Top critical review
15 people found this helpful
on 27 May 2012
Perhaps my expectations were set too high, but "Language: The Cultural Tool" is written in a disappointingly simple way, aimed at people with little understanding of linguistics. The author often digresses and explains basic concepts at great length, while examples of utterances in Pirahã are not sufficiently analysed.
For instance, the example of three Pirahã sentences (?) that were supposed to show that Pirahã sentences are not recursive seems to contradict this very assumption, as each of the units the author considers a separate sentence indicates that the following unit is indirect speech in a different way, as if showing different layers of embedding for the final unit, which could just as well mean that the whole structure either is a sentence or is analogous to one, and that recursion does exist in Pirahã.
The author tries to prove that there is no universal grammar by showing how different (from English) the languages spoken by tribes living in the rainforest are. However, the sentences used as examples are translated literally and their structure is not sufficiently analysed. The author's ignorance of analogy, inability to consistently operate on the same concepts, amazement at morphology that is common in many widely used modern languages and presentation of any differences from English grammar as something very exotic made me very sceptical about the validity of his theories and analysis of the Pirahã language.