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Chomsky-challenging linguist to speak on campus

The Connecticut College Department of Anthropology will host a talk by Daniel Everett, acclaimed author, dean of arts and sciences at Bentley University and a controversial figure in the field of linguistics, on Tuesday, Sept. 11, at 4:15 p.m. in Room 014 of Olin Science Center. Everett's talk, "Language, Culture and Being Human," will draw in part from his 2009 book "Don't Sleep, There Are Snakes," in which he described his years living with and studying the language of the Pirahã, a hunter-gatherer society inhabiting the banks of the Amazon's Maici River. He will share rich and astounding observations of a people who still speak one of the world's most complex languages. "Daniel Everett's hypotheses have forced many researchers to reevaluate some very basic assumptions about the relationship of language to cognition," said Assistant Professor of Anthropology Anthony Graesch. "Indeed, his data and interpretations challenge Noam Chomsky's widely accepted idea that all human languages share a common set of attributes, or the notion of a universal grammar. For some folks, challenging the idea of a universal grammar is akin to asking physicists to rethink Newton's law of gravity. He has stirred a hornet's nest with some rather compelling data." Audiences from all disciplinary backgrounds will find his candid accounts of life in the Amazon interesting and deeply moving, and non-specialists will be introduced to a fascinating ongoing debate about the origin of languages. And the story of Everett's personal transformation is captivating. "This guy began work with the Pirahã as a missionary and with the intent of changing their belief system, an otherwise deeply colonial pursuit that values one way of being human - i.e., ours - over others," said Graesch. "In the end, it was the Pirahã who compelled him to come to grip with the basis of his own beliefs and ultimately renounce Christianity. It begs the question, 'What experiences could compel an abandonment of one's belief systems?'" "Language, Culture and Being Human" is co-sponsored by the Mellon Mays Undergraduate Fellowship program. It is free and open to the public. A reception and book-signing will follow.

September 7, 2012

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