Saturday, June 6, 2009

The Pirahã Tribe

The Pirahã are an Amazonian tribe that has baffled ethnographers for decades. Their culture has no complete perception of color, quantity, or time. They can recall events from, at most, one or two weeks prior, and the idea of planning for the future is wholly foreign to them.

Their language (also called Pirahã) is unique as well. It has very few phonemes—eleven for men, ten for women—and complex digraphs. It is a tonal language, with the interesting feature that it can be sung or whistled and still convey as much information as if spoken.

A handful of daring individuals have been analyzing the culture and their language. The most prominent ones have been husband-and-wife linguistic team Daniel and Keren Everett, who have been living off-and-on with the Pirahã since 1987.

It is difficult to summarize all the peculiar things about this tribe! Lots of other people have written fascinating articles. Read this one. Read this one. Here's Wikipedia's article on the tribe. Here's Wikipedia's article on the language.

We plan to have a post in the near future about another whistled language, El Silbo Gomero. Stay tuned for that.

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