Beyond the Book: Background information when reading Don't Sleep, There Are Snakes

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Don't Sleep, There Are Snakes

Life and Language in the Amazonian Jungle

by Daniel L. Everett

Don't Sleep, There Are Snakes
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  • First Published:
    Nov 2008, 304 pages
    Paperback:
    Nov 2009, 304 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Amy Reading

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Beyond the Book

Everett vs. Chomsky
In Don't Sleep, There are Snakes, the elephant in the room—or rather, the elephant in the Amazonian jungle—is the noted American linguist, Noam Chomsky. To put it far too simply, Chomsky and Everett are feuding over which has supremacy in linguistics: genetics or culture, nature or nurture.

Chomsky's theory of universal grammar, which has dominated linguistics for the last forty decades, hypothesizes that the human brain comes pre-equipped with a set of rules for constraining language. The theory arose from a question: how can a child who is acquiring language learn what is ungrammatical, if the only speech she hears is grammatical and correct? Adults do not teach language to children by speaking improper sentences and then marking them as such, so how do children know what formulations violate their languages' grammar? The theory of universal grammar answers that this knowledge has been evolutionarily mapped onto our brains. It ...

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