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Eighteenth-Century Cholón

The main purpose of this book is to give a description of the Cholón language as represented in the Arte de la lengua cholona (ALC), a colonial grammar written in 1748 by a Franciscan friar, named Pedro de la Mata. The ALC was transcribed by Fray Gerónimo Clota in 1772. This grammar is kept in the British Library (Manuscript Department, Shelfmark: Additional 25322) in London (United Kingdom). Nowadays, the Cholón language is probably extinct. It was spoken in North Peru in the valley of the river Huallaga. The Huallaga River is a wide, fast-flowing affluent of the river Marañón (Amazon). Cholón formed a small language family together with the neighbouring language Híbito.

Astrid Alexander-Bakkerus
12 December 2005
Full text in Leiden Repository

The description of eighteenth-century Cholón, the linguistic part of the book, is preceded by the mention of secondary sources and of theories about genetic relations (chapter 1), by an ethnohistorical sketch (chapter 2), and by an analysis of the manuscript (chapter 3).

The linguistic part starts with an analysis of the orthography used in the ALC and of the observations about certain sounds, in order to reconstruct a tentative sound system (chapter 4). Chapter 5 deals with morphonology. In this chapter attention is payed to syllable structures and to phenomena like vowel suppression and harmonization, and stem-initial consonant changes. Nominal and verbal morphosyntax are discussed in chapter 6 and 7, respectively. Cholón is an agglutinative language. Nominal and verbal stems can be preceded by person prefixes and be followed by derivational suffixes and/ of case markers. The language makes a distinction in gender in the second person singular: the prefix mi- is used when the addressee is a man, pi- is used when it concerns a woman. A unique affix is the prefix pu eŋ, meaning 'pair' or 'natural counterpart', which is attached to the kinship terms 'father', 'mother', 'son', 'daughter', and 'husband': mother-pair 'mother and daughter', father-pair 'father and son', etc.

Like many other South American languages, Cholón disposes of suffixes which are attached to quantifiers and which classify the quantified word. These classifiers indicate the shape (round), the composition (group of living beings) or the property (portable) of the quantified word. Most of the verbs have a reducible stem. The incompletive aspect marker, for instance, is suffixed to a reduced stem; derivational suffixes, nominalizers, and subordinators are attached to the non-reduced stem. Negative, passive and reflexive verbs, among other things, are formed by means of a special derivational suffix; subordinate clauses can be formed by means of nominalization. Subordinate clauses can also be formed by means of a zero-nominalizer followed by a case marker, and by means of a subordinator.A subordinator can indicate whether the subject of the main clause and the subordinate clause is the same person, or not (switch-reference). Besides nouns and verbs, the most important word categories, Cholón has a small class of adverbs (chapter 8) and interjections (chapter 9). In chapter 10 discourse markers, such as question and exclamation markers, are treated. Chapter 11 is dedicated to the negation. In chapter 12 a survey of the different subordinate clauses is given. The linguistic part is closed by a lexicon.

The appendices following the index and references contain maps of the Cholón area and word lists, such as the lists of words and expressions uttered by the Cholón descendants, Mrs. A. Gutiérrez Cerquera and Mr. J. Santos Chapa Ponce. 

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