The Pirahã Challenge

An Amazonian tribe takes grammar to a strange place

By Bruce Bower, 15:53 PM April 15, 2008

When Daniel L. Everett and his wife Keren Everett started spending 6 to 8 months each year with the Pirahã people of Brazil's Amazon rain forest in 1977, they hoped to decipher a language that had long stumped missionaries in the region. By 1980, the two outsiders spoke the native tongue well enough to field an intriguing proposal from villagers: to teach them to count and to read. The villagers hoped that counting would prevent them from getting cheated when trading Brazil nuts and other go...

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