Daniel Everett


Average rating



Daniel Leonard Everett (born 26 July 1951) is an American linguist and author best known for his study of the Amazon basin's Pirahã people and their language. Everett is currently a Trustee Professor of Cognitive Sciences at Bentley University in Waltham, Massachusetts. From July 1, 2010, to June 30, 2018, Everett served as Bentley Dean of Arts and Sciences. Prior to Bentley University, Everett was chair of the Department of Languages, Literatures, and Cultures at Illinois State University in Normal, Illinois. 

He has taught at the University of Manchester and the University of Campinas and is a former chair of the Linguistics Department of the University of Pittsburgh. Everett was raised near the Mexican border in Holtville, California. His father was an occasional cowboy, mechanic, and construction worker. His mother was a waitress at a local restaurant. Everett played in rock bands from the time he was 11 years old until converting to Christianity at age 17, after meeting missionaries Al and Sue Graham in San Diego, California.

At age 18, Everett married the daughter of these missionaries, Keren. He completed a diploma in Foreign Missions from the Moody Bible Institute of Chicago in 1975. Daniel and Keren Everett subsequently enrolled in the Summer Institute of Linguistics (now SIL International), which trains missionaries in field linguistics so that they can translate the Bible into various world languages.

Because Everett, by his own account, quickly demonstrated a gift for language, he was invited to study Pirahã, which previous SIL missionaries had, according to Everett, failed to learn in 20 years of study. In 1977, after four months of jungle training and three semesters of courses in linguistic analysis, translation principles, and literacy development, the couple and their three children moved to Brazil, where they studied Portuguese for a year before moving to a Pirahã village at the mouth of the Maurice River in the Lowland Amazonia region. 

Since 1999, Everett's stays in the jungle have notoriously included a generator-powered freezer and a large video and DVD collection. Says Everett, "After twenty years of living like a Pirahã, I’d had it with roughing it." Everett's first marriage to Keren Graham lasted 35 years, and they had three children: Caleb Everett (associate professor of anthropology, University of Miami); Kristene Diggins (a doctor of nursing practice in Charlotte, North Carolina); and Shannon Russell (a missionary with Jungle Aviation and Radio Service (JAARS), along with her husband).

Everett had some initial success learning the language. Still, when SIL lost its contract with the Brazilian government, he enrolled in the fall of 1978 at the University of Campinas in Brazil, under the auspices of which he could continue to study Pirahã. Everett focused on the theories of Noam Chomsky. His master's thesis, Aspectos da Fonologia do Pirahã, was written under the direction of Aryon Rodrigues, one of the leading experts on Amazonian languages. 

It was completed in 1980. His Ph.D. dissertation, A Lingua Pirahã e Teoria da Sintaxe, completed in 1983, was written under the direction of Charlotte Chambelland Galves. This dissertation provided a detailed Chomskyan analysis of Pirahã. On one of his research missions in 1993, Everett was the first to document the Oro Win language, one of the few languages in the world to use the rare voiceless dental bilabially trilled affricate.

Best author’s book


Don’t Sleep, There Are Snakes

Scott Young