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Innovation and change in a multilingual context: The Innovative Tariana language in northwest Amazonia

posted on 2022-11-14, 23:57 authored by Alexandra AikhenvaldAlexandra Aikhenvald
The world over, younger generations speak differently from older people and show deviations from the established norm. How do transgenerational differences fare in the situation of imminent pressure from major languages and impending language shift in minority languages with predominantly oral traditions? In many communities, younger peoples' ways of speaking appear to bear an indelible impact from national languages and linguas francas. Extensive borrowing, code-switching, and loss of original forms and patterns appear to create a generally bleak picture. In actual fact, things are somewhat more complex.. Patterns of change in Innovative varieties of traditional languages spoken by people at least a generation younger than the bearers of the norm can be internally motivated. This is the case with 'anticipatory' changes whereby an innovative variety of a language spoken by younger generation replicate a change which has already taken place in a more innovative related language, or languages. Or their origins can be traced to the increased impact of contact with linguas francas or national languages, regularizing paradigms and creating new forms and expressions. The Innovative Tariana spoken by younger generations is a case in point. Tariana is the only Arawak language spoken in the Brazilian part of the multilingual linguistic area of the Vaupés River Basin (which spans Brazil and Colombia: Aikhenvald 2002, 2015). The language is spoken by about 100 people. The region is known for its obligatory multilingualism based on linguistic exogamy: you have to marry someone whose father speaks a different language than your father (and thus belongs to a different language group). Languages within the multilingual marriage network are Tariana (Arawak) and a number of East Tucanoan languages, including Tucano, Wanano, Piratapuya, etc. The Tariana used to be fluent in several East Tucanoan languages. Now, Tucano is gaining ground as the main language of the region (mostly thanks to the Catholic education policies); and many younger people use it on a day-to-day basis. There is a marked difference between the 'Traditional Tariana' (now almost gone; documented by the author in the 1990s-early 2000s) and the 'Innovative Tariana', currently spoken, which bears an increasing impact of Tucano, especially as concerns syntax and discourse patterns and also morphology. This contribution provides a systematic investigation of the Innovative Tariana, focusing on internally motivated changes (including 'anticipatory changes') and changes due to the impact of Tucano and Portuguese, the national language. Traditional Tariana used to be a predominantly oral language, with literacy developed in the early 1990s. All speakers of the Innovative Tariana are literate in the language. We also focus on newly emergent genres — including written stories (produced during pedagogical workshops), personal letters, and communication by e-mail, messenger, Facebook, and What's app — and concomitant language change.


Category 1 - Australian Competitive Grants (this includes ARC, NHMRC)



Groff C; Hollington A; Hurst-Harosh E; Nassenstein N; Nortier J; Pasch H; Yannuar N



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De Gruyter Mouton

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Berlin, Germany

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Open Access


Era Eligible


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Global perspectives on youth language practices