Southern Voices, #1 (May 2012)

Editor's note

South American linguistics is, fortunately, an increasingly-active field. This newsletter intends to present, to a wider audience, only a sample of what's being produced by our fellow South Americanists. For up-to-date, real-time information, the reader is strongly encouraged to subscribe to our discussion list and follow us on Twitter.*

A new dissertation on Borum

Our dissertarion repository has now more than 260 titles! For the latest additions, click here.

Borum (also known as Botocudo or Krenák), a severely-endangered Macro-Jê language from Brazil, is the subject of a dissertation recently defended at the State University of Campinas (Unicamp) by Katia Nepomuceno Pessoa. Entitled Análise fonética e fonológica da língua Krenak e abordagem preliminar de contos Botocudo, the dissertation provides a detailed analysis of the language's sound inventory (which includes the unusual — and comparatively puzzling — voiceless nasal consonants).

Although there are several vocabularies of Botocudo dialects, collected since the early 1800s, there is a regrettable gap in textual documentation. Pessoa's dissertation (written under the guidance of Lucy Seki, who has worked with the last speakers since the 1970s) contributes to fill this gap, analyzing traditional tales collected by Russian ethnographer Henri Manizer in 1915. The dissertation can be downloaded at the following address:

Bill Crocker on Brazilian TV

The popular Brazilian TV show Fantástico (TV Globo) aired last January a piece on the work of the anthropologist Bill Crocker (Smithsonian Institution) among the Canela (Northern Jê, Brazil). Crocker’s research, for the past five decades, continues the work of another great ethnographer, Curt Nimuendajú, accompanying closely the lives of several generations of the tribe. The show provides an engrossing (and surprisingly accurate) portrait of an anthropologist’s dedication to his work and to the community who welcomed him. The video can be reached through the following link:

“Os Xetá”, a video documentary

The documentary “Os Xetá” tells the history of the contact (followed by the almost complete extermination) of the Xetá tribe (Tupí-Guaraní family) with land-grabbing farmers in Paraná, Southern Brazil. The story is a familiar one of unchecked greed and disregard for indigenous rights; but, instead of taking place in colonial times or in the lawless jungles of the Amazon, it takes place in the 1940s and 1950s in southern Brazil, one of the most “Europeanized” parts of the country. The documentary interviews anthropologists, the linguist Aryon Rodrigues (University of Brasilia), and members of the tribe, including witnesses to the first contacts (when the Xetá were still a hunter-gatherer society inhabiting the forests of northwestern Paraná) such as Tucanambá (one of the last speakers of the language, who died in 2007). Concluded in 2008, the documentary was recently made available online:

LIAMES (Línguas Indígenas Americanas) entirely online

The entire collection of the Brazilian journal LIAMES (Línguas Indígenas Americanas) is now freely available online (volumes 1 to 11), in addition to its print edition. Created in 2001 by Lucy Seki (an honorary LSA member since 2010) and her colleagues Angel Corbera Mori and Wilmar da Rocha D’Angelis at the State University of Campinas (UNICAMP), LIAMES (which publishes articles mostly in Portuguese, Spanish, and English) quickly evolved into one of the most important publications in the field. A link to the LIAMES website can be found at the following address:

Nimuendajú's map

The “Ethno-Historical Map of Brazil and Adjacent Regions”, concluded by the ethnographer Curt Nimuendajú in 1944 (based on personal fieldwork and extensive bibliographical research) and published almost four decades later, is still one of the most authoritative sources on the location of extinct and current indigenous tribes in Brazil. The (rather oversized) map was recently scanned and is now available at the Curt Nimuendajú Digital Library:

A collection of traditional narratives in Kamaiurá (Tupi-Guarani, Brazil)

Jene ramÿjwena jurupytsaret/O que habitava a boca de nossos ancestrais (“What inhabited our ancestor’s mouthes”) is a bilingual (Kamaiurá/Portuguese) collection of mythical narratives recorded by Lucy Seki, the main expert on the language, since the 1960s. Richly illustrated by Seki’s Kamaiurá consultants, the book was published last month by Rio’s Museu do Índio (maintained by FUNAI, Brazil’s national bureau for Indian affairs), which is in charge of its distribution. Details on the book, including links to read it freely online, video interviews with Seki and a Kamaiurá storyteller, and information on how to obtain a copy, can be found through the following address:

Whatever happened to Mashubi?


Cadernos de Etnolingüística, an electronic journal on South American languages, has just published an article by Hein van der Voort (a leading expert on Rondonian languages) investigating the linguistic affiliation of the "Mashubi," an Amazonian tribe visited by British adventurer Percy Fawcett in 1914:

Confirming ethnographer Franz Caspar's (1955) suggestion, the article demonstrates that the "Mashubi" were the ancestors of the present-day Arikapú (Jabutí family, Macro-Jê stock), whose language is now down to one speaker. As with previous issues of the "Cadernos," the article is enriched with links to a number of freely-available original sources ("EtnoLinks"), including Caspar's 1955 article and Fawcett's paper on the Mashubi.

South American languages in the media (Aymara and Paraguayan Guarani)

Two of the most-widely spoken South American languages—Paraguayan Guarani and Aymara—were recently portrayed in English-language media. Back in March, The New York Times ran a piece (“An Indigenous Language With Unique Staying Power”) dealing especially with the value of Guarani as a political tool and symbol of national identity in Paraguay:

Earlier this month, Aljazeera published a report on the situation of Aymara in Bolivia, offering a very informative look into the struggles of the language to stand its ground in a context in which it can still be perceived as a sign of “low class and backwardness,” despite the ascension of Aymara-speaking Evo Morales to power:

The program is the latest in the series “Living the Language”, focusing on endangered languages, which included programs on two other indigenous American languages: Ktunaxa (Canada) and Maya (Guatemala).

  • This issue was edited by Eduardo R. Ribeiro.
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