Recently, a disagreement about the syntactic analysis of certain aspects of an obscure language has achieved an unusual degree of public interest: Tom Bartlett, "Angry words", The Chronicle of Higher Education, 3/20/2012; Jenny Schuessler, "How do you say 'disagreement' in Pirahã?", NYT, 3/21/2012; etc. Of course, as those articles explain, this is all part of a broader controversy about the nature of language, whose latest round was kicked off by the publication of Dan Everett's new book, Language: The Cultural Tool.
Geoff Pullum's latest Lingua Franca column, "The Rise and Fall of a Venomous Dispute", puts this dispute into historical and intellectual perspective. If what you've learned of the squabble's linguistic, philosophical, or political aspects interests you at all, Geoff's essay is the thing to read. In case you want more, I've collected a list of links below.
There are many fascinating questions about the Pirahã language and culture, which unfortunately we won't learn much more about as long as Dan Everett is prohibited from working with the Pirahã. (His exclusion also prevents him from bringing other scientists to work with them, as he has done with Michael Frank, Ted Gibson, and Peter Gordon, among others.) But as Geoff observes, there's little intellectual (as opposed to political) substance left in the analytic controversy described in the recent articles. In particular, the controversy about the syntax of Pirahã has effectively been conceded by Everett's opponents, since they've apparently clarified their position in such a way that his arguments no longer apply to it. [Update — as Dave Pesetsky notes in the comments, he and his colleagues no longer believe that if Pirahã lacked subordinate clauses, it would be a problem for Chomsky's current theory of "universal grammar"; but they haven't given up the argument that Pirahã does have subordinate clauses all the same.] In any event, here are the manuscripts and published papers involved in that dispute:
Daniel Everett, "Cultural constraints on grammar and cognition in Pirahã", Current Anthropology 2005.
Andrew Nevins, David Pesetsky, and Cilene Rodriguez, "Pirahã Exceptionality: a Reassessment", ms. 2007.
Daniel Everett, "Cultural Constraints on Grammar in Pirahã: A Reply to Nevins, Pesetsky, and Rodrigues (2007)", ms. 2007
Andrew Nevins, David Pesetsky, and Cilene Rodriguez, "Pirahã Exceptionality: a Reassessment", version as published in Language 85.2 2009
Daniel Everett, "Pirahã culture and grammar: A response to some criticisms", Language 85.2 2009.
Andrew Nevins, David Pesetsky, and Cilene Rodriguez, "Evidence and Argumentation: A Reply to Everett (2009)", Language 85.3 2009
Here are the slides from some as-yet unpublished work taking a broader empirical look at the key question (that used to be) in dispute:
Steven Piantadosi, Laura Stearns, Daniel Everett, and Edward Gibson, "A corpus analysis of Pirahã grammar: An investigation of recursion", LSA presentation 2012.
Here are some Language Log posts on the general topic:
One, two, many — or 'small size', 'large size', 'cause to come together'? (8/20/2004)
Life without counting throwing (8/22/2004)
The Straight Ones: Dan Everett on the Pirahã (8/26/2004)
On counting and throwing (8/27/2004)
No abstract concepts for them (9/7/2004)
Pica on the Mundurucú (11/1/2004)
Cultural constraints on grammar (3/10/2005)
JP versus FHC+CHF versus PJ versus HCF
Good story, bad headline (5/11/2006)
Parataxis in Pirahã (5/19/2006)
Pirahã channels (5/21/2006)
Fear and loathing on Massachusetts Avenue (11/29/2006)
Dan Everett and the Pirahã in the New Yorker (4/9/2007)
Pirahã color terms (4/13/2007)
Comments on 'The Interpreter' (4/23/2007)
The enveloping Pirahã brouhaha (6/11/2007)
The Pirahã and us (10/6/2007)
Ontological promiscuity v. recursion (2/10/2008)
Typological progress (5/11/2008)
The cognitive technology of number (6/11/2008)
Everett on the Pirahã in The Guardian (11/10/2008)