Monday, October 16, 2006

No Ojibwe owns a skunk

The linguist Bill Bright, has passed away. While I was reading through some of his talks, I came across the following story about Edward Sapir.
"Examples presented in the grammar should be based as much as possible on naturally occurring utterances, not on strings of morphemes or words which the linguist creates himself, or obtains by direct elicitation from speakers. To whatever extent examples fail to represent natural utterances, they fail to represent the cultural context of the language. Sapir is said to have asked an Ojibwe to say “my skunk, your skunk” etc., in order to test a morphophonemic hypothesis; but the Indian rightly refused , saying “No Ojibwe owns a skunk.” The fact that no Ojibwe owns a skunk is a cultural fact which should not be falsified."

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