“The Pirahã People, a tribe in the Amazon, have been made famous for several quirks that counter previously accepted conclusions in linguistics and anthropology. They’re atheists and they have no words for colors or discrete numbers. They also have this fascinating way of viewing the world which I think belies a fundamental difference in how they perceive reality and the things with which they interact. As I’ve read about them, I increasingly think that their thought format is different, and informs their perception and thus their language.
There was one Pirahã word I learned from Everett’s 2005 article in Current Anthropology which deserves some special attention.
This word beautifully describes how differently the Pirahã think about the nature of things in the material world.
When the Pirahã hear a boat coming, they line up on the beach, waiting. When it appears, they say the boat is ‘ibipio. When the boat continues around the bend and disappears, they say the boat is ‘ibipio.
Light a match. ‘ibipio.
Extinguish a match. ‘ibipio.
“They especially use this for a flickering match and love to watch one, saying, ‘Keep on ‘ibipiai’ […] excitement at seeing a canoe go around a river bend is hard to describe; they see this almost as traveling into another dimension.”