Living without Numbers or Time

Rafaela von Bredow in Spiegel Magazine:

0102062002400The Pirahã people have no history, no descriptive words and no subordinate clauses. That makes their language one of the strangest in the world — and also one of the most hotly debated by linguists.

During one of his first visits to Brazil’s Pirahãs, members of the tribe wanted to kill Daniel Everett. At that point, he wasn’t even a “bagiai” (friend) yet and a travelling salesman — who felt Everett had conned him — had promised the natives a lot of whiskey for the murder. In the gloom of midnight, the Pirahã warriors huddled along the banks of the Maici and planned their attack.

What the tribesmen didn’t realize, however, was that Everett, a linguist, was eavesdropping, and he could already understand enough of the Amazon people’s cacophonic singsong to make out the decisive words.

More here.