For those who are not subscribed to the etnolinguistica listserve — a must, btw, for Amazonianists — I wanted to mention the online availability of a recent dissertation, here:

Albuquerque, Francisco Edvige. 2008. Contribuição da fonologia ao processo de educação indígena Apinajé. Universidade Federal do Tocantins.

The dissertation focuses on a re-study of Apinajé phonology, and the implications of the results of this study for the Apinajé orthography and the teaching materials used in Apinajé bilingual education programs. On the phonological front, the author concludes that previous analyses of the Apinajé phonological inventory were flawed due to the inclusion of three nasal mid vowels, which he concludes are not contrastive in Apinajé. He includes a very interesting discussion of the practical and political issues surrounding the Apinajé orthography raised by the new phonological findings.

(For Mac users: The pdf file was not readable with Preview; it comes out fine with Acrobat Reader.)


New research website

January 29, 2008

Recently I have been putting most of my so-called spare time into putting together a website that describes my research projects and provides links to most of my publications. As a result I have been neglecting this blog, but the site is now up, and can be viewed here. Comments and questions are, of course, very welcome.

The Ideophone

January 25, 2008

If you haven’t done so yet, I recommend visting The Ideophone, a new blog written by Mark Dingemanse, a PhD student at MPI Nijmegen. So far he has mostly been writing substantial and interesting posts on African languages and expressivity. He has also just written a post on Zotero, a free bibliographic database program with nice web browser integration.

Kampan Dilemma

January 15, 2008

I’ve recently been thinking a lot about a dilemma which has been bothering me more and more over the past few months. The dilemma concerns the name to use for the sub-branch of the Arawak language family that I work with, which includes Ashéninka, Asháninka, Kakinte, Nanti, Nomatsigenga, and Matsigenka. At this time, one encounters two different names for this family in the scholarly literature: `Pre-Andine (Arawak)’ and ‘Kampan’ (also ‘Kampa’ and ‘Campa’). Unfortunately, each name suffers from certain drawbacks which make me wish there was a good alternative, but I am very hesitant about inventing a third name. My decision thus far is to use ‘Kampan’, but I remain somewhat uneasy about this choice. Let me explain.

First, what’s wrong with ‘Pre-Andine’? Basically, the problem is that the history of the term makes it very ambiguous what set of languages one is referring to by the term. The term was originally coined by Paul Rivet for a proposed grouping of Arawak languages that encompassed what are now commonly known as the Kampan and the Pur\’us branches. The best known languages of the latter branch are Yine (Piro) and Apurinã (Ipurina). Later, Yanesha’ (Amuesha) and the Harakmbet family were added, and each subsequently removed. As David Payne showed back in 1991, however, there is little evidence to support even the grouping together of the Kampan and Purús languages. All recent classifications treat the Purús branch as coordinate with the Kampan branch within Southern Arawak. Similarly, Yanesha’ was removed from Pre-Andine, and is now sometimes grouped with Chamicuro. Those who retained the term `Pre-Andine’ employed it for this successively dwindling group, until only the Kampan languages remained, rendering `Pre-Andine’ coextensive with `Kampan’.

So, my basic objection to `Pre-Andine’ is that it was initially coined to denote a grouping that includes the Kampan branch as a subgroup, which, as far as I’m concerned, renders its use to denote only the Kampan group as rather suspect. Perhaps worse, from the perspective of scholarly communication, one can never be sure without further investigation, when someone uses the term ‘Pre-Andine’, which version of ‘Pre-Andine’ they have in mind. With or without Amuesha? With or without the Purús branch? Its a mess.

But I think I understand why some people prefer ‘Pre-Andine’ to ‘Kampa(n)’ — the latter term carries with it some political baggage that renders it somewhat unattractive. In the early colonial period ‘Campa’ was used by the Spaniards to refer to all the, well, Kampan peoples. Since then, however, the term has come to be used principally in relation to the groups that are also known as the ‘Asháninka’ and ‘Ashéninka’. In the last few decades, however, the political leadership of these groups have expressed that they find the term ‘Campa’ derogatory, and have been successful in getting many outsiders to adopt the ethnonyms ‘Asháninka’ and ‘Ashéninka’ instead (see this post for some discussion of the politics of ethnonyms in Peruvian Amazonia).

As a result, linguists scrupulously avoid using ‘K/Campa’ to denote individual languages, but many continue to use it to denote the sub-branch of Arawak to which these languages belong. As far as I know, there has been no complaint about this sub-branch-level use of the term ‘K/Campa’, but I could easily imagine such complaints arising. So, what to do, if one does not want to fall back on ‘Pre-Andine’?

Sure, one could invent a new term, but except for a small group of linguists who prefer ‘Pre-Andine’, most linguists, and Arawakanists in particular, know and use the term ‘K/Campa’ for the family in question. I fear it would only confuse matters to introduce a third term. And as a junior scholar, I feel that I am in an especially weak position to suggest a new term. So thus far, I have kept using ‘Kampan’, but somewhat uneasily. What I see as the ideal resolution to this issue would be to ask the assembled political leadership of the, uh, Kampan peoples what they think should be done about the name of the sub-branch. Such an endeavor would be logistically difficult, but not entirely impossible. I’d be interested to know if other readers have faced dilemmas of this sort, and how they have dealt with it

Biblioteca Curt Nimuendaju

January 13, 2008

I recently came across a really marvelous online resource on Amazonian languages, the Biblioteca Curt Nimuendaju ( This open access site makes available for free download in PDF format numerous hard-to-find linguistic works on Amazonian languages and ethnographic works on Amazonian peoples.

The focus of the collection to this point is on Brazilian Amazonian languages, but there are also works available on languages spoken in other parts of Greater Amazonia, and in some cases, in other parts of South America. The site is continuously adding new materials, so I expect that their coverage will expand over time. Interestingly, the organizers offer to locate and add specific works if visitors request them. So if the works you want are not available on the site, there is hope that they could be added.

Here is sampling of works that the Biblioteca currently has available online:

Adam, Lucien. 1902. Le parler des Caingangs. Congrès International des Américanistes (XIIe. Session tenue a Paris en 1900), p. 318-330.

Crowell, Thomas H. 1977. The phonology of Boróro verb, postposition, and noun paradigms. Arquivos de Anatomia e Antropologia (Instituto de Antropologia Prof. Souza Marques, Rio de Janeiro), 2.159.178.

la Grasserie, Raoul de. 1902. Contribution a l’ètude des langues de la Patagonie: vocabulaire Pehuelche. Congrès International des Américanistes (XIIe. Session tenue a Paris en 1900), p. 339-354

Lafone Quevedo, S. A. 1902. La lengua Tacana de la región del Rio Madre de Dios (Bolivia). Congrès International des Américanistes (XIIe. Session tenue a Paris en 1900), p. 331-337.

Larrañaga, Dámaso Antonio. 1923. Compendio del idioma de la nación chaná. Escritos de D. Dámaso A. Larrañaga, tomo III: 163-174. Montevideo: Instituto Histórico y Geográfico del Uruguay, Imprenta Nacional

Rivet, Paul. 1924. Les Indiens Canoeiros. Journal de la Société des Américanistes de Paris, n. s., tome XVI, p. 169-181.

In my previous post on the etymology of the Matsigenka word seripigari ‘shaman’, I argued that a number of proposed etymologies for this word were flawed in crucial ways. In this post I propose an alternative analysis that I believe better fits the linguist facts.

I believe the key insight we need to improve our etymology of seripigari is that the -ri nominalization involved in the derivation of seripigari derives an agentive nominal. This means that were seripigari derived from the transitive verb pig ‘intoxicate’, the resulting nominalized form would denote some sort of ‘intoxicator’, i.e. someone or thing that intoxicates others. However, this is problematic for two reasons. First, this does not make much sense in terms of the meaning of the form seripigari, since the shaman generally does not, in general, intoxicate others with, say, tobacco, but rather intoxicates himself. Second, and more problematic from a morphological standpoint, transitive nominalized forms generally exhibit a morpheme corresponding to the object person marker in the verb form. An example of this phenomenon is given by the deverbal noun shintarorira ‘parent of a female child’, derived from the transitive verb shinto ‘have a female child’, where the morpheme -ro corresponds to the object of the verb.

These facts strongly suggest that the verb root visible in seripigari is not a transitive root, but rather, an intransitive one. If we then look at the set of phonologically plausible instransitive candidates, one leaps out as being especially compatible with the role of a shaman, piga ‘hallucinate, have visions’. The corresponding -ri-nominalized form would be pigari ‘hallucinator, seer of visions’ — I’ll use gloss the shorthand gloss ‘seer’.

If this reasoning is correct, the seri ‘tabacco’ of seripigari did not originate as a verbal argument of a verb that subsequently underwent nominalization, but is instead the non-head element in a NN compound, where pigari ‘seer’ is the head. One of the very nice consequences of this analysis is that it resolves the absence of a person marker corresponding to the referential NP seri that we would expect to see if seri originated as a verbal argument. If this analysis is correct, the original meaning of seripigari was ‘tobacco seer’, by which we would understand, presumably ‘one who sees visions by means of tobacco’. Note, incidentally, that once we analyze seripigari as a compound, which we are forced to if we stipulate that the verb root in question is the intransitive piga, then we are freed from many of the difficulties posed by semantic role restrictions forced upon us by assuming that seri originates as a verbal argument. (Note that seripigari is not a synthetic compound (e.g. ‘truck driver’ or ‘window washer’), and indeed, I am not aware of any synthetic compounds in Matsigenka.)

In my next and final post on the etymology of seripigari I will discuss an additional complication I have not yet discussed, but at this point I want to reflect on whether the etymology I have proposed gives us any greater insight into the cultural significance of Matsigenka shamans. Certainly the new etymology suggests that tobacco played a major role in shamanic visions at the time that the compound was formed, a hypothesis that fits with certain ethnohistorical facts. Shepard and Yu, for example, report that ayahuasca, a hallucinogen used in many parts of the Amazon basin as a component of shamanic practice, was introduced in at least certain Matsigenka areas as late as the 1950s. Although ethnographers have tended to project ayahuasca use by Matsigenka shamans back into the distant past, the fact that Matsigenka shamans are refered to as ‘tobacco seers’ (seripigari) rather than ‘ayahuasca seers’ (kamarampipigari — NB: this is my own nonce coinage) supports the idea that ayahuasca use by Matsigenka shamans may be a relatively recent innovation, going back, perhaps, little more than a century. Some ethnobotanists that I have talked with have suggested that the ‘traditional’ medicinal practices documented among Amazonian peoples may in fact have been significantly shaped by the effects of the Rubber Boom, and that widespread use of ayahuasca in Amazonia may in part reflect a sharing of shamanic practices among Amazonian peoples in response to the ravages of that era. If this hypothesis is correct, the term seripigari is an indication of the previously more prominent role of tobacco, rather than ayahuasca, in inducing visions in Matsigenka shamanic practice.

Dispatch from the Cabal

January 4, 2008

I am presently in Chicago, attending the Secret Cabal of the Linguistic Elite and so am being a little inattentive to the blog. On the upside, I promise a report on all the Amazonianist talks I’m attending, once I’m back in balmy Austin next week.