ALPHABETICAL BRAIN™ VOCABULARY
OF SECULAR SCIENCE STARS
May 15, 2020
The Cultural Tool
by Daniel Leonard Everett.
Pantheon Books, 2012 (351 pages)
INTRODUCTION — The Gift of Prometheus (1-
PART 1 — PROBLEMS (11-
1) LANGUAGE AS A SOCIAL TOOL (13-
2) FROM FIRE TO COMMUNICATION (31-
3) CROSSING THE COMMUNICATION THRESHOLD (46-
4) DOES PLATO HAVE A PROBLEM? (63-
PART 2 — SOLUTIONS (81-
5) UNIVERSALS AND FACULTIES (83-
6) HOW TO BUILD A LANGUAGE (104-
7) THE PLATFORMS FOR LANGUAGE (156-
PART 3 — APPLICATIONS (181-
8) ARISTOTLE'S ANSWER --- Interaction and the Construction of Cultural Signs (183-
9) LANGUAGE --- The Tool (220-
10) LANGUAGE, CULTURE, AND THINKING (255-
11) YOU DRINK. YOU DRIVE. YOU GO TO JAIL --- Cultural Effects on Grammar (273-
12) WELCOME TO THE FREAK SHOW (302-
CONCLUSION — Grammars of Happiness (322-
APPENDIX — Extract from Plato's Meno (328-
LIST OF FIGURES (333-
SUGGESTED READING (334-
AUTHOR NOTE, SUMMARY,
AND BOOK DESCRIPTION
AUTHOR NOTE = Daniel L. Everett is dean of arts and sciences at Bentley University. He has held appointments in linguistics and/or anthropology at the University of Campinas, the University of Pittsburgh, the University of Manchester, and Illinois State University.
SUMMARY = A bold and provocative study that presents language not as an innate component of the brain — as most linguists do — but as an essential tool unique to each culture worldwide.
BOOK DESCRIPTION = For years, the prevailing opinion among academics has been that language is embedded in our genes, existing as an innate and instinctual part of us. But linguist Daniel Everett argues that, like other tools, language was invented by humans and can be reinvented or lost. He shows how the evolution of different language forms — that is, different grammar — reflects how language is influenced by human societies and experiences, and how it expresses their great variety.
For example, the Amazonian Pirahã put words together in ways that violate our long-held under-standing of how language works, and Pirahã grammar expresses complex ideas very differently than English grammar does. Drawing on the Wari' language of Brazil, Everett explains that speakers of all languages, in constructing their stories, omit things that all members of the culture understand. In addition, Everett discusses how some cultures can get by without words for numbers or counting, without verbs for "to say" or "to give," illustrating how the very nature of what's important in a language is culturally determined.
Combining anthropology, primatology, computer science, philosophy, linguistics, psychology, and his own pioneering --- and adventurous --- research with the Amazonian Pirahã, and using insights from many different languages and cultures, Everett gives us an unprecedented elucidation of this society-defined nature of language. In doing so, he also gives us a new understanding of how we think and who we are.
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