Daniel Everett

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Daniel Leonard Everett (born July 26, 1951 in Holtville, California) is an American linguist specializing in phonetics and phonology.


Daniel Everett went to Brazil in 1977 to missionize the Pirahã people. According to his own statement, “But when I first went to Brazil in 1977, my only degree was an undergraduate diploma in ‘Bible and Foreign Missions’ from the Moody Bible Institute in Chicago.”[1]

Influenced by their concept of truth and the Pirahãs’ lack of a creation myth, he slowly lost his faith and became an atheist starting in 1985.[2] Everett was at the University of Pittsburgh from 1989 to 1999; he taught at Illinois State University from 2006 to 2010. Since 2010, he has been a professor of sociology at Bentley University in Waltham.[3]


Everett became known above all for his controversial theses on the Pirahã language, which, according to him, deviates in essential points from other languages and thus speaks against Chomsky’s assumption of a universal grammar. For the Pirahã language does not know many of the elements that Noam Chomsky, Steven Pinker and others consider genetically determined. The language of the Pirahã gets by with about half of the consonants and vowels of the (Greek) alphabet. This language has no prefixes or suffixes, no plural or singular forms, and no other complicated features such as irregular forms. Apparently this is sufficient for Pirahã communication, Everett concluded from his language research.
Since the language of the Pirahã does not give passive constructions, all narratives have main characters of the plot. Past tenses are completely absent, instead of temporally or logically connecting main and subordinate clauses, there are series. They string words together like strings of pearls: “Dog tail at the end is bad.”
Knowledge in the spiritual world of the Pirahã requires the report of an eyewitness: they distinguish exactly whether the one who tells something has seen and heard it or only knows it from hearsay. Such evaluations are also attached as endings to the verbs at the end of a speech-message. The missionary’s stories became completely implausible the moment he had to concede that he had never seen or heard Jesus. Their language addresses immediate experience and is tied to immediate experience. Conversations about the spirit world have nothing fictional for the Pirahã. For them, dreams are experiences like any other. Topics that are not rooted in subjective experience are foreign to the Pirahã.

Works (selection)

  • The happiest people. Seven years with the Pirahã Indians on the Amazon. Translated by Sebastian Vogel. Deutsche Verlags-Anstalt, Munich 2010, ISBN 978-3-421-04307-8.
  • The greatest invention of mankind. What my years on the Amazon have taught me about the nature of language. Translated by Harald Stadler. Deutsche Verlags-Anstalt, Munich 2013, ISBN 978-3-421-04594-2.
  • Linguistic Fieldwork – A Student Guide. Cambridge University Press, 2012. ISBN 978-0521545983.
  • Dark Matter of the Mind: The Culturally Articulated Unconscious. The University of Chicago Press, 2016. ISBN 978-0226070766.
  • How Language Began: The Story of Humanity’s Greatest Invention. Profile Books, 2017. ISBN 978-1781253922.

Web links

Individual references

  1. Daniel Everett:The Pirahã: People Who Define Happiness Without God.In: FreethoughtToday 27/3 April 2010, accessed 2 May 2018 (English).
  2. Godless Tribe De-converts Christian (interview).(YouTube video; 10:07 minutes) In: Radio NewZealand. 29 June 2009, accessed 2 May 2018 (English).
    Patrick Barkham:The power of speech.In: TheGuardian. 2 May 2018, accessed 2 May 2018 (English).
  3. Daniel Everett.Bentley University, retrieved 2 May 2018 (English).