Eventually Everett came up with a surprising explanation for the peculiarities of the Pirahã idiom. “The language is created by the culture,” says the linguist. He explains the core of Pirahã culture with a simple formula: “Live here and now.” The only thing of importance that is worth communicating to others is what is being experienced at that very moment. “All experience is anchored in the presence,” says Everett, who believes this carpe-diem culture doesn’t allow for abstract thought or complicated connections to the past — limiting the language accordingly.
Living in the now also fits with the fact that the Pirahã don’t appear to have a creation myth explaining existence. When asked, they simply reply: “Everything is the same, things always are.” The mothers also don’t tell their children fairy tales — actually nobody tells any kind of stories. No one paints and there is no art. —Rafaela von Bredow —BRAZIL’S PIRAHÃ TRIBE: Living without Numbers or Time (Spiegel Online)
This article reminds me more than anything else I’ve encountered lately that language is a technology — a skill that we have developed in order to enhance our natural abilities.
I used to think George Orwell was being coy and clever when he presented the concept of Newspeak — that an oppressive government could eliminate a concept such as “freedom” by first redefining it, and then legislating the word out of existence.
This article makes me want to teach 1984, which I’ve never done.