Subsistence pattern and contact-driven language change

A view from the Amazon basin

in Language Dynamics and Change
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While it is well known that processes of contact-driven language change are sensitive to socio-cultural factors, the question of whether these apply differently among hunter-gatherers and agriculturalists has engendered considerable debate. These dynamics have been particularly underexplored in the Amazon basin, where high linguistic diversity has until very recently been coupled with a dearth of quality documentation. This investigation undertakes a systematic assessment of the effects of contact on fourteen languages (representing six distinct language families/isolates), spoken by northern Amazonian peoples whose subsistence practices all involve a relative emphasis on hunting and gathering. The effects of contact are assessed via an extensive survey of lexical and grammatical data from nearly a hundred languages of this region, and take into account lexical borrowing, Wanderwort distributions, and grammatical convergence. This comparative approach indicates that most Amazonian foraging-focused peoples have been heavily involved in regional interactive networks over time, as have their more horticulture-dominant neighbors, but that the linguistic effects of contact are variable across subsistence pattern. While subsistence thus does not appear to be correlated with the degree of contact-driven change experienced by the languages of this region, it is, on the other hand, a strong predictor of the direction of influence, which favors a unidirectional farmer-to-forager linguistic transmission.

Subsistence pattern and contact-driven language change

A view from the Amazon basin

in Language Dynamics and Change

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References

4

Queixalós (1993) notes the presence of a number of additional dialectal variants such as Playero (considered a dialect of Sikuani).

12

But cf. Payne’s (1987) observation that the Waorani noun classification system shares many features with those in other northwest Amazonian languages.

Figures

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    Map 1

    Hunting/gathering-focused language families of the northwest Amazon

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    Figure 1

    Non-European loans in Nadahupan languages (as percent of relevant semantic domains)

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    Figure 2

    Sources of confirmed loans into Nadahupan languages (totals across all semantic domains, excluding Wanderwörter)

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    Map 2

    Languages sharing 3 or more Wanderwort etyma with Hup

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    Map 3

    Languages sharing 3 or more Wanderwort etyma with Dâw

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    Map 4

    Languages sharing 3 or more Wanderwort etyma with Nadëb

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    Figure 3

    Non-European loans in Kakua and Nukak (as percent of relevant semantic domains)

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    Figure 4

    Sources of confirmed loans into Kakua and Nukak (totals across all semantic domains, excluding Wanderwörter)

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    Map 5

    Languages sharing 3 or more Wanderwort etyma with Kakua and/or Nukak

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    Figure 5

    Non-European loans in Guahiban languages (as percent of relevant semantic domains)

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    Figure 6

    Sources of confirmed loans into Guahiban languages (totals across all semantic domains, excluding Wanderwörter)

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    Figure 7

    Non-European loans in Yanomaman languages (as percent of relevant semantic domains)

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    Figure 8

    Sources of confirmed loans into Yanomaman languages (totals across all semantic domains, excluding Wanderwörter)

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    Map 6

    Languages sharing 3 or more Wanderwort etyma with Guayabero and/or Macaguan

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    Map 7

    Languages sharing 3 or more Wanderwort etyma with Sikuani

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    Map 8

    Languages sharing 3 or more Wanderwort etyma with Ninam, Yanomam, and/or Sanumá

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    Map 9

    Languages sharing 3 or more Wanderwort etyma with Yanomami

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    Figure 9

    Non-European loans in Hodɨ (as percent of relevant semantic domains)

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    Figure 10

    Sources of confirmed loans into Hodɨ (totals across all semantic domains, excluding Wanderwörter)

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    Map 10

    Languages sharing 3 or more Wanderwort etyma with Hodɨ

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    Figure 11

    Non-European loans in Waorani (as percent of relevant semantic domains)

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    Figure 12

    Sources of confirmed loans into Waorani (totals across all semantic domains, excluding Wanderwörter)

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    Figure 13

    Borrowing rates as attested across all language families surveyed (foci of this study underlined)

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    Figure 14

    Comparison of Wanderwort rates and overall loan rates across languages of hunting/ gathering-oriented peoples

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    Figure 15

    Similarity analysis of grammatical structures in languages of hunting/gathering-oriented groups and their horticulturalist neighbors

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    Map 11

    Locations of northern Amazonian groups represented in Fig. 15

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