Dan Everett on the excitement of being a linguist

dan everett


One evening, Linea Flansmose Mikkelsen and Liv Moeslund Ahlgren met up in Lingoland at Aarhus University and set up a zoom-connection across the Atlantic Ocean to talk to Dan Everett. He is an American linguist, best known for his work on the Pirahã language, and is currently a professor at Bentley University. This is the first part of the interview, where we talk about Dan Everett’s career, motivations and his dream project.

In the second part of the interview, we discuss the ethical aspects of doing fieldwork.

Can you tell a bit about yourself and how you got into linguistics?

Yeah, so I got into linguistics in order to be a bible translator. I met a young woman …

Your brain can learn languages your whole life…

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– but it cannot learn languages attending language classes once a week

Back when I was a cheeky 14-or-so-year-old, I taught my mom how to say this English sentence: I am an old and ugly witch! She didn’t have a higher education, but at the age of almost 50, when most of the childbearing and caregiving was over and done with, she had decided that she wanted to learn English at a Danish evening school. Apparently, I wanted to help her out a little, and so I taught her the abovementioned phrase. Of course, I told her that it meant something completely different than what it actually does, and I succeeded in my deception, despite the fact that she had …