An entertaining and convincing riposte both to Noam Chomsky's notion of 'universal grammar' which has dominated linguistics for decades and Steven Pinker's populist 'language instinct'. Both so-called 'nativist' theories claim the capacity and underlying language structure is somehow genetically 'programmed in' to the human brain, and that the difference between for example Japanese and German are so superficial to be hardly worth studying. Above all, Chomsky and Pinker argue that culture is of minimal importance to the structure of languages.
Everett refutes this almost completely, basing his case on his own decades-long fieldwork with the Pirahã people of the Amazon and the emerging evidence from a wide range of other researchers that culture is vitally important to language formation. Everett argues that language is a tool, highly adapted to a particular culture and well capable of having evolved from non-language cognitive skills. There was simply never any need to evolve a 'language instinct' and it is the actually the culturally-contextualised differences between languages, not their underlying similarities (which may be due more to basic cognitive processes than genetics anyway) that help us understand how human language works.
It is an enthralling and emotional tale, unfortunately often undermined by a sprawling structure that sometimes reads like the jumbled lecture notes of a rather good undergraduate course, complete with frequent repetitions for the slower student. The argument clearly wins on points but I felt needed a tighter, more focused approach to land a knock-out blow.