NewsLatin AmericaThe agony of the indigenous languages ​​of the Amazon before the threat of television

The agony of the indigenous languages ​​of the Amazon before the threat of television

When there is only one speaker left, a language is already dead because it has lost its function. It no longer serves to communicate. Perhaps the one that the Indian from the hole spoke about in his day died many years before this Brazilian indigenous man who lived half his life alone in the jungle died. Since for 26 years he never spoke a word to white people, the world does not know — nor will he ever know — what language he spoke or what ethnic group he belonged to. Brazil, which 200 years ago managed to be stitched together as a single country thanks to Portuguese, among other factors, hoarded some 165 living indigenous languages ​​a decade ago. It is the most up-to-date account of the Brazilian linguist and researcher Wilmar de Angelis.

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They are tiny languages ​​because the natives are only about 900,000, that is, 0.5% of the Brazilian population. Brazil’s impressive linguistic heritage is concentrated in the Amazon, a territory that spans nine countries and is home to some 300 native languages. The Brazilian Amazon alone is equivalent to twice the territory of the European Union. 126 languages ​​are spoken there, this specialist tells the phone from Campinas (São Paulo).

Each one is a universe. Half lack writing. Those that do are often imposed by American missionaries who came to the villages with their Bibles from the sixties in search of souls to convert.

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De Angelis calculates that a decade ago a quarter of the Amazonian languages ​​were spoken by fewer than 50 people. And about 15, for less than ten indigenous people. This is the case of the last piripkura, an uncle and a nephew who avoid contact with whites. They have that onomatopoeic name because they move like butterflies. The duo, who star in a documentary titled Piripkurahas been monitored for years by the National Indian Foundation (Funai), like the deceased Indian of the hole.

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Tikuna, the most widely used indigenous language in the Amazon with some 45,000 speakers, is similar to Basque, reveals the linguist. Not because of its sound, which is tonal, like Chinese, not common in these lands, but because it was isolated from other native languages.

Video: Amazon Mother of Brazil

Professor De Angelis has spent his whole life dedicated to studying and revitalizing this linguistic heritage out of a curiosity that led to empathy as a teenager, when he followed through the pages of the newspaper the colonization of the Amazon, the forced contact with the original peoples. “It was sad, you could see that they were his last happy days,” he maintains. “I wanted to understand how they understood the world.”

In line with the bicentennial of independence that Brazil commemorated on September 7, countless versions of the national anthem have been played. Among the peculiar ones, the one interpreted by two indigenous women. The video, produced by the environmental activism group Gabinete dos Bichos, in which verses in Tikuna and Kambeba are interspersed, has gone viral these days. They sing all the lyrics in their mother tongues except for the final verse -“Patria amada Brasil”-, which is in Portuguese. The clip concludes with a political message: “Amazonia, mother of Brazil.” This is the title of the campaign of which it is a part.

The process that leads to linguistic extinction in Amazonia has slowed down in the XXI, but by no means stopped. De Angelis, from the Department of Linguistics at Unicamp University, affirms that, so far this century, some 25 languages ​​have disappeared. More than one per year. The 500 years after the Portuguese conquest, in 1500, were even bloodier. Two per year died as the natives were decimated.

Now television kills them. “What impacts languages ​​the most and spreads bilingualism is television. When electricity reaches the villages, the impact is brutal”, assures the specialist. Portuguese lands with force in the largest tropical forest in the world thanks to television, mobile phones and public education, which is taught in each local language and Portuguese. He says that in the 1990s there were still monolingual kids in one of the native towns he visited, not anymore.

One of the problems for this linguistic treasure, according to De Angelis, is that Portuguese is a key that opens doors to jobs as a teacher or a nurse. That is why he is in favor of Kaingang, Tikuna, Baniwa, Ashaninka being in what he calls “prestigious media”, be it the computer, videos or the Internet. For more than a decade he maintained the only Brazilian website entirely written in indigenous languages.

It has been participating in various linguistic revitalization processes for many years, but successes are limited. To the push of the TV and the Portuguese is now added a president, Jair Bolsonaro, of the extreme right, who has undertaken a systematic dismantling of the indigenous and environmental policies of his predecessors. The only action of the current Government in this area is to keep alive the database of the National Inventory of Linguistic Diversity.

Most of the 126 Amazonian languages ​​are spoken by a single people, but until the 18th century, Nheengatu was the lingua franca from Amazon. It was the one used by the Portuguese settlers and the indigenous people who accompanied them as they entered the jungle. But it practically disappeared after the rubber boom attracted large migrations from the northeast coast. They were Brazilians who arrived in the Amazon lands with little more than the Portuguese language and the dream of prospering. The specialist says that the Mura are adopting it now after having lost the language that their ancestors used.

De Angelis also considers it necessary for languages ​​with more than 10,000-12,000 speakers to adopt writing. “It is an illusion to think that only orality is going to keep those languages ​​(so dispersed) alive.”

The Zoe are a tribe that lived without contact with strangers in the jungle until the 1990s, when missionaries brought them out of their isolation. When the contact process was final, they asked the Brazilian authorities for a deed, the anthropologist Dominique Gallois told a few months ago in an interview at her house. She and Funai officials learned their language to communicate with them and now together they build the foundations so that they can write and read it.

And then there is the unknown linguistic heritage of the Amazon, which is treasured by the 115 tribes that prefer to live without contact with whites.


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Source: EL PAIS


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