Amazonian Languages Focus of LAII Lecture

March 20, 2014

The UNM Latin American & Iberian Institute (LAII) is pleased to announce the fifth presentation in its Spring 2014 Lecture Series, "A Collaborative Approach to Lexicographic Documentation: A Case Study from the Amazon," with Dr. Rosa Vallejos Yopan, an Assistant Professor jointly appointed to the Department of Linguistics and the Department of Spanish and Portuguese, and a faculty affiliate of the LAII, at UNM. The presentation will be held Thursday, March 27, 2014, from 12:00-1:00 p.m. in the LAII Conference Room. Please see the event flyer for reference.

Given the growing recognition of how much indigenous communities know about the natural world that have yet to be recognized by the mainstream sciences, the lexicographic documentation of languages on the brink of extinction is an urgent task. The vocabulary of a language represents a natural window to explore and record several dimensions of the communities' traditional knowledge. From a linguistic perspective, it is impossible to give a full account of how a language functions without knowing its lexicon and phraseology. Yet from the speech communities' perspective, dictionaries are essential to implement initiatives that aim to preserve their ancestral languages.

This talk shares experiences and challenges regarding the lexicographic documentation of Kokama, an endangered language of Peru. The Kokama people live in settlements on the upper reaches of the Amazon River proper and several of its major tributaries, including the Marañon, Ucayali, and Nanay Rivers. Although the ethnic population is estimated at 20,000, their ancestral language is seriously endangered: most of the remaining fluent speakers are older than 60 years, and the natural process of language transmission was interrupted about five decades ago. Since the early 1980s, there have been several community-based language revitalization efforts to preserve the language, the development of a dictionary being one of them.

The topics covered in this talk range from data collection to organization and presentation for producing multiple versions of a multilingual and multidialectal dictionary. Details of the process will be provided, along with sample entries that illustrate the implementation of the underlying principles of this collaborative endeavor. We will focus on fundamental domains for lexicographic documentation (i.e., the human body and house building technology), as well as categories relevant to the Amazon (i.e., ethnozoological and ethnobotanical terms and species). Areas of discussion include issues of dialectal variation, multiple target groups, 'user-friendliness,' as well as the use of technology.

Vallejos received her Ph.D. in Linguistics in 2010 from the University of Oregon and conducted postdoctoral research at the University of Lyon in France. Since 1997, her research has centered in Amazonia, integrating functional syntax, documentary fieldwork and Spanish in contact with Amazonian languages. For her dissertation she wrote A Grammar of Kokama-Kokamilla, which describes an endangered language spoken by approximately 1000 elderly people in the Peruvian Amazon. In 2006, she expanded her studies to Secoya, another minimally documented language spoken by the Aido-Pãi people in the Peru-Colombia border. Her interest in Spanish in contact with Amazonian languages derives from her work with bilingual speakers in a number of language development projects, such as orthography design, teacher-training, production of school materials, among others. Currently, she is building corpora for Kokama, Secoya, and Amazonian Spanish.