Sample Coursework Paper on the Role of Culture in the Piraha Language

Daniel Everett went to the Piraha people with the sole purpose of reaching them with the gospel of Christ but by the time he was leaving them, he was no longer a Christian. He cited that his first mandate to the SIL was to learn the grammar of the Piraha’s language so as to aid the process of bible translation. The language and the peaceful culture of the people pulled him to them. To Everett, his stay among this people led to a journey of questioning the existing linguistic theories and anthropological exploration of a people, who for a long time have opposed the influence that comes with westernization. He pointed out that the villagers at some instance told that he was welcome to stay among them but not tell them about Jesus.

Their language flouted the known linguistic theories and the way of life was contradicts the contemporary understanding. This is demonstrated by the fact that they do not have a counting system, no fixed terms for color, no contempt of war, or even the aspect of individual property. The linguistics characteristics of the Piraha include tonal variation with each vowel accompanied by either a high or low pitch. He cited that the language is heard to learn as it has three vowels and eight consonantal sounds and a glottal stop. In addition, sentence construction in the language is different from that of other languages. Descriptive phrases and comparatives do not exist as well as stories about the past or even thing expected in normal life couldn’t be found which posed a challenge for his prior assignment.

Everett (2005) argued that Piraha language defies the characteristics of the universally accepted principle of human language by culturally constraining interchangeability, displacement, and productivity. The culture of the Piraha community restricts communication to nonabstract subjects with fall into their immediate environment and their sentences lack recursion. A Piraha speaker will say “give the fish. That fish Cato caught” instead of “give me the fish Caro caught”.



Everett, D. L. (2009). Don’t sleep, there are snakes: Life and language in the Amazonian jungle. London: Profile Books.

Everett D.L (2005). Cultural constrains on garammar and cognition in piraha: another look at the design and features of human language. Web. 9th May 2014.