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Dan Everett

Monday, April 8th at 2:00 p.m., Dan Everett will give a colloquium in the UCSD Linguistics Department, in AP&M 4301.

Language as a cultural tool

In the emergence of modern linguistics in the United States, from the work of Boas, Sapir, Haas, Pike and many others, language was considered part of human behavior or human culture, hence its appearance as one of the four pillars of anthropology. With the advent of Chomsky's work, though also through earlier work such as Harris, Wells, Bloch, Trager, Hockett and others, many linguists came to believe that language possessed unique properties that required that it be studied as a separate discipline. In this paper I will revisit this debate, focusing on the nature of syntax. I will look primarily at Piraha, though other Amazonian languages will also be discussed. In Piraha I claim that a general cultural principle, Immediacy of Experience, is reflected in the grammar via the Potential Evidentiality Domain (PED), an idea I develop within the theory of Role and Reference Grammar (Van Valin 2007). The effect of the PED in Piraha is to eliminate recursion from the sentential syntax, though not from discourse. The implications of this are, buttressed by quite different data from Wari', a language with rich recursive syntax, is that there is little need to appeal to nativism to account for human syntactic abilities.