Not that I expect any Pirahãs are likely to be reading this letter, addressed rhetorically to them. Nevertheless, if I were to write to them in a forum in which they were likely to take part, I would ask why they felt the perverse need to develop a language so unlike any other that it offers challenges to the bedrock of the enterprise of Universal Grammar, and then hide it away in the Amazon where it is so hard to study.
It is only common linguistic decency, if your speakers are so difficult to get to, to offer up some small unexpected nugget, ripe for provocative analysis, so that any grad student who
has schlepped all the way to wherever you are can get a decent dissertation out of the experience. But if you are going to try to blow the lid off some foundational claims of certain dogmatic branches of our field, at least do Linguistics the courtesy of being located in some inner city neighborhood with acceptable public transportation, or in some semi-
Again, I wouldn’t really expect the Pirahãs to have any sort of answer for me, since my questions impart a rhetorical teleologicality to the development of their language that is both inherently ridiculous in practical terms, while subtly elucidating on a metaphorical plane. (If you don’t immediately see that this is so, at least have the good sense to keep your mouth shut, lest the tenure-
Or, à la mode of the younger (and, frankly, less promising) SpecGram interns, “PIRAHÃS, Y U NO SPK NORML LANGUAGE?” Indeed.