Georg W. Oesterdiekhoff: Evolution of Mind and Language. Learning from the Pirahã Case


The language of the Pirahã, an indigenuous group living in the Amazonian rain forest, lacks recursion and embedding, plural and passive, and has some other traits that discriminate this kind of language from those nowadays usually spoken. Daniel L. Everett described this language, and intended to explain mind, language, and culture of the Pirahã by their cultural values and norms they allegedly appreciate. He assumed that they follow the immediate experience principle that hinders them to surpass hic et nunc experiences and to apply any kind of abstractions. In this article, the author demonstrates that developmental psychology is needed for the explanation of the traits of language and mind mentioned. He also argues that both Chomsky’s universal grammar theory and Darwinian approaches blockade the proper study of the history of language. The Pirahã language takes a certain place in the history of the human language, as the Pirahã mind does in the history of mind and culture.

[Pirahã, Language evolution, recursion, immediate experience principle, dream, myth, educability, psychological stage, preoperational stage]