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Do You Struggle with Small-Talk?

in The Doing English Blog

One of the best books I’ve read…

… is “Don’t sleep, there are snakes”, by Daniel Everett.

Everett was a Christian missionary. He went to live in the jungle with a tribe of Amazonian Indians called the Pirahã to spread the word of god. But his experience was so profound that he gave up Christianity and become a linguist.

One of the things Everett talks about is “phatic” language in Pirahã. Phatic communication is a very important part of English.

Watch this video:

The Pirahã is an extreme (and very rare) case.

But this is important because no matter how you try to translate “how’re you?” into Pirahã, it’ll never make sense. Because you’re expressing a concept that the Pirahã people don’t have.

If you’re struggling with small-talk in English, start by asking yourself: am I stubbornly trying to express things that the people I’m talking to don’t express?

We’ll continue this conversation tomorrow.

But in the meantime…

On the 27th of this month, I’m doing Small Talk Superhero, live in Tokyo.

Click here to claim your place. The price goes up on January 12th at 11:59 pm JST.


Julian Northbrook
The Language Punk

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