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

by Daniel L. Everett

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6012827,355 (3.73)28
A linguist offers a thought-provoking account of his experiences and discoveries while living with the Pirahã, a small tribe of Amazonian Indians living in central Brazil and a people possessing a language that defies accepted linguistic theories and reflects a culture that has no counting system, concept of war, or personal property, and lives entirely in the present.… (more)
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Showing 1-5 of 28 (next | show all)
I would have appreciated this book more if I were a linguist, as there are chapters that get pretty technical. But there is enough that is anthropological in nature to keep me happy. ( )
  Eye_Gee | May 8, 2017 |
Fantastic book. So many threads. Yes it is a book about anthropology and linguistics. But along the way it has much to say about life. Very thoughtful book. ( )
  adrianburke | Feb 11, 2017 |
The subtitle pretty much sums this up: Life and language in the Amazonian Jungle. Everett chronicles his experiences over three decades living among and studying the Piraha, an indigenous tribe. He first went to their villages in 1977, as a Christian missionary and accompanied by his wife and three young children. His mission was to learn their language and translate the New Testament into their native tongue so as to bring Jesus to them. What he found was his life’s work.

Parts of this book are very enjoyable for even a lay person (and armchair traveler). There is plenty of danger in the Amazonian jungle – anacondas with a body thicker than a grown man’s, jaguars, caimans, piranhas, not to mention distrustful natives, malaria, typhoid fever and tarantulas the size of dinner plates. Everett and his family encountered all these and more. Stories of hunts, of a frantic trip upriver to take his critically ill wife and child to a hospital, or of altercations with unscrupulous merchants trying to buy natural resources with cheap liquor were told with flare and I found them fascinating and illuminating. But Everett is a linguistics professor/researcher, and there were chapters devoted to detailed study of the structure of language and the way it shapes (or is shaped by) a culture. I tended to lose interest in those sections of the book that read like a research paper, and sometimes got to the end of the page only to realize I’d understood what I read about as well as I might understand the Piraha language.
( )
1 vote BookConcierge | Jan 13, 2016 |
American Daniel Everett spent many years, off and on, living among the Pirahã people of the Amazon jungle. Initially he came as a missionary, with the goal of learning their language and culture in order to translate the Bible for them, but became deeply interested in that language and culture for their own sake, and eventually came to regard much about their attitude towards life and belief as superior to his own, ultimately de-converting himself rather than converting the Pirahã.

In this book, he describes his own experiences living with and learning about the Pirahã and adjusting to life on the Amazon. He also describes, in depth and with considerable analysis, some of the unique and interesting features of Pirahã society and language. The language, in particular, potentially challenges a lot of conventional wisdom about how human languages work, and, Everett believes, suggests a much more complex interplay between language and culture than linguists usually allow for.

The linguistic discussion sometimes gets very technical, and I am in no way expert enough to evaluate whether Everett's take on things is completely right or not, but it is thought-provoking, and there's no question that the language itself is fascinating. As are Everett's observations of the Pirahã culture, although it seemed pretty clear to me that he must be overgeneralizing a bit in places. For instance, he states quite emphatically that the Pirahã are extremely peaceful and non-aggressive among themselves (if not necessarily always with foreigners), but then mentions in passing a couple of details that perhaps call that into question. Although that's probably understandable, really; I don't think there's a society on Earth that's entirely consistent and free of contradiction.

In any case, if you can handle the sometimes hard-to-follow linguistic discussions, it's well worth reading, if only for the example it provides of just how diverse human languages and societies can be, and for its look at thought and speech patterns that can be very different from the ones most of us take for granted. ( )
1 vote bragan | Jul 8, 2015 |
I cannot for the life of me remember why I picked up this book, but I think I saw it referenced in an article or interview somewhere.

In this mysterious place where I had seen this book discussed, it was most clearly described as a book about a linguist working with a tribe in the remote Amazon. Which it is. What my source did not mention was that the dude was a missionary, and in fact, his primary role was that of a missionary, although as a missionary, his primary task was to learn their language in order to translate the Bible. More on this later.

The book starts off with more general information about where he was and what he was learning about the language and culture of this tribe, which is very interesting. The later part of the book is more about the specific linguistic things he was observing, and it gets fairly technical. Some people may want to skim, I am very interested in linguistics so I enjoyed the challenge of trying to puzzle out what he was getting at.

The missionary stuff is a bit odd throughout. After explaining the missionary angle (briefly) it doesn't come up a lot, which seems somewhat unusual to me, except in some awkward mentions of Christianity, like when he tells the story of how he, being the head of a Christian household, uses corporal punishment on his children, but the tribe was really judgy about it, so he stopped, ha ha. I don't even have a strong opinion on this issue, but the way he told the story was weird. Then at the very end of the book, he explained how he eventually became an atheist (or I think he says a "non theist," I'm not sure if that means something specific), and seems to put that change in philosophy squarely on the fact that the people in the tribe are perfectly content and happy without Christianity or any religion that addresses the afterlife. It seemed very extreme to me, like this dude had to go all the way to the Amazon to meet a happy, content, ethical atheist? I know tons of those. I think part of the oddness might be that he was trying to write a book about linguistics, and didn't want it to turn into a big discussion of religion and evangelism so he made the decision to downplay those parts ... but that seems weird too, as if he somehow incidentally became a missionary in the Amazon. ( )
  delphica | Jun 9, 2015 |
Showing 1-5 of 28 (next | show all)
Mit 26 Jahren zieht der Missionar Daniel Everett in den brasilianischen Urwald, um den Stamm der Pirahã zu bekehren. Sieben Jahren später verlässt er die Indianer – seinen Glauben hat er verloren.
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