Dr. Konrad Rybka is a postdoctoral researcher in linguistics with a strong commitment to language documentation, description, and revitalization, an areal focus on the indigenous peoples of the Guianas, and a penchant for breaking disciplinary and colonial boundaries. He strives to harnesses the potential of education to recenter the aspirations of indigenous peoples for self-determination, strengthen their cultures, languages, and communities, and empower them to co-create science and modern multicultural societies on their own terms.
Dr. Rybka’s current project aims to develop interdisciplinary methods for the study of linguistic and cultural change by combining continent-wide linguistic comparison with continent-wide study of material culture to uncover small and large patterns of contact. The project exploits museum collections, ethnographic literature, and language data related to manioc, a poisonous root that became the staple food of Amazonian peoples, view the view to reconstructing the linguistic, sociocultural, and spatiotemporal aspects of the spread of the tools for (and by-products of) manioc processing. Given the great import of manioc farming, the project aims to advance research in several disciplines, create a reusable, open-access database of agriculture-related vocabulary in South American languages, and contribute to deconstructing current narratives about indigenous knowledge by contextualizing museum objects and reintegrating endangered linguistic and cultural heritage in cooperation with several indigenous stakeholders. The overarching aim of the project translates into three specific goals that Rybka will work towards together with partners at the University of California (Prof. Lev Michael), the University of Texas (Prof. Patience Epps), the Naturalis Biodiversity Centre (Prof. Tinde van Andel), and the National Museum of World Cultures (Martin Berger, Wendeline Flores).
• With archaeological and historical investigation challenged by rapid biodegradation and limited sources, Amazonian history, including the coevolution of people and manioc, remains poorly understood. To shed light on this process, Rybka will study the structural, functional, and linguistic aspects of manioc tools, illuminating the causes, effects, and trajectories of their spread.
• Through reconstruction of proto-terms and the spread of language families, historical linguistics offers unique insights into the lives of proto-speakers. To make such reconstructions more informative, Rybka will expose the structural and functional variation of manioc tools and its sociocultural correlates and test the hypothesis that the tools contributed to population growth underlying the spread of languages.
• Amazonian people tend to avoid language mixing, e.g. lexical borrowing, to maximize their expression of their collective identities. Rybka will study how the paucity of borrowing is compensated by other, understudied processes, e.g. semantic shift, when speakers accommodate new objects into their lexicons and what determines the different language contact results of cultural diffusion.
Grants and awards
2020—2023. Veni grant from the Netherlands Organization for Scientific Research (NWO) for a four-year project titled Manioc roots: reconstructing Amazonian prehistory through museum collections, ethnographic literature, and language data hosted by the Leiden University Centre for Linguistics.
2019—2018. One of five postdoctoral grants awarded under the common theme Circulation of objects and images by the Research and teaching Department of the Musée du quai Branly – Jacques Chirac, Paris, to conduct interdisciplinary research on the collection.
2018—2016. Rubicon grant from the Netherlands Organization for Scientific Research (NWO) for a two-year postdoctoral project titled Exploring the Guianas through linguistic and socio-cultural patterns of contactat hosted by the Berkeley Linguistics Department, University of California.
2017. Honorable Mention in the 2017 Mary Haas Award from the Society for the Study of the Indigenous Languages of the Americas and an invitation to publish the PhD dissertation with the University of Nebraska Press.
2015. Library Resident Fellowship of the American Philosophical Society, Philadelphia, to consult a Moravian dictionary of Lokono in the collection.
2011—2015. PhDs in the Humanities grant from the Netherlands Organization for Scientific Research (NWO) for a PhD project investigating the linguistic encoding of landscape in Lokono/Arawak, an Arawakan language of the Guianas.
2014. Endangered Languages Fund grant for the development of Lokono literacy.
2012. Society for Endangered Languages grant for the development of Lokono literacy.
2010. Leonardo da Vinci grant for the development of Lokono literacy.
Dr. Konrad Rybka obtained his PhD from the University of Amsterdam with a dissertation on how the speakers of the Surinamese dialect of Lokono/Arawak, an Arawakan language of the Guianas, categorize landscape in their lexicon and grammar. Throughout his PhD project, Rybka was also a full member of the LaCoLa project (Language, Cognition, and Landscape), a team of researchers hosted by Lund University, Sweden, exploring landscape from an interdisciplinary perspective under the aegis of the European Research Council. As a grantee of the Rubicon award of the Netherlands Organization for Scientific Research (NWO), Rybka worked subsequently under the supervision of Prof. Lev Michael at the University of California at Berkeley on the spread of linguistic, biological, astronomical, and technological knowledge in the Guianas. Since then, Rybka has also been working with the Warao and Kali’na people in Guyana, speakers of an isolate and a Cariban language, respectively. Over the years, Rybka also built up an expertise on 18th century Lokono/Arawak, working with manuscripts at the American Philosophical Society in Philadelphia, leading to his work on the history of negation in Lokono/Arawak (with Prof. Lev Michael) and translating Lokono/Arawak hymns written by Moravian missionaries for a PhD in history (Dr. James Oven, University of Georgia). More recently, building up on his investigation of indigenous patterns of contact, Rybka joined an interdisciplinary team of researchers working under the common theme Circulation of objects and images at the Musée du quai Branly – Jacques Chirac in Paris to focus on integrating linguistics and museum collections in his research. Continuing this line of research, in his current project funded by the Veni grant of the NWO, Rybka intends to harness language data and museum collections to reconstruct a key part of Amazonian history.
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