Daniel Everett - Don't Sleep, There Are Snakes

Don't Sleep, There Are Snakes: Life And Language In The Amazonian Jungle - Daniel L. Everett

You know know that situation when you meet somebody and they really annoy you but later on, much to your surprise, you end being very good friends with them? That's what happened with me and Mr Everett. My initial reaction to him and what I was reading was: Oh geez, what an American! And I apologise to all my American friends, I love you all, but I did mean that pejoratively. One example: Everett was really upset with all the people of Brazil for seemingly not giving a damn about the fact his wife was very sick with malaria, and maybe dying even. It took him YEARS to realise that the reason behind was that poor Brazilian people keep dying of all sorts of diseases and the world doesn't stop turning, so Brazilian people didn't understand why it should stop turning because of an American being sick. It really did take him YEARS to realise that. Let me just say in my finest Americanese - DOH!

This book was all over the place. It went like this: I went to Amazanionan Jungle to talk about God to the Indians. My wife got malaria. The Pirahas don't have numerals. My kids grew up in the jungle and the Pirahas talk about sex a lot. They also don't have recurssion in their language, so clearly Chomsky was wrong. Also, there is no God (sorry if this last bit was a spoiler to some). 
But I forgive Everett everything because anyone who says Chomsky is wrong and manages to undermine his whole silly theory is a friend of mine. 

The best chapter of the book is when Everett after 20 or 30 years realizes that the Pirahas will never be converted (did I mention he went there as a missonary?) and consequently comes to the conclusion that the Bible is a load of rubbish. Here are a few quotes because to get to that chapter you have to read first a few about recurssion in the language, Chomsky's Universal Grammar theory and general musings about linguistics. I am not sure you have it in you to do that, so here are the best bits. You can thank me later.

"On our furlough, I thought again of the challenge of the missionary: to convince a happy, satisfied people that they are lost and need Jesus as their personal saviour. My evangelism professor at Biola University, Dr. Curtis Mitchell used to say. 'You've gotta get 'em lost before you can get 'em saved.' If people don't perceive a serious lack of some sort in their lives, they are less likely to embrace new beliefs, especially about God and salvation"

So that's how it's done! I see!

"'The woman are afraid of Jesus. We do not want him.'
'Why not?' I asked, wondering what triggered this declaration.
'Because last night he came to our village and tried to have sex with our women. He chased them around the village, trying to stick his large penis into them.'
Kaaxaooi proceeded to show me with his two hands held far apart how long Jesus's penis was - a good three feet."

"'The Pirahas know that you left your family and your own land to come here and live with us. We know that you do this to tell us about Jesus. You want us to live like Americans. But the Pirahas do not want to live like Americans. We like to drink. We like more than one woman. We don't want Jesus. But we like you. You can stay with us. But we don't want to hear any more about Jesus. OK?'"

A winner.