An article on the Omagua Project that appeared this summer in La Region, an Iquitos daily newspaper, is available on-line here. Based on an interview with Zachary O’Hagan, UC Berkeley graduate student and Omagua Project team member, the article summarizes the goals of the Omagua Project and even provides a brief list of Omagua words.
The Omagua Project is part of a broader NSF-funded collaborative effort involving a group of us based at UC Berkeley and a group led by Rosa Vallejos to better understand the genesis of Proto-Omagua-Kokama, the ancestor of the modern Omagua and Kokama languages. These languages present a historical puzzle, as their lexicons are clearly derived from a Tupí-Guaraní language, but their grammars are highly atypical for languages of that family, showing the signs of massive contact-induced language change. I have recently argued (here) that this language contact took place in the Pre-Columbian period, which has intriguing consequences for our understanding of Pre-Columbian Amazonian social history, since the Kokamas, and especially the Omaguas, were among the largest and most powerful indigenous groups in lowland Amazonia when Europeans arrived.
Rosa Vallejos is the leading expert on Kokama, and the Berkeley group has been conducting fieldwork with the small number of remaining speakers of Omagua in order to obtain comparable data for reconstructing Proto-Omagua-Kokama. By reconstructing this ancestral language we hope to better understand the contact-induced changes that the Tupí-Guaraní precursor language underwent, and possibly infer which non-Tupí-Guaraní languages were involved.