Ethics and IRBs

August 14, 2008

During the past week my wife Chris and I have been in transit from Peru, to Austin, and finally to Berkeley, and we are now setting up our new home. Much neglect of this blog has ensued. I did, however, want to pass on two interesting links. The first, brought to my attention by Jane Simpson over at Transient Languages and Cultures, is a link to the draft of the LSA’s ethics statement. The statement itself is available here. The draft statement is cleverly set up as a series of blog posts, with each major section getting its own post, with its own comments section. (The front page of the blog is here.) This seems like a nice way to get discussion going among linguists, and there have already been some interesting comments posted. Also included are links to ethics statements by other professional organizations such as the American Anthropological Association.

On a related note, Claire Bowern over at Angarrgoon (who also mentions the LSA ethics statement blog) provided a link some time ago to Institutional Review Blog, which is maintained by Zachary M. Schrag, an Assistant Professor of History at George Mason University. According to its subheader, the blog is dedicated to providing “[n]ews and commentary about Institutional Review Board oversight of the humanities and social sciences.” Schrag is apparently preparing a book and he posts frequently. His perspective seems like a valuable complement to discussions going on at places like Savage Minds (e.g. here, here, and many others).

I must admit that my personal experience with IRBs at the University of Texas was not that bad. Certainly there were lots of bureaucratic hoops to jump through, but at the end of the day, the members of the IRB seemed sane and did not engage in the over-reaching that I’ve heard about in some of the worse horror stories from my colleagues. I will be very interested to see how the IRB is at Berkeley. (I’m keeping my fingers crossed.)


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.)

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

In a previous post, I discussed the challenges faced by researchers who go in search of ‘authentic autonyms’ of Amazonian indigenous groups. In this post I want to describe how one Peruvian indigenous group arrived at a remarkable and initially counterintuitive decision about the ‘official’ ethnonym they chose to be known by.

In the mid-1980s, a Panoan group living in the Manu and Mishagua River basins, which had avoided contact with other peoples since at least the Rubber Boom, entered into sustained contact with mainstream Peruvian society. Prior to this contact, anthropologists, linguistics, missionaries, and NGOs referred to this group with such varied names as the Parquenahua and X-nahua. These names were formed from the morpheme nahua (i.e. /nawa/), which is found in a host of names of Panoan groups in southeastern Peru and adjacent regions of Brazil including Yaminahua, Sharanahua, Chaninahua, Mastanahua, and Cashinahua. Each of these names is a compound, consisting of the element nahua ‘people’ and some non-head element like yami ‘axe’ or cashi ‘bat’. Thus, the entirely ad hoc Parquenahua was coined on the basis of the residence of this group in the Manu National Park (Parque Nacional del Manu), and you can no doubt deduce the origin of X-nahua (I think this is my favorite, since it does not seek to hide the ignorance of those coining and using the name. It also has that X-Men/X-files resonance going for it.).

After a devastating period of massive mortality due to introduced illnesses, the group in question formed a single community in which they all settled, and in the period following initial contact, a new set of ethnonyms emerged. Those created by anthropologists and linguists included Yora, from the pronomial first person plural inclusive pronoun, Yoranahua, a neologism, and Nahua, about which we will hear more below. The name adopted by local mestizos was Shara, from the word shara ‘good’, a frequent and easily recognized lexical item in the speech of this group. And the name used by Yaminahuas living nearby was Yabashta, a word of uncertain origin used between members of the X-nahua group as a positive-affect greeting between individuals.

The plethora of names adopted by outsiders reflects the fact that the members of the group itself did not employ any autonym per se for the group to which they pertained. Of course the member of the group employed descriptors, such as yora ‘we/us’, when needing to distinguish members of the group from others, and called each other yabashta when being friendly to each other, but neither of these words is a name per se. (Given that all other Panoan groups in the rough vicinity do employ recognizable autonyms the question arises as to why this group did not employ one. One possibility is that the X-nahua essentially came into being as a coherent group in late 19th and early 20th century as an amalgamation of survivors from a number of Panoan groups decimated by the violence and slaving activities of the Rubber Boom. According to reliable sources who visited the group in question shortly after sustained contact in the mid-1980s, there was considerably dialectal variation within this small group, supporting the amalgamation hypothesis.)

As I mentioned above, one of the names that surfaced in the early years after contact was the bare, shorn form Nahua — the result of some DIY morphological segmentation (if anyone knows precisely who coined the term, let me know). I think the reasoning was that if the compound forms with nahua referred to specific Panoan groups, then the bare form must be a more general term. Unexpectedly, however, although nahua features in the names of numerous Panoan groups, when it appears by itself, and not as part of a compound, the word means ‘white person’! So we get the unintentionally hilarious situation of white people referring to this indigenous Amazonian group as the ‘white people’. For good or ill, this piece of linguistic confusion became enshrined in Peruvian law when legislation was fashioned to create a reserve for this Panoan group and neighboring Arawak groups: the so-called Reserva Kugapakori-Nahua (the full name is a good deal longer). (The name ‘Kugapakori’ is another case of massive onomastic confusion, which I will save for another day, but suffice it to say that it comes from the Matsigenka kogapakori, roughly `barbarian, killer’. This led one anthropologist to observe wryly that the name of the reserve, translated literally, was the ‘Assassin-White People Reserve’.)

What is more interesting than this onomastic confusion is how the members of this Panoan group decided to deal with it. In the course of the 1990s, their lands were invaded by loggers, and the X-nahua began efforts to gain control over their land. This lead, in the 2000s, to interaction with NGOs and government entities, all of which expected a tidy onomastic handle for the Panoan group in question. In response, the group decided to adopt the name Nahua. According to the people who were working with the Nahuas (at this point in the story I will now use the name) on land rights issues at the time, the Nahuas decided that since that was the name in the title of the reserve (the legal status of which, not coincidentally, formed the basis of their legal claim to their territory) and lots of people used the name anyway, they would simply adopt it as their official ethnonym.

I find this was a truly fascinating choice, because the Nahuas apparently totally ignored the discourse of authenticity that has become so prominent in recent years in Peruvian Amazonia, both among indigenous peoples and the researchers who work with them. The Nahuas’ decision appears to have been driven by a quite instrumental political strategy — they wanted to adopt an ethnonym that was already well known, and already had a measure of political capital begind it (by being the name of the reserve). I am also struck by the aplomb with which they adopted a ethnonym which, in a certain sense, is about as wrong as it can get. I wonder if the fact that they previous had no autonym as such made this choice particularly painless. Or perhaps they simply grasp the Saussurean arbitrariness of the sign, and refuse to invest much importance in the particular ethnonym for that reason.

In any event, this is how yora ‘we’ became Nahua ‘white people’.

In recent years, in the region where I work — the Peruvian Amazon — numerous indigenous groups have adopted new ‘official’ ethnonyms, which are frequently autonyms which were previously not widely recognized or used as ethnonyms by others. For example, the group formerly referred to as Chayahuita has recently adopted the autonym Shawi as their official ethnonym. In some cases, the new ethnonyms are basically orthographic reworkings of previous names, as in the case of the new ethnonym Kandozi, corresponding to the former Candoshi. Much of this onomastic reformation has been carried out through indigenous federations or through institutions like FORMABIAP. The driving motive behind this movement appears to be to wrest the choice of this very prominent marker of identity from the hands of mestizos and other outsiders, and return it to the hand of the groups in question (here is a clear articulation of this point in the case of Asháninka). A collateral effect of this movement has been an effort on the part of many anthropologists to use, and if necessary, uncover, the ‘authentic’ ethnonym for the groups with which they work, with the guiding assumption that the authentic ethnonym is the autonym.

In the parts of Amazonia I am familiar with, however, we run into a basic difficulty with the process of uncovering ‘authentic ethnonyms’, namely, many indigenous groups historically lacked an autonym. By this, I mean that these groups did not employ a name that distinguished their group from others. This does not mean that the groups in question lacked descriptors for distinguishing themselves from other groups, merely that the did not employ a name as such to do so. (Of course, the issue of what counts as a ‘group’ is by no means straightforward — but that is an issue for a future post.) However, there appears to be a strong assumption among many outsiders involved with Amazonian indigenous groups that all of these groups have autonyms as such, with the consequence that outsiders sometimes ‘discover’ supposed autonyms that are not actually autonyms at all, but rather descriptors. Let me illustrate this point with the case of an indigenous group I am familiar with, the people commonly known as Iquitos.

In 1989, Jean-Pierre Chaumeil, a veteran Amazonian anthropologist who has carried out significant research with the Yaguas, visited the Iquito community of San Antonio de Pintuyacu, and in 1992, published an article on Iquito history. Given the brevity of his visit, his recounting of Iquito oral history is impressive — in fact, although I have carried out 13 months of fieldwork in the community as part of the Iquito Language Documentation Project, which has compiled a large number of historical texts and recording, I would only make minor emendations to his historical account.

Chaumeil does, however, run into some linguistic difficulties — which is hardly surprising, given the paucity of Iquito documentation at that time — but for the most part these problems do not substantively affect his major historical and ethnographic points. One point at which his shaky linguistic foundations do cause problem for him, however, is in his mistaken discovery of the autonym used by the Iquitos: paratacay’ (a claim repeated, for example, here).

The term in question is more accurately rendered párata cáaya, and it means ‘person like us (inclusive)’. We can break this down as follows: The word cáaya simply means ‘person’, and it expresses no age, gender, or ethnic distinctions. The form parata consists of the first person plural inclusive non-focus pronoun p+ (/+/ = the central high unrounded vowel) and the morpheme arata, which has a similative function. The latter may take either a pronominal or referential NP complement, as in múusi arata ‘like a frog’. Vowel hiatus resolution results in the form parata ‘like us (incl.)’. The semantics of párata cáaya is thus entirely compositional, and is clearly a descriptor, and not a name. Although it is true that Iquitos use the expression párata cáaya when talking about fellow Iquitos, it is in no way an ethnonym. It simply refers to individuals that are, in some contextually relevant way, ‘like us’. I could, for example, use the term to refer to people at the University of Texas, linguists, or appreciators of IPA, providing I am talking to a member of one of those groups, and that aspect of our shared identity is sufficiently salient in the interaction. In short, párata cáaya is a descriptor, and not a name.

Crucially, an Iquito speaker would not use this term with a non-Iquito interlocutor to refer to the Iquitos as a group. The Iquito speaker would instead say cuárata cáaya ‘people like me’, and even then, this expression would still be a description, and not a name. I have discussed the issue of autonyms with a number of thoughtful elder Iquitos, and they affirmed that they knew of no other name for their ethnolinguistic grouping than ‘Iquito’, or /iquíitu/, as the name has been borrowed into Iquito. I have mentioned to them that the final /o/ of ‘Iquito’ makes it seem unlikely that it is a word of Iquito origin and after thinking about it, they have concurred. (Further evidence that the direction of the loan was Spanish-to-Iquito and not the reverse is the prosodics of the word: the penultimate long vowel with falling pitch is characteristic of loanwords from Spanish.) Two of the Iquito elders most interested in historical issues, Jaime Pacaya Inuma and Hermenegildo Díaz Cuyasa, remarked at separate points that when it came to names, Iquitos were historically much more concerned with the names of Iquito sub-groups than with entire indigenous groups. And indeed, there are traditional names for six major heriditary Iquito sub-groups: Ámuuhuaaja, Cajiyuúri, Incahu+’+raana, Majanacáani, Masicuúri, Namutújuri (variant: Amutújuri) .

Chaumeil correctly identifies four of these subgroup names, and includes one name not found in this list: tipakëjor’, or more accurately tipaacájuri or /tipaakáhuri/, from tipáaca ‘clay’ (I employ italics for the official Iquito orthography and slashes for a more IPA-based orthography). The name is used to refer to people living on soils with a high clay content, as opposed to sandy soils. The nature of soils on which people live is important because it significantly affects what crops one can grow, as well as the abundance of different kinds of animals, thereby significantly affecting the lifestyle of the people living on those soils. (The line dividing sandy and clay soils in this region of the Amazon basin passes roughly through the middle of traditional Iquito territory.) However the name tipaacájuri actually crosscuts the Iquito subgroup names, and can refer to any Iquito living in a clay soil area, regardless of subgroup membership. And moreover people can become tipaacájuri by moving into the clay soil area, or cease being tipaacájuri by moving out of it. In short, although it identifies a subgroup of Iquito, it does not identify hereditary groups like the other names mentioned above.

In summary, then, the Iquito case shows how the question of authentic ethnonyms is a potentially subtle one from a linguistic and ethnographic standpoint, and specifically, that it is dangerous to assume that all indigenous groups historically possessed an autonym per se, and that it is simply the task of the researcher to uncover it.