What languages are spoken in Brazil? In addition to Portuguese, probably your first answer, there are more than 150 languages spoken by indigenous groups. More than one hundred are concentrated in the Amazon region, where researchers from the Museu Paraense Emílio Goeldi (MPEG) work in the documentation and understanding of the linguistic systems of indigenous populations. These studies are the subject of issue number 69 of the Highlight Amazon.
The Highlight features six, out of thirty-two languages, which are the object of study by specialists linked to Goeldi: Oro Win, Gavião, Suruí, Paresí, Arikapú and Djeoromitxí. In addition, it brings reports that explain methodologies, new approaches and recent discoveries in the area of Linguistics, linked to the Coordination of Human Sciences (CCH / MPEG).
A concrete result of this partnership is the vast digital collection at the Goeldi Museum, with about 80 indigenous languages. Two of them are Oro Win and Paresí, which are at risk of extinction. Their documentation work is presented in this edition of the Highlight.
Oro Win is a language that is distinguished from others in the Amazon, with short words and very different sounds. There are only six speakers in the village in Rondônia, all over 50 years old. Its risk of extinction was further aggravated in the 1960s when the language was banned from being spoken by the indigenous people who worked in the rubber plantations. If they did not obey, they were physically attacked.
In addition to the description and documentation, the research supported the attempt to learn the language in schools, with the preparation of teaching materials with the local teacher.
In the case of Paresí, the initiative came from the community itself, concerned with the loss of traditional culture. There are just under 2,000 indigenous people of this ethnic group who live in 44 villages close to the municipality of Tangará da Serra (MT). Although 90% of the population speaks Paresí, some villages are influenced by modern society. Registration began in 2006 in the village of Formoso, one of the most traditional, and from 2011, the indigenous people continued their work after undergoing training in the use of equipment and filming techniques.
One of the phenomena that instigates linguists in the Amazon is the concentration of ethnic groups and languages at the borders of the biome, an area of greatest interaction between them. A recent study raises the hypothesis that this would be a convergence zone, where occupation in the region began.
The state of Rondônia is also important to understand the origins of indigenous languages. According to experts, it is likely that Tupi originated there, as it is where the greatest diversity of languages of this trunk is found. On the border with Bolivia, in the Guaporé Valley, there is a rare situation of great linguistic diversity, with approximately 50 different languages belonging to seven linguistic branches. There are still ten isolated languages, that is, that do not have connections between any other languages. This demonstrates the presence of such an ancient occupation whose origins are difficult to perceive.
Historical Linguistics is the branch that investigates these origins. It was from there that researchers from Goeldi discovered that the languages Arikapú and Djeoromitxí belong to the Macro-Jê trunk. Before, they were considered to belong to a small isolated family, the Jabutí.
The study reconstructed words from the common ancestral language, called Proto-Jabutí, spoken around 2,000 years ago before being divided into two. This research gathered data collected by Emil-Heinrich Snethlage (1897-1939) in Rondônia in the 1930s and confirmed an old hypothesis by the ethnologist Curt Nimuendajú (1883-1945). More details of the study are presented in the exhibition Dialogues: Snethlage and Human Sciences at the Goeldi Museum, on display at the Zoobotanical Park.
If today Portuguese is the most widely spoken language in the region, in the colonial period indigenous people, Portuguese, blacks and mestizos communicated through the General Language or Nheengatu. Widespread by the missionaries, it is of Tupi origin and based on the language of the Tupinambá, the first people who had contact with the colonizers. The General Language was used until the middle of the 19th century, when Portuguese was already mandatory.
Recently, a 1756 General Language-Portuguese / Portuguese-General Language dictionary was found in Germany, written by an unidentified German missionary. The previously unpublished manuscript shows the evolution of learning in the General Language and was transcribed by the Goeldi Museum for further studies. The document will be released by MPEG in digital format in 2015.
It is a bimonthly publication of the Communication Service of the Goeldi Museum that presents the research carried out by the institution. Digital editions are available for access and download on the MPEG Portal.