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1 Pirahã: a language without complexity? Jeanette Sakel University of the West of England University of Bristol 13.05.2013.

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Presentation on theme: "1 Pirahã: a language without complexity? Jeanette Sakel University of the West of England University of Bristol 13.05.2013."— Presentation transcript:

1 1 Pirahã: a language without complexity? Jeanette Sakel University of the West of England University of Bristol 13.05.2013

2 2 The Pirahã Pirahã: Muran language between 350-450 people living along the Maici river, Amazonas, Brazil lifestyle: traditional - hunter-gathers contact with the outside world for 2 centuries (ongoing contact, though not living in direct vicinity to Portuguese speakers)

3 3

4 4 The Pirahã

5 5 Contents Introduction to the debate on cultural constraints & recursion Introduction to the structure of Pirahã Examples & discussion: –-sai –Mental verbs –Complexity? Why it isnt necessary Extra: [Complexity in the contact variety (Portuguese pidgin)]

6 6 Recursion Repetition of the same rule within itself – e.g. phrases within phrases (1) sentences within sentences (2): (1) Johns sisters sons dog. (2) John overheard that Mary said that George believed that Sally ate the entire cake!

7 7 Recursion: THE one [core] characteristic of human language? Yes: according to Chomsky (e.g. Hauser, Chomsky & Fitch 2002) But: Dan Everett (2005) Pirahã has no recursion. Culture influences language Immediacy of Experience Principle (IEP) - the Pirahã only talk about what they have experienced themselves or what has happened to people they know. Pirahã has no recursion, no numbers, no color terms, etc. due to cultural influence (Dan Everett)

8 8 Pirahã ways of expressing the same concepts NPs in NPs: Johns fathers cat in Pirahã = (3)John has a father, the father has a cat Sentences in sentences: He said that because it is raining he is not going to hunt in the forest in Pirahã = (4) He said something. It is raining. I am not going to the forest. Its all in the discourse! Parataxis, juxtaposition.

9 9 (5)a. He said that I suspected that the students were hung over. b. Hearsay perhaps the students are hung over. -so when: (6)Aikaaíkaai-oabá-tipiiboí-so. DMhouse house-LOC stay-1 rain-DIS Well, I stay in the house if/when it is raining.

10 10 The structure of Pirahã The sound system Small vowel and consonant inventories two tones allophony (e.g. hi~k): not in Pirahã can be: –Hiaba –Kaba Intonation: various layers –Shouting –Whistling –Monotonous recital

11 11 The structure of Pirahã: numerals Hói, hoí, baágiso Lack of numerals (Gordon 2004, Frank et al 2008): three-way distinction of few, some andmany.

12 12 The structure of Pirahã: grammar Suffixing, with synthesis in verbs. Nominal morphology: no core cases, an oblique marker -o (location), grammatical relations are expressed by word order alone (SOV). Complex verbal morphology (mood, aspect, interrogative markers, negation, incorporation and situational markers), but the verb is not marked for tense or person. Sentence particles expressing counter-expective, linked to the discourse context, etc. Clause combinations: juxtaposition of two simple clauses. Context.

13 13 Examples & discussion A marker that has been discussed as a possible subordination marker (-sai) Ways in which complex constructions are expressed in Pirahã (and other languages): mental verb constructions Reasons for why languages do not need recursion

14 14 Examples & discussion: -sai: Nominalisation? Subordination? (7)Piiboi-bai-saitikahápi-hiaba. rain-INTENS-SAI1go-NEG If it is raining I wont go. (8)Piiboi-bai ti kahápi-hiabi-sai. rain-INTERS1go-NEG-SAI If it is raining I wont go. (9)Piiboi-baitikahápi-hiaba. Rain-INTENS1go-NEG If it is raining I wont go.

15 15 Examples & discussion: mental verbs (10)Garippíirubog-ai-haí-híai. Brazilian.workercome-ATELIC-DOUBT-HEARSAY (I heard that) the Brazilian worker has probably not come here. (11)Hi kagáihiai koabái-p-á-há 3 jaguar kill-PERF-REM-COMP_CERT (Im sure) he shot the jaguar (12)Piboi-bai hi kahápi-hiab-áagahá Rain-EMPH 3 go-NEG-OBSERV It is raining; (I see) he is not going (to the forest)

16 16 From Sakel & Stapert (2010)

17 17 Recursion? Why it isnt necessary Spoken language: less use of recursion e.g. Finnish and Japanese (Laury & Tsuyoshi 2010) (13)I was like yeah, I ll go and he was like sure That-omission in relative clauses (14)He bought the house (that) he viewed yesterday. Esoteric language use vs. exoteric language use (Wray and Grace 2007)

18 18 Conclusion Complexity in Pirahã? –Not necessarily –Recursion (at the syntactic level) is not necessarily THE core feature of language –Rather: recursion appears more readily in complex settings (written language, etc.) –Pirahã = a complex, complicated language in other ways!

19 19 References Everett, Daniel. (2005). Cultural constraints on grammar and cognition in Pirahã: another look at the design features of human language. Current Anthropology 76(4): 621-646. Frank, Michael; Daniel Everett; Evelina Fedorenko & Edward Gibson (2008) Number as a cognitive technology: Evidence from Pirahã language and cognition in Cognition 108(3): 819-824. Gordon, Peter (2004) Numerical cognition without words: evidence from Amazonia Science 306: 496-499. Hauser, Marc. D., Noam Chomsky, W. Tecumseh Fitch (2002). The faculty of language: what is it, who has it, and how did it evolve? Science 298: 1569-1579. Jarvis, Scott & Aneta Pavlenko (2008) Crosslinguistic influence in language and cognition. New York: Routledge. Laury, Ritva and Ono Tsuyoshi. 2010. Recursion in conversation: what speakers of Finnish and Japanese know how to do p. 69-92 in Harry Van der Hulst (ed.) Recursion and human language. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter. Sakel, Jeanette (Forthc.) Transfer and language contact: the case of Pirahã to appear in J. Sakel and J. Treffers-Daller (eds.) Transfer and language contact, special issues of International Journal of Bilingualism. Sakel, Jeanette & Eugenie Stapert (2010) Pirahã - in need of recursion? p. 3-16 in Harry van der Hulst (ed.) Recursion and human language. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter. Wray, Alison and George W. Grace (2007)The consequences of talking to strangers: Evolutionary corollaries of socio-cultural influences on linguistic form. Lingua 117: 543– 578.

20 20 Fieldwork

21 21 Complexity in the contact variety (Portuguese pidgin) Language contact with Portuguese Portuguese (a language with recursion) influencing Pirahã? Contact theory: subordination markers & constructions are often borrowed (cf. Matras & Sakel 2007)

22 22 Language contact Widespread monolingualism among the community, even though a wealth of Portuguese loanwords exist. A number of middle-aged men gatekeepers take over the role as communicators: –Basis communication –Portuguese pidgin? The rest of the Pirahã are monolingual

23 23 Aspects of the gatekeepers language The Pirahã system to express quantities is replicated in the gatekeepers language (Sakel forthc. 2010): (15)R: Cuantos meninos tem você? how.manychildren have.2/3.SGyou How many children have you got? GK:MUIIITO! eeh MUITO manyDMmany Many, many = conceptual transfer from Pirahã (Jarvis & Pavlenko 2008) (Portuguese elements in CAPITALS)

24 24 Examples of transfer and parataxis (16)Ee NOOOYJJJ, ee NOOOYJJJMAAS ee. DMfarDMfarmoreDM It is far, it is very far. (17)AGORANONOCAZAai DOEEai. nownotnothuntDMillDM Now it (the dog) is not hunting; it is ill. Juxtaposition of two elements to express causal, temporal and other relationships

25 25 (18)AiaiAKIhis-oKEECHE|1| DMDMheresun-LOChot KWAADOAKIhis-oFRIIO|2| when(DIS)heresun-LOCcold aikabaKEEMAai|3| DMNEGburnDM ai MUITOBRAAKO.|4| DMverywhite It is hot here in the sun. When it is cold here in the sun, you do not burn. (You are) very white.

26 26 Portuguese equivalent: (19)Se fizesse frio e se ifmake.SUBJ.IMPcoldandif a sua pele não fosse DET.FPOSS.F skinNEGbe.SUBJ.IMP muito branca você não queimaria. verywhite.FyouNEGburn.COND If it was cold and if your skin wasnt very fair you would not burn. Pirahã expresses similar concepts with -so when: (20)Aikaaíkaai-oabá-tipiiboí-so. DMhouse house-LOC stay-1rain-DIS Well, I stay in the house if/when it is raining.

27 27 (21)Nai, ai Paoai higáisaiti DMDMDanhe.said1SG abíi-haigaisinóai, stay-REL_CERTsaythereDM Paoaiti abíi-háigaisi CUANDO Dan1SGstay-REL_CERTsaywhen CUANDOVAIai kaháp-ii. whengo.3SGDMleave-INTENT This, thus Dan he spoke. I will stay. Dan, I will stay there he spoke. When he goes. I will go. (GK1)

28 28 (22)Ma eu quería só CIMI mesmo. butIwant.COND.1SGonlyCIMIitself Voce trabalha la ponte, ne? youwork.2SGtherebridgeTAG Queríavir aqui, ne? want.COND.1SGcome.INFhereTAG But I would only want CIMI itself. You work there, at the bridge (i.e. in the other Pirahã village), right? I would want you to come here, okay? (GK4) [This example was recorded by Dan Everett at the Pirahã settlement at mouth of the river in 2009]

29 29 Conclusion: contact variety Portuguese on the surface, but conceptual transfer from Pirahã In some cases: possible incipient complexity However: much of this can be analysed in terms of pragmatics / discourse structure - not necessarily as syntactically recursive structures Changes in the future: very likely

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