This post was published at Hiatus, the newsletter of the Department of Linguistics at the University of Ottawa.
In April, the Linguistics Department received the visit of Perankô, a speaker of Panará, directly from the Brazilian Amazon. He came to Ottawa as the first step of a documentation grant awarded to Bernat by the Endangered Languages Documentation Programme (ELDP) to document the Panará language for digital archiving (http://elar.soas.ac.uk/deposit/0418), but also as a way to contribute to his understanding of the Western world, of the situation of native American societies and languages in North America, and as an enriching personal experience. All along the 20 days that he spent here, we filmed him explaining his experiences in Panará so that he can have a vivid token of his visit.
Last Friday (April 22) the Rochester Institute of Technology hosted the third edition of the Symposium on American Indian Languages (SAIL). It featured an impressive concentration of talks related to language documentation and revitalization in the Americas. I presented a talk on a digital dictionary for Panará with Myriam Lapierre, Andrés Salanova, and also Perankô, a Panará informant and friend who was visiting in Ottawa for a few weeks from Brazil.
Lately I have been reading Vae Victus, the sequel to Albert Sanchez Piñol’s military epic/picaresque novel Victus. The first part of the book is called Americanus. In it, the protagonist, a military engineer who escaped the fall of Barcelona in 1714, finds himself in the middle of a war between the Yamasee and the South Carolina colonists. For a while, the Yamasee army threatened the existence of South Carolina in the aptly named Yamasee War, and they even conquered the city of Port Royal. However, they were ultimately defeated and ended up vanishing. Today, not much is know of their culture. In this post I put together what we know of the language they spoke.
Last week Terence Turner passed away. He was emeritus professor of anthropology at the University of Chicago, and visiting professor at Cornell University. He defended his PhD thesis at Harvard in 1965, with the title Social Structure and Political Organization among the Northern Kayapo. His is one of those rare names that are very relevant both to the anthropological and linguistic sides of research on native Amazonian communities.
Jakob Wackernagel, patriarch of clitics. From Wikipedia.
I have always liked clitics, these curiously-named morphemes that appear to live at the fringes of our usual linguistic classifications. Takes on clitics range from adopting them as linguistic primitives to considering them entirely epiphenomenal.
My direct experience working on clitics is limited, but I have encountered them throughout my whole life as a linguist: they’re not only one of the big messy parts of the grammatical and orthographic norms of my native Catalan language, but they’re also a pain in the neck when you try to figure out Medieval French sentence structure, or the alignment split in an Amazonian language.
Last week, a group of learners of the Kiksht language from the Warm Springs Confederated Tribes, in the state of Oregon, digged up a treasure in the form of language records. Hundreds of pages of documents on their language had been stored at the Smithsonian Institution by several researchers that had worked on the language (more on this story). It was received as a vital boost towards the community’s efforts to keep the knowledge of spoken Kiksht after the death of its last native speaker in 2012. Any of us will remember a number of similar cases in which a community of heritage speakers (or linguistics researchers) rely on language materials kept by chance. But, what if these documents weren’t a secret stash that had luckily been kept safe, but a set of language materials collected with the specific purpose of representing a language once it vanished? Enter the documentary linguist.
Welcome to this blog. In the next weeks and months I will try to post thoughts and comments on languages and linguistics.
Inevitably, I will be posting on issues that interest me: syntactic theory, Amazonian languages (of the Jê family, but not exclusively), everything that falls under the “case and agreement” umbrella, polysynthesis and (non-)configurationality, language contact, ergativity, and language documentation.