Thursday, August 14, 2008

An Unexpected Meeting with Kenneth Pike

A friend regularly passes on his old New Yorkers to us, and, besides the cartoons, there are always some gems and surprises. For example, Gordon alumnus Kenneth Pike '33 is mentioned in John Colapinto's fascinating article about Dan Everett, a linguist who has done extensive work among the Pirahã tribe in the rain forest of northwestern Brazil:

"Everett and his wife were welcomed by the villagers, but it was months before they could conduct a simple conversation in Pirahã. 'There are very few places in the world where you have to learn a language with no language in common,' Everett told me. 'It’s called a monolingual field situation.' He had been trained in the technique by his teacher at SIL (Summer Institute of Linguistics], the late Kenneth L. Pike, a legendary field linguist and the chairman of the Linguistics Department at the University of Michigan. Pike, who created a method of language analysis called tagmemics, taught Everett to start with common nouns. 'You find out the word for "stick," Everett said. 'Then you try to get the expression for "two sticks," and for "one stick drops to the ground," "two sticks drop to the ground." You have to act everything out, to get some basic notion of how the clause structure works—where the subject, verb, and object go.'” Read the entire article...

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