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Friday, June 06, 2008

The world's most simple language

This is part of chasing frames.
Hi, I am Michael Souza, a linguist researching on languages which do not use recursion. It has long been held by Chomsky and his followers that the human child has an inherent instinct for languages. Teach him a few rules and he will use recursion to make more sentences and phrases. But since Everett discovered the Piraha, I have been fascinated by the other paradigm. That language is cultural. Piraha language has the lowest number of phonemes in the world. Just 3 vowels and 9 consonants. I think I have discovered the Misaka tribe has even lesser, 2 vowels and 6 cosnonants.

I was there in the middle of the amazon, for two months. Was dropped here by canoes, this area being so far out not even float planes come this way. And the worst part is we don't have a common language we both understand. So the going is really tough. I used to grab hold of a object, say a root of tapioca and then try to find out what it is called. Just before I came back to UK I had a vocabulary of 12 words.

Now when I came back the Misaka had become famous. Printed throughout the world, and shown in news channels. I remember the episode. I plane had passed at quite a low altitude over the settlement.
I really laughed my head off when I saw the accompanying article. The entire article was based on guesswork but written like a science paper. It was absurd. For me even though I was there, I could hardly make sense of what went. I'll try to describe the event in detail.

It was morning and I had just had my breakfast of pig liver roasted over fire. Chingwa was cleaning the lama wool he had just shorn off. He had just rubbed in the red blood of the lama they had hunted. Whenever they killed the animal they would rub their blood all over their body to get their spirit's power. A while later the village witch would come to bless them so that the animals spirit really gets one with him.

When the plane came in the witch was blessing them. I'll try to note down whatever I heard with what I understood inside brackets.
"ooe te pee koou. pee tuu GRRRRRR ooooo maaaa keeee" Then she went silent.
From their expression they seemed to know what to do. It was really rehearsed. I later realized that the 2 propeller plane lying across the marsh was their "hunt".

Other than big flying objects they were quiet friendly towards others. I will go back to the Misakas in a week.

More stories - by supreet, dipankar, , amit, forced ambitions

updated on jun 27 2008 - read this report on NGC on which an anthropologist Robert L. Carneiro says:
"The point is that, because we've never contacted them, we just don't know anything about them," he said. "So anything anyone says about them has to be treated as speculation."

read the full report here: http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2008/06/080619-uncontacted-tribe_2.html



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