Revitalizing an Endangered Panoan Language of the Amazon: Amawaka and its Realm of Sounds, Ideas and Traditions

Karadamou, Charitini
Karadamos, Dimitrios
Karadamou, Charitini
Karadamos, Dimitrios
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The following talk aims to address a practical ongoing methodology of language revitalization. This venture constitutes an ethnolinguistic multidisciplinary model of conservation and revitalization of endangered Amazonian languages and more specifically of Amawaka, a highly endangered tonal language of the Headwaters (Fleck, 2013), subgroup of the Panoan family in the Central-Western Amazon Basin. Spoken by approximately 300 people in very remote communities along the Peruvian- Brazilian border (“Ethnologue,” n.d), it is in high need of a practical revitalization strategy. The two authors, who have acquired considerable academic and fieldwork expertise through their direct linguistic and anthropological involvement with the Amawaka communities during their PhD and MA years, have, thus, proposed a practical tri-modular model. It consists of a cultural, linguistic and educational module and involves the dynamic involvement of indigenous initiative. The cultural module has been investing in the collection and digital archiving of traditional stories, myths, and songs of the Amawaka people and is interconnected with and feeds two ongoing cultural projects, initiated by the Panoan anthropologist Hewlett and the only certified indigenous Amawaka bilingual (Amawaka-Spanish) teacher. Both these projects, a cultural center and a film documentary, display important historical and sociocultural data of the specific culture. The linguistic module branches out into three sections: (a) fieldwork phonetics/phonology with multiple speakers to further record the extreme variation, (b) on-site research of the sociolinguistic themes of language ideology and identity formation through language and (c) digital lexicography based on fieldwork with multiple speakers. The educational module entails (a) the design of an updated orthographical system based on one of the authors’ PhD thesis (Author1, 2016). A new orthography will be instrumental for the creation of a new dictionary and of new and updated language coursebooks. It also encompasses (b) intensive teaching activity of Amawaka by the authors at primary schools in Amawaka communities, where the language is no longer spoken. At the end of this project all the material will be uploaded to a digital website, which will be the first and only official database of Amawaka cultural heritage. The project aims to join the momentum created by a larger language preservation program by the Ministry of Education in Peru and the intensive interest and efforts of the Amawaka people to protect their rights and preserve their language and culture. Bibliography Author1 (2016). The Phonetics and Phonology of Amawaka, a Panoan Language of the Amazon Basin. (Ph.D. dissertation), University of Bern. Fleck, D. W. (2013). Panoan Languages and Linguistics (Vol. 99): American Museum of Natural History Anthropological Papers. New York: American Museum of Natural History. Paul, L. M., Simons G. F., Fennig C. D. (Editors). (2016). Ethnologue: Languages of the World, Nineteenth edition. Dallas, Texas: SIL International. Online version:
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