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Ethnobiology and Classifying in Bolivian Endangered Languages

  • Lena Sell, Lena Terhart, Swintha Danielsen (University of Leipzig, GIZAC documentation project)
Thursday 2 June 2016
P.N. van Eyckhof 2
P.N. van Eyckhof 2
2311 BV Leiden

In this talk, we present two recently published books dealing with two critically endangered languages of the Bolivian Lowlands: Guarasu and Baure.

Guarasu (also known as Pauserna) is a Tupi-Guaraní language in the border area of Bolivia and Brazil. It is currently spoken by supposedly one speaker in Bolivia and three speakers in Brazil. The dictionary Diccionario ‒ Flora y Fauna Guarasu compiles ethnobiological lexical data of mainly two older published sources. These data were reanalyzed and compared with Guarayu, a closely related language also spoken in the Bolivian lowlands, with which we also have an ongoing documentation project. The data representation in the dictionary includes alternate forms, semantic categories ‒ with an attempt of listing the native taxa in the appendix ‒, Latin names, notes on usage and appearance, and of course, detailed references to the sources.

Baure is an Arawakan language, also situated close to the Brazilian border. It is critically endangered, too, currently counting about 50 speakers and semi-speakers. The book Klassifikationen im Baure (“Classifications in Baure”) contains two studies on different aspects of classification that were originally composed separately as two master theses (Terhart 2009, Sell 2014). The first part explores the ethnobiological knowledge and vocabulary of Baure, with special focus on plant taxonomies. The second part investigates the more than 30 grammatical classifiers of the language. The semantics of each classifier is described in detail and an analysis of possible grammatical functions of Baure classifiers is given.

We have been working in the documentation of Bolivian endangered languages since 2003, collaborating as a team since 2008 in several language documentation projects.

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