Pirahãs were equally certain that there was something there. Maybe there had been something there that I just missed seeing, but they insisted that what they were seeing, Xigagaí, was still there.

Everyone continued to look toward the beach. I heard Kristene, my six- year- old daughter, at my side.

“What are they looking at, Daddy?”

“I don’t know. I can’t see anything.”

Kris stood on her toes and peered across the river. Then at me. Then at the Pirahãs. She was as puzzled as I was.

Kristene and I left the Pirahãs and walked back into our house. What had I just witnessed? Over the more than two decades since that summer morning, I have tried to come to grips with the significance of how two cultures, my European- based culture and the Pirahãs’ culture, could see reality so differently. I could never have proved to the Pirahãs that the beach was empty. Nor could they have convinced me that there was anything, much less a spirit, on it.

As a scientist, objectivity is one of my most deeply held values. If we could just try harder, I once thought, surely we could each see the world as others see it and learn to respect one another’s views more readily. But as I learned from the Pirahãs, our expectations, our culture, and
our experiences can render even perceptions of the environment nearly
incommensurable cross- culturally.

The Pirahãs say different things when they leave my hut at night on their way to bed. Sometimes they just say, “I’m going.” But frequently they use an expression that, though surprising at first, has come to be one of my favorite ways of saying good night: “Don’t sleep, there are snakes.” The Pirahãs say this for two reasons. First, they believe that by sleeping less they can “harden themselves,” a value they all share. Second, they know that danger is all around them in the jungle and that sleeping soundly can leave one defenseless from attack by any of the numerous predators around the village. The Pirahãs laugh and talk a good part of the night. They don’t sleep much at one time. Rarely have I heard the village completely quiet at night or noticed someone sleeping for several hours straight. I have learned so much from the Pirahãs over the years. But this is perhaps my favorite lesson. Sure, life is hard and there is plenty of danger. And it might make us lose some sleep from time to time. But enjoy it.

Life goes on.

I went to the Pirahãs when I was twenty- six years old. Now I am old enough to receive senior discounts. I gave them my youth. I have contracted
malaria many times. I remember several occasions on which the Pirahãs or others threatened my life. I have carried more heavy boxes, bags, and barrels on my back through the jungle than I care to remember. But my grandchildren all know the Pirahãs. My children are who they are in part because of the Pirahãs. And I can look at some of those old men (old like me) who once threatened to kill me and recognize some of the dearest friends I have ever had—men who would now risk their lives for me.

This book is about the lessons I have learned over three decades of studying and living with the Pirahãs, a time in which I have tried my best to comprehend how they see, understand, and talk about the world and to transmit these lessons to my scientific colleagues. This journey has taken me to many places of astounding beauty and into many situations I would rather not have entered. But I am so glad that I made the journey—it has given me precious and valuable insights into the nature of life, language, and thought that could not have been learned any other way.

The Pirahãs have shown me that there is dignity and deep satisfaction in facing life and death without the comfort of heaven or the fear of hell and in sailing toward the great abyss with a smile. I have learned these things from the Pirahãs, and I will be grateful to them as long as I live.

Revue de presse

"Absorbing. . . . Don't Sleep, There Are Snakes . . . shares its author's best traits: perseverance, insight, humor and humility. Both the Pirahas and their interpreter make splendid company, especially for readers drawn to the way language underpins how we mediate our world."--Cleveland Plain Dealer

"In this fascinating and candid account of life with the Pirahã, Everett describes how he learned to speak fluent Pirahã (pausing occasionally to club the snakes that harassed him in his Amazonian "office"). He also explains his discoveries about the language-findings that have kicked off more than one academic brouhaha."--Publishers Weekly, Signature Review

"Rich account of fieldwork among a tribe of hunter-gatherers in Brazil . . . introduce[s] non-specialists to the fascinating ongoing debate about the origin of languages. . . . Everett's experiences and findings fairly explode from these pages and will reverberate in the minds of readers."--Kirkus, starred review

Dan Everett has written an excellent book. First, it is a very powerful autobiographical account of his stay with the Pirahã in the jungles of the Amazon basin. Second, it is a brilliant piece of ethnographical description of life among the Pirahã. And third, and perhaps most important in the long run, his data and his conclusions about the language of the Pirahã run dead counter to the prevailing orthodoxy in linguistics. If he is right, he will permanently change our conception of human language.”
–John Searle, Slusser Professor of Philosophy, University of California, Berkeley

“Dan Everett is the most interesting man I have ever met. This story about his life among the Pirahãs is a fascinating read. His observations and claims about the culture and language of the Pirahãs are astounding. Whether or not all of his hypotheses turn out to be correct, Everett has forced many researchers to reevaluate basic assumptions about the relationship among culture, language and cognition. I strongly recommend the book.”
–Edward Gibson, Professor of Cognitive Sciences, Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Détails sur le produit

  • Format : Format Kindle
  • Taille du fichier : 8024 KB
  • Nombre de pages de l'édition imprimée : 314 pages
  • Pagination - ISBN de l'édition imprimée de référence : 0375425020
  • Editeur : Profile Books (9 juillet 2010)
  • Vendu par : Amazon Media EU S.à r.l.
  • Langue : Anglais
  • ASIN: B0037Z8SMC
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  • Moyenne des commentaires client : 5.0 étoiles sur 5  Voir tous les commentaires (2 commentaires client)
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1 internautes sur 1 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
5.0 étoiles sur 5 Au delà de Claude Lévy-Strauss et Noam Chomsky 31 juillet 2010
La prose de Daniel Everett n'a peut-être pas l'élégance de celles de Claude Lévy-Strauss et Noam Chomsky mais, sur la base d'années d'observations en Amazonie, elle paraît bien plus convaincante.
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1 internautes sur 1 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
5.0 étoiles sur 5 Une decouverte 27 décembre 2008
Format:Broché|Achat vérifié
Daniel Everett, envoye comme missionnaire chez les Piraha, decouvre peu a peu une langue, une culture et une facon de penser qui lui font reviser sa vision du monde. Une belle lecon de vie a mediter.
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Commentaires client les plus utiles sur (beta) 4.4 étoiles sur 5  105 commentaires
102 internautes sur 107 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
5.0 étoiles sur 5 A Book It's Hard to Put Down 22 novembre 2008
Par KmVictorian - Publié sur
Format:Relié|Achat vérifié
If you like strange languages and exotic jungle adventures, you'll love this book. It has plenty of both!

The author, Daniel L. Everett, is Chair of Languages, Literatures, and Cultures at Illinois State University. He spent many of his younger years living with and studying the aboriginal Piraha people of Brazil. Their language "defies all existing linguistic theories" and "reflects a way of life that evades contemporary understanding." Unrelated to any other known language, the Piraha dialect is so confusing that most outsiders have given up on it. The Pirahas whistle and hum as they talk, and a given verb can potentially have as many as 65,000 forms. Everett, however, has been able to puzzle out the strange grammatical quirks of Piraha expressions.

This book tells in fascinating detail about Everett's struggles with the language, the land, and the culture of the Pirahas. This struggle ultimately cost the author his faith and broke up his family. The language theories which he developed as a result of his acquaintance with the Piraha tongue have also put him in conflict with the ideas of distinguished linguist Noam Chomsky.

However, it is obvious that Everett feels the Piraha experience has been the defining mission of his life and is well worth what it has cost him personally. I recommend this book both for its page-turning excitement and its insights on the nature of human language.
78 internautes sur 82 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
4.0 étoiles sur 5 Life and language of the Pirahã people 16 décembre 2008
Par Bookreporter - Publié sur
Daniel L. Everett is a linguist who first visited the Pirahã tribe as a family man and missionary. His experiences over the next 30 years broke up his family, put him at odds with the linguistic establishment, turned him into an atheist --- and have provided us with a fascinating book, which is part Boy Scout adventure, part reality TV, part crisis of faith, part anthropological study, and part linguistic treatise.

The Pirahã (pronounced Pee-da-HAN) are a little known tribe of Amazonian Indians who live on the banks of two rivers in territory that, before Everett encountered them, had never been assigned officially to the tribe but that they defended, occasionally to the death. Largely peaceful, they have intermarried and retained a very primitive lifestyle that they consider to be in every way superior to that of outsiders, including Americans, for thousands of years. They are far less colorful than many Amazonian groups, with no decorative arts or inventions. They purchase some pots and axes and make their own bows and arrows. If a plane comes, boys will make models of the planes but will throw them away days later. They live in the crudest of rudimentary stick and leaf shelters and survive by eating manioc, which simply grows nearby without being cultivated, and by hunting and fishing. They have no special rituals, and apart from the occasional visit from a spirit to frighten or inform them, they have no religion.

When Everett took his family and went to live for shorter and longer periods of time with this strange tribe, he was expected to learn their language, make a translation of the Bible and then convert the natives. What he learned was that the language itself held the key to their culture. And discovering the essence of that culture, he realized that they would never be converted --- not as long as they remained as they are --- and he saw no reason to change them, just as they saw no reason to change themselves.

There is an illustrative story (among many) of Everett being approached by men in the tribe who wanted him to buy them a big canoe from a neighboring tribe. With all the right instincts as a missionary and development agent, he did everything needed to transfer the skill of canoe construction to them. He invited the neighbors to come in and demonstrate, and insisted that the Pirahã men work alongside them. Not long afterwards, the same men came to him for money to buy another big boat. "I told them they could make their own now. They said, `Pirahãns don't make canoes.'"

Everett came to understand that the Pirahãns live entirely in the moment. They have no creation myths, no history past the living generations. Their language, which has only a few words, speaks primarily of immediacies, and is so dependent on tone that it can be hummed or whistled for clarification. All verbs have up to 65,000 combinations but only a handful of tenses. Everett is one of the few outsiders who ever learned to speak it, but he believes that after 30 years, the Pirahã people still do not regard him as a speaker any more than we consider a computer to be an English speaker. The tribe does not theorize or plan. They just exchange chit-chat. Yet the typical Pirahã is happier, Everett believes, "than any Christian or other religious person I have ever known."

The Pirahãns did not accept Jesus because they had never met Him. Their simple view deeply affected Everett, who had been well trained as a missionary to confront and overcome almost any challenge --- superstition, malaria, filth, alligators. But this startling way of looking at life as entirely evidential shook his faith and eventually caused him to confess that he had lost it. Everett not only shocked his missionary peers and fractured his marriage; he sent ripples through the linguistic establishment with his claims about the construction of the Pirahã language, saying it did not build upon itself and was not recursive, which challenged the theories of the great Noam Chomsky. Chomsky's linguistic doctrine postulates a universal grammar, ever-increasing, ever able to branch out and express ever more complex concepts. Everett was saying that, perhaps unique in the world, here in the Amazon was a group of people whose language did not grow, whose experience did not expand with increased contact with the outside, and who liked it that way.

As Chair of Languages, Literatures and Cultures at Illinois State University, Everett has proven his points and earned his laurels. He still visits with the Pirahã.

--- Reviewed by Barbara Bamberger Scott
67 internautes sur 76 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
3.0 étoiles sur 5 Fantastic Subject, But Poorly Presented 12 janvier 2010
Par Willie - Publié sur
I first got wind of Daniel Everett's work on the Piraha from a fantastic article that appeared in the New Yorker a few years ago (see the link below if you're interested). I was immediately and deeply intrigued: the article presented a captivating glimpse into what by all accounts was groundbreaking work--work that had the potential to upend the current framework in which we think about language, culture, and the mind. After reading the article, I was hungry for more information and specifics about the Piraha people and their language, and a few years later, when I saw that Daniel Everett had published a book, I eagerly picked up a copy, excited to delve deeper into his work.

The good news is that "Don't Sleep There Are Snakes" does indeed provide much more detail, both about the Piraha culture and the language. At the end of the book, the reader has a much better idea of what the Piraha are all about and what lessons they can teach us. And this is what I ultimately wanted to get out of the book.

The bad news is that Everett is not much of a writer, or even a particularly good storyteller. None of the narrative grace of the New Yorker article is present in this book, and before long, this gets irritating. Which is a shame, because Everett's story is such a fascinating one, one that could by all means make for a fantastic book. But Everett's style is clumsy and ham-handed; the individual chapters do not connect well with one another, and even within the chapters paragraphs can seem poorly pieced together. Perhaps not everyone will agree with my opinions here, but I think one should be aware going into this book that Everett is no prose master.

Part of the problem with the book's style is a conflict of aims. On the one hand, the book is written for a general audience, and I think it does a very good job in this regard. It presents all its information (even the more difficult academic bits) in an easy-to-follow manner, with plenty of examples to illustrate its points. There's nothing wrong with this approach in itself, but it flounders in this case because of the book's less than stellar composition.

On the other hand, the book is also trying to present years of academic research and, more importantly, to make a point, and a controversial one at that. And here its general-audience presentation works against it. Everett's discussions of conceptual issues in linguistics are just too watered down to carry any weight. His arguments against Chomsky (which I'm very sympathetic to) are mostly just knocking down straw men, and do not give a honest presentation and refutation of Chomsky's and others' views. Even Everett's arguments for his own ideas come off as superficial, lacking the rigor and precision they would need to really convince (me, at least). In addition, Everett's discussions of his actual research stop short of full detail, and still left me with further questions.

All this being said, however, I still think this is a worthwhile book. Sometimes the content of a subject matter can outshine even the worst of presentations. And Everett's work really is fascinating, in more ways than one. If you're interested in language, culture, and the connections between the two (as well as those with psychology, philosophy, and more), this book is definitely of interest. Just don't go in expecting a flawless work.

(The New Yorker article about Everett and his work can be accessed here: [...])
29 internautes sur 31 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
5.0 étoiles sur 5 An Amazon tribe converts the missionary 16 avril 2009
Par Lynn Harnett - Publié sur
The Pirahã are the "Show me!" tribe of the Brazilian Amazon. They don't bother with fiction or tall tales or even oral history. They have little art. They don't have a creation myth and don't want one. If they can't see it, hear it, touch it or taste it, they don't believe in it.

Missionaries have been preaching to the Pirahãs for 200 years and have converted not one. Everett did not know this when he first visited them in 1977 at age 26. A missionary and a linguist, he was sent to learn their language, translate the Bible for them, and ultimately bring them to Christ.

Instead, they brought him to atheism. "The Pirahãs have shown me that there is dignity and deep satisfaction in facing life and death without the comfort of heaven or the fear of hell and in sailing toward the great abyss with a smile."

Not that they have escaped religion entirely. Spirits live everywhere and may even caution or lecture them at times. But these spirits are visible to the Pirahãs, if not to Everett and his family, who spent 30 years, on and off, living with the tribe.

But they don't have marriage or funeral ceremonies. Cohabitation suffices as the wedding announcement and divorce is accomplished just as simply, though there may be more noise involved. Sexual mores are governed by common sense rather than stricture, which means that single people have sex at will while married people are more circumspect.

People are sometimes buried with their possessions, which are few, and larger people are often buried sitting "because this requires less digging." But there is no ritual for each family to follow.

"Perhaps the activity closest to ritual among the Pirahãs is their dancing. Dances bring the village together. They are often marked by promiscuity, fun, laughing, and merriment by the entire village. There are no musical instruments involved, only singing, clapping, and stomping of feet."

Everett's language studies began without benefit of dictionary or primer. None of the Pirahãs spoke any English or more than the most rudimentary Portuguese (Among their many eccentricities is their total lack of interest in any facet of any other culture including tools or language - not that they won't use tools, like canoes, they just won't make them or absorb them into their culture).

Amazingly, "Pirahã is not known to be related to any other living human language."

At first it seems rather deprived. There are only 11 phonemes (speech sounds). There are no numbers, no words for colors. No words for please, thank you or sorry. There are, however, tones, whistles and clicks. And the language comes in three forms - regular plus Humming speech and Yelling speech.

Over the years Everett comes to the conclusion that the Pirahã language reflects and arises from their culture in its directness, immediacy and simplicity. Ultimately he defies Noam Chomsky's theory of Universal Grammar (Pirahã lacks a basic requirement) and starts a firestorm in the linguistics field. Everett alludes mildly to this in the book, but a little Internet browsing will leave readers shocked - shocked! - at the way linguists talk to one another.

There are plenty of anecdotes involving the reader in Everett's adventures, hardships, terrors, epiphanies and the pure strangeness of daily life with a people who live in the immediate present and whose most common "good-night" is "Don't sleep, there are snakes." (sound sleep is dangerous and, besides, toughening themselves is a strong cultural value - foodless days are also common).

Fascinating as both anthropological memoir and linguistic study, Everett's book will appeal to those interested in very not-North American cultures and in the ways people shape language and it shapes us.

It's a book that rouses a sense of wonder and gives rise to even more questions than it answers.
27 internautes sur 29 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
4.0 étoiles sur 5 Fascinating; could use a bit of editing 29 décembre 2008
Par G. R. Lewis - Publié sur
My introduction to linguistics came in the late 60's, in the heady early days of the Chomskyian revolution. I remain fascinated by human language, and this book was like intellectual candy. Everett's heroic efforts to understand the Pirahã language and culture have touched off firestorms in several academic fields. It will be most interesting to see what's left when the dust settles. At the moment, it appears that Chomsky and his faithful are redefining some of their terms in an attempt to rescue their dogma.
There are a few minor inconsistencies in the book that Everett should fix in a second edition. For example, he states unequivocally that the Pirahã have no number words, then later translates a passage as meaning "There were two pigs." I contacted him and he explained that this translation was done early in his research, when he believed the language did have number words; a more accurate translation would be "There were a larger quantity of pigs."
As I said, fascinating.
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