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Review of  Language Contact in Amazonia

Reviewer: Peter G. Sercombe
Book Title: Language Contact in Amazonia
Book Author: Chia-jung Pan
Publisher: Oxford University Press
Linguistic Field(s): Sociolinguistics
Anthropological Linguistics
Issue Number: 15.2772

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Date: Sat, 2 Oct 2004 13:29:50 +0100
From: Peter Sercombe
Subject: Language Contact in Amazonia

AUTHOR: Aikhenvald, Alexandra Y.
TITLE: Language Contact in Amazonia
PUBLISHER: Oxford University Press
YEAR: 2003

Peter G. Sercombe, University of Northumbria, Newcastle-upon-Tyne,

This monograph deals with the ways in which language contact impinges
on the grammatical systems of languages that are not genetically
related. It provides for a variety of linguistic interests: language
typology, historical and comparative studies, sociolinguistics,
language obsolescence and language maintenance. The author's hope is
that other linguists will be inspired to undertake fieldwork on
endangered languages, through reading about her own work.

The book's main purpose is to offer a coherent and logical description
of language change as a result of contact between two typologically and
genetically unrelated language families, North Arawak and Tucano, of
northern Amazonia. The author deals specifically with the effects of
East Tucano on Tariana, an adjacent Arawak language. An aim of the book
is to determine the language features that tend to be most borrowed in
language contact situations in Amazonia. The book has 12 chapters.

Chapter 1 provides a general background to language contact, describing
how the book deals with the linguistic outcomes of contact in terms of
phonology, morphology, syntax and discourse. The descriptions and
arguments are based on recorded oral histories and language use,
observed in situ, mainly among the Tariana people of two settlements,
Santa Rosa and Periquitos. According to the author, the Vaupés basin,
in Colombia and Brazil, is known for its multilingualism and language
group exogamy, this being governed by language affiliation.
Multilingualism is culturally normal, and all combinations of known
languages can be heard in village contexts, with language choice in
daily communication being based foremost on traditional language
protocol. It is argued that convergence is common in this geographical
area, conceding that divergence can also occur, but that the idea of a
linguistic area is certainly fundamental to the notion of diffusion. It
is also suggested, in general terms, that the most persistent borrowing
normally includes categories of grammar, although lexis and grammatical
meanings are also affected, along with lexical borrowing and, less
commonly, grammatical forms. Aikhenvald analyses and compares:
multilateral diffusion in Vaupés as a linguistic area; the present-day
one-to-one language contact situation between Tariana and dominant East
Tucano; the developing diglossic situation between Tariana and
Portuguese (the Brazilian national language), using a large corpus of
data from different genres. Clear terms of reference are given:
borrowing is stated as being the 'transfer of linguistic features of
any kind from one language to another as the result of contact',
following Trask (2000: 44).

Code-switching and code-mixing are together described as being 'the
alternate use of two languages within a sentence or between sentences'
(Clyne 1987: 740). Code-switching and code-mixing are distinguished
through suggesting that the former is 'meaningful and appropriate'
(Hill and Hill 1986: 348), while code-mixing exemplifies disorderly
usage, also following Trask (ibid: 61). Distinctions are made and
examples are provided of different types of contact-induced change:
diffusion, system-altering changes, system-preserving changes, lexical
accommodation and grammatical accommodation. Grammatical changes are
grouped into those that are complete which show no synchronic variation
and of which speakers are unaware; ongoing changes which depend on a
speaker's competence as well as a range of sociolinguistic variables;
and discontinuous changes described as one-off deviations. In
connection, grammatical borrowing is described as including wholesale
system borrowing; adding a system to one already in existence;
borrowing of processes; and borrowing of syntactic constructions. As
one might expect, the author disagrees with Myers-Scotton's (1993) idea
that there has to be structural compatibility for borrowing between

Chapter 2 looks at the areal significance of East Tucanoan languages on
Tariana phonology and the following are discussed: the indirect
diffusion of phonemes; the East Tucanoan influence on Tariana syllable
structure; how indirect diffusion affects phonological processes within
a phonological word in Tariana; and shared pitch and intonation
patterns of East Tucano and Tariana. In addition, the results of direct
and indirect diffusion are contrasted; as well the effect of contact
between Retuarã (a Central Tucanoan language) and Yucuna (an Arawak

Chapter three considers how areal dispersal from East Tucano into
Tariana, and vice versa, help bridge differences between the morphology
and pronoun systems of each and adds to the complexities in grammatical
structure of the languages in contact.

Chapter four looks at the impact of areal diffusion in nominal
categories in contact situations, including the language use of younger
people's Tariana. What appears to take place is restructuring in the
form of structural levelling in existing categories, as well as the
development of new categories. East Tucano, suggests Aikhenvald, also
appears to have caused Tariana categories, otherwise non-existent in
Tucano, to obsolesce.

Chapter five examines the impact of areal diffusion in verbal
categories in contact situations from East Tucanoan languages to
Tariana, and the ways in which Tariana categories have converged
towards East Tucanoan patterns. East Tucanoan languages are required to
indicate how information has been acquired by a speaker, realized
through the use of evidential markers merged with tense. The lack of
uniformity in verbal categories of Arawak languages, compared to
uniformity in nominal categories, is of interest here and this has
resulted in a greater diffusion of verb categories from East Tucano,
with the result that verbal categories in Tariana now tend to reflect
structural influence from neighboring languages, and verbal category
changes seem to match the structure of verbal features with those in
East Tucano.

Chapter six considers the impact of areal diffusion in syntax and
discourse in contact situations. Specifically, East Tucanoan-like
clause types in Tariana, and clause linking techniques, word and
constituent order, discourse in Tariana, are evident as a result of
influence from East Tucanoan languages. These have resulted in new
clause types in Tariana. Consequently, there also seems to be
isomorphism between East Tucano and Tariana organization of discourse,
with the result of similar syntactic patterns and clause types, these
also correlating with morphological innovation.

Chapter seven shifts focus slightly to look at contact between Tariana
and Portuguese. Most speakers of Tariana are described as having a good
grasp of Portuguese, being largely formally educated in this medium.
The author states that the two languages are in diglossic relation to
each other (in accordance with Ferguson's 1964 notion of diglossia),
compared to Tariana and other indigenous languages which can be and are
used in the same contexts. The use of Portuguese language items are
mentioned as being situation-dependent and are considered foreign. Use
of Portuguese is interpreted as exemplifying code-switching rather than
borrowing. At the time of writing, Aikhenvald had observed five old
Portuguese loans, but it is not made clear why they are necessarily
loans or what led to them being borrowed. Nonetheless, it is certainly
clear that there appears to have been less influence from Portuguese on
Tariana than from East Tucanoan languages.

Chapter eight has a sociolinguistic orientation with discussion of
code-switching and code-mixing and rules for these in different
languages of the area, including East Tucano, Portuguese, and Baniwa
and Tariana dialects. It is argued that multilingualism is maintained
through a strong proscription against the language mixing. Acceptable
instances of code-switching are observed as being intrasentential and
considered to be mostly functionally quotative. Perhaps not
surprisingly, English seems to be making inroads (reflecting some of
the effects of globalization on small communities), but does not have
the same negative associations as Portuguese does for speakers of

Chapter nine discusses language awareness among Tariana speakers and
how this influences language change and what is considered to be
accurate Tariana. The discussion relates to language structure, the
author distinguishing between lexical and morphemic awareness,
phonological awareness, morphosyntactic awareness, as well as
generational differences and how the latter determines the standing and
influence of individuals in the community.

Chapter ten summarizes the outcomes of direct and indirect diffusion as
well as discussing examples of partial convergence. This includes the
East Tucanoan languages' influences on Tariana in terms of: lexis and
lexical semantics; independent innovations; and other examples of
partial convergence between Tariana and East Tucano. Indirect diffusion
seems to have led to the emergence of new categories in Tariana through
those that already exist, as well as entirely new categories, and the
increased use of more peripheral constructions. It is argued that
indirect diffusion from Portuguese is limited because of the diglossic
relationship with Tariana.

Chapter eleven considers the ways in which language obsolescence
affects previous traditional patterns of areal diffusion and the
consequences of this in terms of language. The situation of Tariana in
Santa Rosa is described as being one of gradual language death with
women not speaking the language, but not in Periquitos where men, women
and children can all Tariana. Another outcome seems to be a shift from
traditional multilingualism to bilingualism. Also described in this
chapter are some of the linguistic outcomes of language attrition.

Chapter twelve summarizes the consideration of the three types of
language contact between and diffusion from East Tucano to Tariana.
It also puts different kinds of language contact into cross-linguistic
perspective and ends with suggestions for future consideration, in
particular, work focused on the Tariana lexicon under influence from
East Tucanoan languages, as well as Tucano spoken as a first language
by those not of Tucano ethnic origin.

Overall, this is an impressively detailed synchronic study replete with
careful linguistic analysis. The book is rich with supplementary
information: there are thirty-seven tables, forty-five pages of
appendices, providing details of the Arawak language family and
features of particular languages: phonology, vocabulary and grammar, as
well as evaluation of Santa Rosa Tariana speakers' proficiency. There
are also sixteen black and white plates, eighteen pages of references,
reflecting the author's level of background research, with regard to
relevant literature (including a considerable list of Aikhenvald's own
publications, either in print or in progress). Particularly appealing
is the fact that the author has foregrounded these politically not-
very-significant ethnolinguistic groups, giving focus to their
multilingual circumstances. This is a refreshing choice, and highlights
the importance of studying linguistic norms in pre-industrialized
community settings, especially when many linguistic and sociolinguistic
ideas are based on insights from modern industrialized societies (cf.
Rischel 1995), where minority languages are often in a binary position
to a supraregional one, such as English.

My concerns with presentation include the following: more maps,
especially ones that showed the geographical distribution of individual
languages would have been a useful addition; a full text of Tariana,
perhaps a story or two, or a transcript of interaction between speakers
would have been of interest. I would like to have read more about the
social and cultural circumstances of the Tariana. I feel that while the
linguistic description is fulsome, the sociolinguistic sections were
given lower priority, as reflected in the amount of text devoted to
them, since 'the basic problem is one of how culture articulates with
language in such a way that changes in culture bring about specific
changes in language', as succinctly articulated by Kulick (1992: 7-8).

The book is impeccably arranged. However, while Duranti appears in the
list of references, his name is absent from the index of authors. There
is also a typing error in the eighth line up on page 13. However, given
the academic breadth and depth of this text, these minor omissions and
infelicities are really insignificant.

I would disagree that free morphemes are necessarily borrowed before
bound ones. Theoretically, this seems more likely but need not be the
case in practice. I would also disagree with use of the terms 'correct
and 'incorrect' (p. 220) and would see them as being pertinent to the
halls of academia and non-specialists' use (of these terms), although
one can see that they are meaningful to Tariana speakers. More
applicable terms, regarding speech are the terms 'appropriate' and
'inappropriate' (cf. Aitchison 1995).

Chapter ten uses frequency of occurrence as a way of distinguishing
between borrowing and code-switching, the former occurring more often,
and this seems slightly arbitrary to me. How often does a feature have
to occur to be considered a borrowing? Why not ask speakers if the
occurrence of a particular feature is considered either part of their
language or from another one. If they are not sure, ask them if they
know of an equivalent in their own language and whether it is still
used as an alternative. These questions may not reveal definitive
answers but seem to be more credible than an undefined level of

Aitchison, J. 1995. Learn to live with change. The Guardian Weekly,
January 29.

Kulick, D. 1992. Language shift as cultural reproduction. In Dutton, T.
(ed.) Culture change, language change: Case studies from Melanesia.
Pacific Linguistics, Series C-120. Canberra: Australian National
University, pp. 7-26.

Rischel, J. (1995) Minor Mlabri: A hunter-gatherer language of Northern
Indochina. Copenhagen: Tusculanum Press.

The reviewer, Peter G. Sercombe, is employed at Northumbria University,
Newcastle-upon-Tyne, UK. He worked in Borneo from 1982-2002 and, among
other academic interests, continues to focus on language contact
between diverse and rurally located communities in central Borneo.

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