1 Introduction

This volume is a follow-up of the seventh international symposium of the research group Revitalizing Older Linguistic Documentation (ROLD) of the Amsterdam Centre for Language and Communication (ACLC), University of Amsterdam. ROLD brings together expert scholars from different countries, and is unique in investigating older texts ((post)colonial, missionary and non-missionary, grammars, word-lists of travellers and historians) with the following objectives: historical linguistics, the history of linguistics, sociocultural analysis, and translation studies. Selected papers of earlier symposia of the ROLD research group have appeared in STUF: Sprachtypologie und Universalienforschung (= Language Typology and Universals) 66,3 (2013) and 67,2 (2014), and in LiA: Linguistics in Amsterdam 7,2 (2014).

The symposium at issue, held on 24–25 November 2016 at the University of Amsterdam, took place to commemorate the tenth anniversary of the research group. The commemoration of this first ROLD decade included not only the symposium, but also a special exposition of rare linguistic books from the Bijzondere Collecties (Special Collections) of the library of the University of Amsterdam, and the PhD defence of Pierre Winkler, supervised by Otto Zwartjes. Pierre Winkler obtained his doctorate with a dissertation on Missionary Pragmalinguistics: Father Diego Luis de Sanvitores’ grammar (1668) within the tradition of Philippine grammars.

During the symposium, light was shed vividly on all sorts of older documentation (grammars, vocabularies, religious texts, letters, journals) of languages from Africa, America, Asia and Europe, which resulted in a number of good papers. As a selection of the papers had to be made, the editors chose to dedicate the present volume to the contributions concerning Meso- and South American languages.

1.1 Mesoamerica

The contributions of Pilar Máynez, Mercedes Montes de Oca & Julio Alfonso Pérez Luna, Zanna Van Loon & Andy Peetermans, Frauke Sachse & Michael Dürr, and Otto Zwartjes deal mainly with Mesoamerican languages.

The article of Pilar Máynez, Mercedes Montes de Oca and Julio Alfonso Pérez Luna, entitled “ ‘The beginning of Times’ in two texts of preachment from New Spain (sixteenth century)”, contains an analysis of two doctrinal texts attributed to the renowned Franciscan friar Bernardino de Sahagún (1499–1590): a Sermonario (a collection of sermons) and an Evangeliario (a liturgical book containing the gospels of John, Luke, Mark and Matthew). Máynez et al. first describe the context in which these works are to be placed: the time in which they were written and the purpose for which they were composed, the life and importance of Sahagún and the order to which he belonged, and the language in which the texts at issue were written. Máynez and collaborators not only compare the above-mentioned Sermonario and the Evangeliario with each other, they also compare different versions of both texts. In their analysis of the Sermonario and the Evangeliario the authors furthermore succeed to show the intertextual relationships, the most frequently used rhetorical strategies, such as the use of parallelisms, neologisms, difrasismos and similar syntactical sequences and the pertinence of widening the scope to other passages of the various manuscripts studied in this article.

Van Loon and Peetermans discuss the phenomenon of missionary linguistics in their paper “Wide-lensed approaches to missionary linguistics: The circulation of knowledge on Amerindian languages through sixteenth-century Spanish printed grammars”. For that purpose they analysed eight printed grammars from the sixteenth century. Six of these grammars, or artes, concern the description of a Mexican language, namely: Purépecha in Gilberti’s (O.F.M.) Arte de la lengua de Michuacán from 1558 and in Lagunas’ (O.F.M.) Arte y dictionario […] en lengua Michuacana from 1574, Nahuatl in Molina’s (O.F.M.) Arte de la lenhua mexicana y castellana from 1571 and 1576 and in Rincón’s (S.J.) Arte mexicana from 1595, Zapotec in Córdova’s (O.P.) Arte en langua zapoteca from 1578, and Mixtec in Reyes’ (O.P.) Arte en lengua mixteca from 1593. Needless to say that all the grammars mentioned were written by priests for missionary purposes. Van Loon and Peetermans apply the so-called “wide-lensed” approach of analysing these sixteenth-century grammars. This approach is “context-focused” and makes “use of the historiographical concept of ‘circulation of knowledge’ ”.

The language focused on by Sachse and Dürr in their paper “Reviving words: Methodological implications and digital solutions for editing and corpus-building of colonial K’iche’ dictionaries” is the Mayan K’iche’ language as it was spoken in the highland of Guatemala. The purpose of their research was, first, to write a good, conveniently arranged Highland K’iche’ vocabulary, and, second, to make a digital version of the dictionary that could be consulted by other researchers. Therefore, Sachse and Dürr examined eleven K’iche’ and five Kaqchikel colonial vocabularies, dating from the seventeenth to the nineteenth century. The study of the Kaqchikel dictionaries was necessary, because, first of all, Kaqchikel, also known as lengua de Guatemala ‘language of Guatemala’, or lengua metropolitana ‘metropolitan language’, had become “the lingua franca of conversion and the matrix language for description”; and secondly, “K’iche’ lexicography cannot be separated from the lexicography of its sister language Kaqchikel, as most K’iche’ dictionaries were based in some shape or form on earlier Kaqchikel sources”. When Sachse and Dürr subsequently started composing a corpus of K’iche’ entries and lemmas, they were faced with a number of linguistic difficulties, such as how to interpret the unstandardized orthography used in the different K’iche’ and Kaqchikel sources that they had examined, and how to interpret the different meanings and explanations occurring in these sources with regard to a certain K’iche’ word. More obstacles had to be cleared away when Sachse and Dürr had to create an accessible, searchable, digital version of the dictionary. However, they succeeded in accomplishing this challenging task and they explain in their paper how to use the digital version. They also present a table of a graphic interface and give an example of the annotation of an entry. Thanks to Sachse and Dürr’s detailed explanation, their model can be applied to any other indigenous language, which is of great help for lexicographers wanting to turn a colonial vocabulary into a searchable digital corpus.

Otto Zwartjes’ paper entitled “Between grammars and dictionaries: The ‘Tratado de las partículas’ (Treatise on particles) in Diego de Basalenque’s work on Matlatzinca” concentrates on the particles. It is a common practice that the so-called particles belong in fact to a plethora of categories and it has been often demonstrated that missionary grammarians and lexicographers are straightforward in their parts of speech system, and anything which falls outside these models was usually gathered in a final section devoted to the particles. In fact, the history of particles goes back to Antiquity. Basalenque decided to break with the traditional model and compiled an independent work devoted to the particles, between his grammar and his dictionary. In this paper, Zwartjes demonstrates how “particles” are defined and classified, and which decisions Basalenque made in order to include them in the Tratado, and omitting them in the grammars and dictionaries. The hitherto unknown properties of Matlatzinca motivated Basalenque to develop innovating descriptive approaches.

1.2 South America

South America is represented by the contributions of Justin Case, Sabine Dedenbach-Salazar Sáenz & Astrid Alexander-Bakkerus, Wolf Dietrich, Rebeca Fernández Rodríguez & Alejandra Regúnaga, Katja Hannß, Zanna Van Loon & Andy Peetermans (see also Mesoamerica, section 1.1), the so-called Leiden Puquina Group (Arjan Mossel, Nicholas Q. Emlen, Simon van de Kerke, Willem F.H. Adelaar), and Matthias Urban. The authors deal with different linguistic phenomena in several indigenous languages, namely: Amage a.k.a. Amuesha or Yanesha (Peru), Patagon / Tehuelche (Argentina), Pukina / Puquina (Bolivia, Peru), Quechua (Peru), and Tupi-Guarani (Brazil, Paraguay, Uruguay). Attention should be drawn to the fact that the contributions of both Dietrich and Case deal with Tupi-Guarani, and that those of Hannß and the so-called Leiden Puquina Group have the Pukina / Puquina language as their subject. Hannß uses the IPA spelling ‘Pukina’ to refer to the language, the Leiden Group employs for it the Latin-Spanish spelling ‘Puquina’, as found in the data. The articles of Dietrich and Case, and the ones of Hannß and the Puquina Group Leiden complement each other well.

Many authors of a colonial grammar or arte noticed that an open, independent class of adjectives was missing in the indigenous language they were describing, and that nouns designating a property or a quality could be used to function as such. Justin Case, dealing with Tupi-Guarani (TG), pursues the question of the absence of an autonomous adjective class in greater depth, and he analyzes the non-distinction between nouns and adjectives as discussed in four early TG descriptions: Anchieta’s Arte de Grammatica da Lingoa mais usada na costa do Brasil, 1595, Figueira’s Arte da lingua brasilica, 1621 (?), Aragona’s Breve introduccion para aprender la lengua guarani por el P …, and Montoya’s Tesoro de la lengua guarani. Compuesto por el Padre … de la Compañia de IESUS, 1639. Case treats this non-distinction between both nominal categories in the contexts of phrasal determination, non-verbal predication and the lack of derivational mechanisms.

Sabine Dedenbach-Salazar Sáenz and Astrid Alexander-Bakkerus deal with two confessionary manuals, one in Chinchaysuyu Quechua (Dedenbach-Salazar Sáenz), the other one in the Amage language, a.k.a. Amuesha or Yanesha (Alexander-Bakkerus). The confessionary manuals, contained in a manuscript from the British Library, date from the eighteenth century. Dedenbach-Salazar Sáenz and Alexander-Bakkerus not only analyse the language and the composition of the above-mentioned doctrinal texts, they also give a comprehensive explanation of the confessionary genre, the provenance and the date of both confessions, and establish the Franciscan authorship of the texts, even though the authors of the confessions are anonymous. The paper also makes reference to language contacts. At the end of the article, after a transcription and an analysed translation of the Amage text, there is a list of Amage borrowings from Quechua and Spanish.

Wolf Dietrich mentions in his paper, “Prosodia da Língua, an unpublished anonymous eighteenth-century dictionary of Língua Geral Amazônica”, that the project he and his fellow researchers Ruth Monserrat, Candida Barros and Jean-Claude Muller work on concerns the examination of a number of unpublished eighteenth-century Língua Geral (LG) vocabularies, most of them anonymous. The term Língua Geral stands for Língua Geral Amazônica, i.e. the lingua franca spoken in the eighteenth century in the Portuguese part of the Amazon basin. The language LG is based on the Tupi or Tupinikin language of the São Paulo region in the sixteenth century and on the Tupinambá language of Maranhão in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Dietrich reports that he and his team succeeded in discovering the possible author of the Prosodia da Língua manuscript, first, by a thorough examination of the handwriting, the signature, the way the LG words were translated, and the meta-language used in the descriptions and translations (Spanish, Latin, German); and second, by a careful comparison with other eighteenth-century LG vocabularies of which the author had been traced. Subsequently, Dietrich and his team could conjecture where and when the document had been written. Another important point in Dietrich’s paper is that he notifies us of linguistic changes in the LG. With these data Dietrich (linguistic changes) and his team (name of the possible author of the manuscript) thus make a valuable contribution to the history of linguistics and to missionary linguistics. Dietrich also reports that the manuscript does not only comprise a dictionary (85 pages), but also, surprisingly, a number of coplas ‘poems’ (20 pages). A part of a copla, translated by Dietrich, is included in this exceptional article.

In the paper about Patagonian word-lists and dictionaries from the sixteenth-eighteenth centuries, Alejandra Regúnaga and Rebeca Fernández Rodríguez present an in-depth study of the vocabulary of the Italian navigator Antonio de Pigafetta (1480–1540) from 1520, Antonio de Viedma’s (1737–1809) vocabulary from 1780, two word-lists of Alessandro Malaspina (1754–1809) from 1789, the vocabulary of Lieutenant Juan José de Elizalde (?–?) from 1791, and Pineda’s word-lists from 1791. The language at issue is Tehuelche. In their paper, Regúnaga and Fernández Rodríguez analyse the compilation of the context and the extension of the lexicographic works, the semantic fields formed by the head words, and the transcription, distribution and organization of the lexemes. They also give an inventory of the consonants by using Fernández Garay’s (2004: 6–17) more detailed and accurate information about the consonant sounds in Tehuelche.

The subject of Katja Hannß’ article is the Pukina language and its contacts. Pukina is an extinct language. Hannß presents three areas in which Pukina was spoken and in which the Pukina culture flourished: (i) around the Lakes of Titicaca and Coipasa (Bolivia); (ii) on the eastern slopes of the Andes and the neighbouring valleys (Peru); (iii) in the littoral region of South Peru and North Chile. Hannß argues that Pukina must have had contacts with Uru-Chipaya, Proto-Takanan and Mapudungun, and possibly with Kunza, and she gives detailed phonological, lexical and structural evidences to sustain her claims. The contacts between Pukina and Uru-Chipaya, Proto-Takanan, and Mapudungun, cover a period from ca. 500 A.D. (Proto-Takanan) until the end of the eighteenth century. Hannß suggests that Pukina may have been the donor language of Uru-Chipaya, Proto-Takanan and Mapudungun. Furthermore, Hannß succeeds in giving us an image of the extinct language through the different phonological, lexical and structural examples included in her article.

The Leiden Puquina Group also underlines the importance of the extinct Puquina language and the vast regions in which it was spoken in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. The group mentions that at the beginning of the colonial period, it was one of the three major languages, alongside Quechua and Aymara. While Hannß concentrates on the contacts between Pukina speakers and neighbouring peoples, the Leiden Puquina Group focuses on Puquina kinship terms found in Jerónimo de Oré’s Rituale seu Manuale Peruanum from 1607. Ore’s manuscript is the only text in Puquina that is left. It is a special document, containing prayers, catechisms, instructions for confession in Quechua, Aymara, Puquina, Mochica, Guarani, and Tupinambá, called lengua Brasilica ‘Brazilian language’ in the manuscript. Thanks to a careful examination of the Rituale, the group succeeded in adding a great number of lexical items to Puquina lexicography, and in unravelling the Puquina structure and its kinship system (cousin marriage, lineality, exogamy and endogamy). It shows how opaque and inconsistent text fragments should be analysed in order to achieve results.

Zanna Van Loon and Andy Peetermans’ “wide-lensed approaches to missionary linguistics” through sixteenth-century grammars, see section 1.1, concern, in this section, the following grammars: Santo Thomas’ Grammática o arte de la lengua general de los indios de los reynes del Perú (1560), the anonymous Arte y Vocabulario en la lengua general del Perú (1586), and Anchieta’s Arte de grammática da lingoa mais usada na costa do Brasil (1595). Santo Thomas’ grammar and the anonymous one deal with the Quechua language, the lengua general or lingua franca of Peru, while Anchieta’s arte contains a description of Tupi-Guarani, the Brazilian lingua franca. In their conclusion, the authors point out that one should not lose sight of the big picture when doing detailed studies, and present ‘circulation of knowledge’ as a possible theoretical framework for the “integrated large-picture study of missionary linguistics”.

Matthias Urban investigates how the velar nasal sound, occurring in Quechua, Aymara, Mochica, Mapudungun, Huarpe, and Cholón, had been symbolized in colonial and pre-modern descriptions of these languages. The present article contains a report of his investigation. It appears that the sound, indicated as gangoso ‘nasal’ by Valdivia (1606), or as guttural ‘guttural’ by both Valdivia and de la Mata (1748), had been represented in many ways. Urban distinguishes two traditions: the velar nasal sound is mainly symbolized as ⟨n⟩ in Cuzco Quechua and Lupaca Aymara, and as ⟨nc⟩ or ⟨ng⟩ in Santo Tomás’ Quechua and in Mochica. Through this investigation, Urban gained insights into the sound symbolization of other languages, and he utilizes these insights in his analysis of the phonetic structure of the very poorly documented Tallán languages Colán and Catacaos.

The volume From Mesoamerica to Patagonia thus presents intriguing analyses of pre-modern documents looked at from different angles which open up new perspectives.


Alexander-Bakkerus, Astrid and Otto Zwartjes, eds. 2013. Historical documentation and reconstruction of American languages, a special issue of Language typology and universals (STUF: Sprachtypologie und Universalienforschung) 66 (3). Berlin: Akademie Verlag.

Alexander-Bakkerus, Astrid and Otto Zwartjes, eds. 2014. A colonized world revisited: Linguistic perspectives from unpublished colonial and postcolonial documents, a special issue of Language Typology and Universals (STUF: Sprachtypologie und Universalienforschung) 67 (2). Berlin: De Gruyter.

Alexander-Bakkerus, Astrid and Liesbeth Zack, eds. 2014. Revitalizing older linguistic documentation: Proceedings of the Vth international meeting, a special issue of Linguistics in Amsterdam (LiA) 7 (2). Amsterdam: University of Amsterdam, Amsterdam Center for Language and Communication.


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