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Review of  The Languages of the Andes

Reviewer: Yury A. Lander
Book Title: The Languages of the Andes
Book Author: Willem Adelaar Pieter C. Muysken
Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Linguistic Field(s): Anthropological Linguistics
Language Family(ies): Caribbean
Issue Number: 16.455

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Date: Tue, 8 Feb 2005 22:41:36 +0300 (MSK)
From: Yury Lander
Subject: The Languages of the Andes

AUTHOR: Adelaar, Willem F. H.; Muysken, Pieter C.
TITLE: The Languages of the Andes
SERIES: Cambridge Language Surveys
PUBLISHER: Cambridge University Press
YEAR: 2004

Yury A. Lander, Institute of Oriental Studies RAS, Moscow


South America is an undeniably exciting place for linguists, and the
languages of the Andes, a great mountain chain extending throughout the
Pacific shore of this part of the New World, contribute to this feeling
significantly. Mountain relief encourages the linguistic diversity (see Nichols
1992: 13ff.), and the basic characteristics of these languages make them
relatively unusual from the European viewpoint.

Still, in typological literature the languages of the Andes clearly have not
got attention they deserve. One reason for this was that in South America
the process of language extinction passed ahead of the process of
language documentation. As a result, scholars had to familiarize themselves
mainly to the largest and strongest languages of the area - in fact, almost
exclusively to Quechua and Aymara. To illustrate this, the "Andean" part of
the general volume on South American Languages Klein and Stark, eds.
(1985) included 7 papers, all of which dealt with these two languages
(although some other languages of the Andes were briefly touched upon in
other parts). At the same time, even when the grammatical descriptions of
the languages of this area appeared, usually they were written in Spanish -
a language, which unfortunately is not popular enough among typologists.
Actually, during the recent decades, almost no general grammatical survey
of these languages in English was published. Thus, such promising titles
as "Language in the Andes" (Cole et al., eds. 1994) or the above-
mentioned "South American Indian Languages" (Klein and Stark, eds. 1985)
either contained articles on specific problems in specific languages or
focused on sociolinguistic and/or historical issues. An exception is
probably constituted by a few volumes published by Summer Institute of
Linguistics such as Elson, ed. (1962, 1963), Matteson, ed. (1967). Yet the
data presented there apparently might be extended (and the tagmemic
descriptions are not easily readable).

This is the context in which the monograph "The Languages of the Andes"
(hence LoA) appears. Presumably the book under review is intended to fill
the empty space within the range of linguistic surveys of the area, since it
offers a rather detailed overview of language families spoken here. As for
the whole America, LoA complements two other volumes published in the
same series of "Cambridge Language Survey", namely Dixon and
Aikhenvald, eds. (1999) and Mithun (1999). The monograph was
written "under the primary authorship and responsibility" of Willem Adelaar
of Leiden University, who is apparently one of the best specialists in the
languages of the western part of South America. Besides Adelaar, a part of
the book was written by Pieter Muysken (University of Nijmegen), a well-
known scholar specializing in various languages of Latin America and in


The introductory chapter (pp. 1-45) gives background for the study of
Andean languages. Thus, it provides the reader with general information on
the geography and history of the area and overviews the sociolinguistic
situation in its countries. After that, the authors briefly describe the history
of research on the languages of the Andes. The final part of the chapter
(which actually constitutes almost half of it) surveys attempts of genetic
classification of these languages from early Spanish observations on
similarities between certain idioms up to Greenberg's radical hypothesis on
the overall relatedness of the languages of South America.

The following five chapters are devoted to various regions throughout the
Andes. These regions (called "spheres") are defined on the basis of
historical and cultural evidence, mainly as "zones which at different points
in time have functioned as single units" (p. 4). Naturally, the construction of
some of these zones looks quite rough, with a few languages ascribed to a
concrete sphere as residual. It is worth noting, however, that not
infrequently the real cultural interaction within a sphere resulted in that its
languages "have influenced each other, sometimes rather profoundly" (p.
4). Consequently, the Andean region appears as a place where linguistic
contacts played a very important role, occasionally changing and
determining the linguistic situation to a high degree.

Chapter 2 (pp. 46-164) describes the languages of the "Chibchan Sphere",
which is named after the extinct Chibcha (Muisca) people of Colombian
highlands and occupies the major part of the so-called "Intermediate area"
(Area Intermedia) "negatively defined as an area belonging neither to
Mesoamerica, nor to the Central Andean civilisation domain" (p. 50). Here -
as in most subsequent chapters - the authors treat some languages in more
details, while for other languages only their main common characteristics or
even just brief sociolinguistic information (especially if a language belongs
to the group that is more widespread outside of the Andes) are illuminated.
In this chapter Adelaar focuses on the above-mentioned Muisca (which
became extinct already in the eighteenth century), for which an almost 30
page description (p. 81-109) is given.

Chapter 3 concerns with the "Inca Sphere". This zone coincides with the
territory of Tahuantinsuyo (the greatest South American empire that existed
in the pre-conquista times) at the moment of its golden age, i.e. in the
beginning of the sixteenth century. This area is indeed more or less
linguistically homogenous, since it is characterized by the massive influence
of Quechua "dialects" (which are better treated as languages). Accordingly,
a detailed description of Quechua is presented, along with that of Aymara,
the second important family in the zone (here special attention is given to
the Jaqaru language, which is spoken, however, in a region geographically
separated from other Aymara languages). Smaller languages and language
groups have also got some place in the chapter, as far as the authors could
obtain data.

Chapter 4 (pp. 411-501) deals with "the languages of eastern slopes". This
area is probably one of the residual zones (in comparison with the two
spheres described before) and Muysken (who wrote the whole of this
chapter) "artificially" (p. 411) delimits it with the official territories of
Ecuador, Peru and Bolivia east of the Andes. Since much of this zone
belongs to or immediately sides with the basin of the Amazon, one could
expect here an overlap with Dixon and Aikhenvald, eds. (1999). These
expectations come partly true. For instance, the main points of the
description of Capanahua (serving as a representative of Panoan
languages) which is based largely on Loos 1969 naturally coincide with
those of Loos (1999), which also operates mainly with data of Capanahua
(called Capanawa there). However, Muysken provides details on certain
languages that in Dixon and Aikhenvald's volume are treated only in
passing: one example is Shuar, which is only mentioned (among other
languages of the Jivaroan family) in Wise (1999), another is an Arawakan
language Yanesha' (called Amuesha in Dixon and Aikhenvald, eds. (1999)).
As for the latter, its choice in LoA is not accidental, given the fact that this
language was strongly influenced by Quechua. And indeed, Quechuan
influence is one of the main topics discussed here, on the material of both
representatives of well-known families and isolates.

Chapter 5 "The Araucanian Sphere" (pp. 502-549) covers the central
regions of the Republic of Chile and in addition, (while touching upon the
Huarpean languages) intrudes into the territory of Argentina. In fact,
besides an introductory section, this chapter only includes sketches of two
languages, namely Mapuche (which is devoted to almost 37 pages) and
Alleantic, the information on the latter being based on a grammar
published as far back as in 1607.

Chapter 6 "The languages of Tierra del Fuego" (pp. 550-584) completes the
survey of native languages of the Andes. It is one of the smallest chapters of
the monograph, but this is not surprising given that for languages of Tierra
del Fuego (an archipelago near the south extremity of the continent) and its
neighboring mainland regions "a problem is that we have only a few reliable
grammatical descriptions, and that these descriptions are done in
maximally divergent grammatical traditions" (pp. 556-557). Despite this, an
attempt is made to summarize the available information on grammatical,
ethnolinguistic and historical issues. This is accompanied by a discussion of
features that these languages share and even with an 11 page sketch of one
of the Fuegian languages, Yahgan.

The last chapter "The Spanish presence" (pp. 585-609) written by Muysken
is devoted for the most part to Andean Spanish, its origin, specific character
etc. - especially in the perspective of its interaction with native American
languages. Further, this chapter contains a section on contact varieties of
Spanish found in the Andes and the west of the Amazon basin. Finally,
Muysken encloses an overview of "language planning and policy with
respect to the Amerindian languages and to bilingual education" (perhaps,
this chapter is not the best place for such a section, yet while being directed
to the future, it concludes the volume quite naturally).

The seven chapters are followed by the Appendix with the list of languages
and language groupings of the Andean region (with references to existing
sources), a massive bibliography, and the detailed author index, index of
languages and ethnic groups, and subject index.


This monograph is impressive in what concerns both the quantity and the
quality of data presented - this is manifested already in the length of
References (56 pages). Indeed, LoA introduces general information on
languages which previously remained if not unnoticed, then plainly
incapable of being included into typological investigations because of the
lack of relevant details. Here at least basic characterization of many such
languages is given, including almost obligatorily the description of
phonology, pronominal and cross-reference paradigms, tense-aspect-
modality systems, word order and formal marking of syntactic
dependencies (both in clauses and in noun phrases), and the most
remarkable elements of lexicon. Of course, the genre of the book precludes
the discussion of very special constructions. Yet the authors often attempt
not to restrict themselves just to the list of answers to the most common
typological questions, as they briefly mention details that are peculiar or
even unique, such as, for instance the "pronominal" formation of comitative
constructions in Mapuche (where, say, the meaning 'You people will go with
me' is expresses literally as 'You (plural), we (plural), we-go', p. 521).

Further, a positive feature of the book is that Adelaar and Muysken provide
intelligible concrete illustrations of most subjects of their research, be them
the evolution of views on the distinctive features of Andean languages
(discussed by the example of treatments of the relative clause formation in
Quechua; pp. 17-18), language groups illustrated with the descriptions of
their representatives, or these representatives, for which often a text is
provided with a grammatical analysis.

It is worth noting that occasionally this attention to concrete manifestations
has a special value - particularly for the specialists in the Andean area.
Sometimes the authors employ sources that were not taken into account
before because of their limited availability and conceptual complexities -
above all the works written by Spanish missionaries during the pre-
Independence period. In other cases the authors add their own material to
the existing data and/or give alternative interpretations. An example is
Jaqaru, which now has even three published monographic grammatical
descriptions (all by Martha James Hardman, the last one dates from 2000) -
yet Adelaar provides the sketch of this language noting that his analysis
may differ from analyses proposed in his sources (p. 301, fn. 89) and
supplies it with a commented sample text borrowed from a collection of
Jaqaru texts published in 1952.

Thus, as regards the data, the book seems to be of great interest both for
typologists and researchers specializing on the families discussed.
Nonetheless, some facts that may complicate the reading of the survey
should also be mentioned.

First of all, the terminology used in the monograph sometimes differs from
the terminology that is accepted in typological studies (e.g., "detrimental"
for malefactive). However, since the meaning of such terms is always clear
from the context and is frequently illustrated by examples, this should not
be taken for a serious shortcoming. On the other hand, where such terms
as 'family' are not used strictly, one can meet difficulties in understanding
the genetic relations between languages without returning to the first
chapter (recall, however, that the classification of many of the Andean
languages is still disputable).

For a novice reader a further problem may be that there is no general
overview of typological features of Andean languages. Of course, there are
seemingly no strict areal features that firmly distinguish these languages
from other languages of Latin America (note that while there is a list of
features distinguishing Andean languages from Amazonian ones in Dixon
and Aikhenvald, eds. (1999): 9-10, it was based mainly on data from
the "Inca Sphere"). But there do exist linguistic features that are common in
the Andes, as in fact is noted by Adelaar himself when he writes about the
Lule language (NB: also from this "sphere") that it "appears to be a typically
Andean language with a suffixing structure, a moderately complex
morphology and case markers" (p. 387). Although these characteristics are
quite abstract, it seems to me that they nevertheless can be worked out in
more details, at least in the form of grammatical isoglosses. It is likely that a
general introduction of the grammatical structures of languages described
in the monograph (similar to those in other volumes of "Cambridge
Language Surveys") could only help the reader to follow the text. In fact,
while a reviewer has to read the book without a break, many readers
definitely will consult with parts of it only, and these readers may encounter
difficulties without access to the whole picture of Andean languages
irrespective of how abstract it is.

In spite of this, "The Languages of the Andes" remains a unique and
wonderful source for everyone who wants to employ the language data
from the Andes, an important book for a typologist and an apparent
achievement in study of South American languages.


Cole, Peter, Gabriella Hermon, and Mario Daniel Martin, eds. 1994.
Language in the Andes. Newark: University of Delaware.

Dixon, R. M. W. and Alexandra Y. Aikhenvald, eds. 1999. The Amazonian
languages. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Elson, Benjamin, ed. 1962. Ecuadorian Indian Languages: I. Norman:
Summer Institute of Linguistics.

Elson, Benjamin, ed. 1963. Studies in Peruvian Indian Languages. Norman:
Summer Institute of Linguistics.

Hardman, Martha James. 2000. Jaqaru. Munich: LINCOM Europa.

Klein, Harriet E. Manelis and Louisa R. Stark, eds. 1985. South American
Indian Languages: Retrospect and Prospect. Austin: University of Texas

Loos, Eugene E. 1969. The Phonology of Capanahua and its Grammatical
Basis. Mexico, DF: Summer Institute of Linguistics.

Loos, Eugene E. 1999. Pano. In Dixon and Aikhenvald, 227-250.

Matteson, Esther [ed.] 1967. Bolivian Indian Grammars: I & II. Norman, OK:
Summer Institute of Linguistics.

Mithun, Marianne. 1999. The Languages of Native North America.
Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Nichols, Johanna. 1992. Linguistic Diversity in Space and Time.
Chicago/London: The University of Chicago Press.

Wise, Maru Ruth. 1999. Small language families and isolates in Peru. In
Dixon and Aikhenvald, 307-340.


Yury Lander is a research fellow in the Institute of Oriental Studies, Moscow.
He specializes in Austronesian and Caucasian languages and in the
morphosyntactic typology of noun phrases and clauses. His current
interests include the issues of polysynthesis and typological databases.

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