1314 Dwinelle
UC Berkeley
Berkeley, CA


Documentation and Description of Omagua

Since 2009 I have been involved in the documentation and description of Omagua, a Tupí-Guaraní language of northeast Peru known to be spoken by only 6 elderly individuals in the Department of Loreto. This project, directed by Lev Michael, began with the digitization, parsing and grammatical analysis of a text corpus of some 100,000 words written by Arnaldo Huanaquiri Tuisima. I carried out team-based fieldwork in the community of San Joaquín de Omaguas from June through August 2010 and 2011, and individually in July 2013. The current goal of this project is the collaborative writing of a comparatively and diachronically informed grammar of the language.

History of the Omagua Language and People and the Gobierno de Maynas

At the time of first contact by the Francisco de Orellana expedition in 1542, the Omagua lived on the islands of a large swath of the Amazon River, from the Napo to the Juruá. Due primarily to disease and Portuguese slave raids, the Omagua population was decimated, and by the first decade of the 18th century most Omaguas had fled to the extreme upper Amazon, in the region spanning the lower Ucayali, Marañón and Huallaga rivers (although some remained in what were to become Carmelite missions in Portuguese territory). By the 1720s, most Omaguas had been resettled by Jesuit missionaries in San Joaquín de Omaguas (Amazon River), a community which existed for some 150 years until, in approximately the early 1880s, its population was severely reduced by an exodus of men recruited to extract rubber. Under pressure from a nearby labor boss, Sinforoso Collantes, most Omagua families relocated to a site a few hours upriver, abandoning the Jesuit mission and ultimately giving the new community the same name. At this time and in the subsequent decades, white men and men of other indigenous groups began to move to SJQ in greater numbers. While this situation initially involved the learning of Omagua as an L2, it, in combination with the arrival of a Spanish-language school in (likely) the first decade of the 20th century, ultimately led to Omagua becoming largely moribund by the 1920s.

My current research on these issues has proceeded in two directions. The first has led to a monograph with Lev Michael analyzing the Omagua of 18th-century ecclesiastical texts written by Jesuit missionaries and situating this work in the broader historiography of Jesuit linguistic practices of the time and region. The second has taken the form of research in Church archives and extensive interviews with Omagua elders in order to better understand the recent history of the Omagua people from the mid-19th century to the present. I am currently writing a manuscript that traces the history of several communities that since the 1680s have received the name San Joaquín de Omaguas, as a lens through which to view broader shifts in the Omagua population.

Both of these threads of inquiry stem from a more general interest in the history of the Jesuit-era (1638-1767) Gobierno de Maynas. This region lay within the Viceroyalty of Nueva Granada, Spain, and was controlled from Quito; it is slightly larger than Germany and corresponds roughly to the modern-day Peruvian Department of Loreto. It is an area of extreme linguistic diversity, hosting eight language families (Arawak, Jivaroan, Kawapanan, Panoan, Peba-Yaguan, Tukanoan, Tupí-Guaraní, Zaparoan) and (at least) seven isolates (Aʔɨwa [Vacacocha], Candoshi, Muniche, Omurano, Taushiro [Pinche], Tikuna and Urarina). The Jesuits were careful chroniclers of indigenous languages, and their records indicate that even more groups used to populate this area. In light of this, Jesuit writings are often the only source of information on extinct languages of the region, and my work seeks to synthesize these sources in order to paint a more nuanced picture of local linguistic diversity from the 17th-century forward.

Reconstruction of Proto-Omagua-Kokama (POK)

This work, in collaboration with Lev Michael, Rosa Vallejos and Vivian Wauters, has as its goal a clearer understanding of the grammar of Proto-Omagua-Kokama. Both Omagua and its sister language Kokama-Kokamilla (Peru) exhibit considerable lexical and structural influence from non-Tupí-Guaraní (TG) languages, and this is attributed to a pre-Columbian period of intense interethnic contact. Previous work by Ana Suelly Cabral has emphasized these non-TG features, and the current project, building on that foundation, and in the broader context of comparative work on the TG family (see below), has pursued a number of (especially grammaticalization-theoretic) accounts in order to identify TG sources for a number of apparently non-TG lexical items and constructions. Of particular interest is the delineation of similarities (or lack thereof) between POK and Tupinambá, a Tupí-Guaraní language formerly spoken along much of the Brazilian Atlantic coast, as much scholarship has shown that it is the language most closely related to POK. Given that the Omagua and Kokama-Kokamilla are significant geographical outliers within the Tupí-Guaraní family, this work ultimately impacts the study of the diversification and spread of the family throughout central South America.

Tupí-Guaraní Comparative Project

The Tupí-Guaraní Comparative Project began in the fall of 2010 and is directed by Lev Michael. It was originally conceived as a way to better understand the relation of Omagua (and Kokama-Kokamilla) to the rest of the Tupí-Guaraní (TG) language family, one of the geographically most widespread and historically most important language families of lowland South America, encompassing over 40 languages in Peru, Brazil, French Guyana, Paraguay, Argentina and Bolivia. Since then, the project has grown into a team-based project including (at different times) seven Berkeley linguists, and now consists of morphological and lexical datasets, the latter based on ~600 etyma in 30 TG and 2 Tupian (i.e., non-TG outgroup) languages. The principal aim of this project has most recently been to apply computational phylogenetic methods to the study of both the linguistic diversification and geographical dispersion of TG peoples, as well as to critically examine the methodology of different coding schemes as applied to the dataset as a whole and to subportions of it.

Check out this project at the following video.

Matsigenka Corpus Project

Matsigenka is a Kampan Arawak language of southeast Peru spoken by some 10,000 individuals in the Urubamba and Manú river basins in the Departments of Cuzco and Madre de Dios. The current corpus project is based on Matsigenka texts written by Haroldo and José Vargas Pereira, both native Matsigenka speakers, and collected, reviewed and digitized by Christine Beier and Lev Michael in the spring of 2011. Since the fall of 2011 I have been responsible for parsing these texts in FieldWorks Language Explorer (FLEx), which has yielded a large searchable corpus and over 1,100 pages of interlinearized texts. This work creates an important record of the Matsigenka language for Matsigenka speakers, the majority of whom are literate in Matsigenka, and provides a significant basis for further linguistic study of the language.

Omurano Language and People

Omurano is a language isolate of northeast Peru that was once spoken in the headwaters of the Urituyacu River in the Department of Loreto. The only published documentation of the language are short word lists by Günter Tessmann, a German ethnographer who explored the region in the mid-1920s, and by Avencio Villarejo, an Augustinian priest who missionized in the region from the late 1930s onward. The Omurano, along with the closely related Roamaina, were an interfluvial people whose territory covered the land between the Pastaza and Corrientes rivers, cutting across the headwaters of the Urituyacu and Chambira basins.

Beginning in the mid-1650s, Jesuit missionaries relocated large numbers of Roamainas from the Capirona, a right-bank tributary of the Corrientes, to a mission on the middle Pastaza, far outside of traditional Roamaina territory. The Roamaina became instrumental in the Jesuits' attempts to contact remote groups in the Pastaza-Tigre interfluvium, but the effects of disease were devastating on the Roamaina, and by 1737 Jesuit Pablo Maroni reported only some 40 families resident on the Capirona, and by the Jesuit expulsion in 1767 Jesuit Xavier Veigl claimed that the Roamaina survived in name only. However, Jesuit incursion into the Urituyacu proper was minimal, with the first mission settlement established there only at the beginning of the year of the Jesuit expulsion, which likely ensured the survival of the Omurano resident in its headwaters. It also means that, unlike many neighboring languages, there are no Jesuit-era linguistic records of Omurano. In 1972, SIL linguist Gerhard Faust traveled to the Urituyacu to search for speakers of Omurano, but was told that the remaining Omurano families had died in a measles epidemic in the 1950s, and following this, Omurano was labeled extinct.

My research on Omurano builds on fieldwork I conducted in June and August 2013 in nine communities on the Urituyacu River in order to follow up on reports of rememberers of the language in the area (more on that trip here). I am currently working on two articles, one a phonological sketch based on a small amount of linguistic data I collected from rememberers, another on the recent (20th-century) history of the Omurano (and Urarina) of the Urituyacu basin. My work has shown that fluent speakers of Omurano survived well into the 1980s, and possibly as late as the early 2000s, as well as that an isolated, monolingual group of Omuranos resided in the headwaters of the Urituyacu until the early 1940s.

Documentation and Description of Caquinte

Caquinte is a Kampan Arawak language of southeast Peru spoken by some 300-400 individuals in at least 7 communities in the headwaters that feed the Tambo and Urubamba rivers in the Departments of Junín and Cuzco, respectively. Before the onset of the rubber boom in the late 19th century, all Caquintes lived at the mouth of the Pogeni River, which empties into the Tambo. At this time, however, they came under increasing pressure from neighboring Asháninkas (their historical enemies), who, armed with recently acquired shotguns, were employed by Peruvian mestizo merchants and labor bosses to kidnap Caquinte women and bring them to sell in regional commercial centers (more on this period here). In response, the Caquinte relocated to the headwaters of the Pogeni, but by ~1960 the Asháninkas had pursued them sufficiently to cause them to scatter. One group fled deeper into the forests of the upper Pogeni; another group crossed the nearby mountains, fleeing to the Urubamba basin and arriving in the Matsigenka community of Puerto Huallana (Picha River); yet another group incrementally began to cross the same mountains, settling nearer to their former territory in the headwaters of the Mipaya River. This latter group formed the set of individuals who founded the community of Kitepámpani in 1975 with a desire for SIL missionaries to begin working there. At this time various families who had remained on the Pogeni were encouraged by politically prominent Caquintes to resettle there.

Following this period, Caquintes began to have greater contact with outsiders, especially Asháninkas and Matsigenkas, with whom they came to intermarry in significant numbers. This has led to a sociolinguistic situation in which all Caquinte communities are home to significant numbers of Matsigenka and Asháninka speakers, and thus most Caquintes also speak (or at least understand) either Matsigenka or Asháninka, or both. The current generation of children of mixed marriages exhibit strong influence from both languages, although many older Caquintes are effectively monolingual in Caquinte. Spanish is spoken fluently only by Caquintes who have spent time on the Urubamba or Tambo rivers, and/or by politically prominent Caquintes (e.g., elected community leaders). Spanish is not used as the language of daily life in any Caquinte community.

I conducted exploratory work in September 2011 in Kitepámpani, and returned there for seven weeks of fieldwork in July and August 2014 and 2015. My current research focuses on lexical documentation, the creation of a large text corpus, and the production of pedagogical materials that can be used in the local primary school, which is fortunate to have at present a Caquinte-speaking teacher. I will return to Kitepámpani in June 2016.

Taushiro Language and People

Taushiro is a language isolate of northeast Peru that was once spoken on two right-bank tributaries of the Tigre River, the Huanganayacu and Aguaruna. The only published documentation of the language consists of a sketch grammar, short dictionary, and a small number of brief texts produced by Neftalí Alicea Ortiz, of the Summer Institute of Linguistics, in the 1970s. The Taushiros were an interfluvial people whose territory covered the land between the Corrientes and Tigre rivers.

Taushiros were first contacted in 1684 by the expedition of the Jesuit priest Tomás Santos (more here), at which time they were known broadly as the Pinches and divided into a number of sibs or clans. In 1698, a mission settlement, San José de los Pinches, was founded on the Pastaza River by Jesuit Nicolás Durango, and many Taushiros came to reside there. However, the settlement was ultimately abandoned before the expulsion of the Jesuits from the region in 1767. From this period most Taushiros appear to have continued to reside in their traditional territory, where they remained relatively isolated. It is unclear to what degree they were affected by the rubber boom at the close of the 19th and turn of the 20 centuries, but by the 1920s they had fallen victim to raids on the part of outsiders. By 1970, two extended family groups remained on the Aucayacu, a tributary of the Aguaruna, and many Taushiros were still functionally monolingual. More details of Taushiro 20th-century history can be found here.

My research on Taushiro builds on fieldwork I conducted in June 2015 in Iquitos with Amadeo García García (b. ~1950), likely the last fluent speaker of the language. I am currently working on a phonological description of the language, as well as a book chapter summarizing major grammatical features of the language.