Mapping Tupí loans in Macro-Jê languages

[Presented at the SSILA/LSA Joint Session Minority Language Contact, organized by Lev Michael and Richard A. Rhodes; Pittsburgh, Jan/2011]

Tupí and Macro-Jê are among the most widespread language families in lowland South America, with members being spoken from eastern Brazil to the foothills of the Andes. While Tupí is a well-established family, Macro-Jê is still largely seen as a “working hypothesis” (Rodrigues 1999), although recent studies (Adelaar 2008, Ribeiro & van der Voort in press) have contributed to solidify its presence in the “western front,” with the inclusion of Chiquitano (spoken in Bolivia and Brazil) and the Jabutí languages (Arikapú and Djeoromitxí, spoken in Rondônia, a Brazilian State bordering Bolivia). Based on such studies, a different picture of Macro-Jê starts to emerge, revealing a concentration of diversity in western Brazil (rather than eastern Brazil, as usually thought; cf. Urban 1998). That would suggest a western, southern Amazonian homeland for Proto-Macro-Jê. Surprising as that might be, a western origin of Macro-Jê would corroborate a hypothesis of long-range genetic relationship among the Tupí, Macro-Jê, and Carib families proposed by Rodrigues (1985), since Rondônia is already commonly seen as the homeland of Proto-Tupí.

The task of investigating a possible genetic relationship between Tupí and Macro-Jê is complicated by the fact that languages from both families have been in contact to varying degrees. As a result of such contacts, most Macro-Jê languages present Tupí loans, adopted through at least three intersecting scenarios: direct contact with a local Tupí language (Tapirapé, in the case of Karajá, Tupinambá, in the case of Kipeá, Guaraní, in the case of Chiquitano and Ofayé, etc.); indirect contact (via a third indigenous language, or via Spanish or Portuguese); and contact with one of the Tupinambá-based linguae francae which were commonly spoken in colonial Brazil (Nheengatú, in the north; Língua Geral Paulista, to the south). While the loanword status of most shared lexical similarities is easy to determine (such as terms referring to European cultural objects and practices), many resist an obvious analysis, and may turn out to trace back to a common genetic origin. The present study will provide an exhaustive inventory of Tupí loans in Macro-Jê languages, aiming at determining their origins and the historical circumstances surrounding their adoption. Problematic cases will be closely scrutinized, as they may provide important pieces of information on pre-colonial contacts or, possibly, additional lexical evidence for the hypothesis of genetic relationship between Tupí and Macro-Jê.


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Ribeiro, Eduardo Rivail & Hein van der Voort. 2010. Nimuendajú was right: the inclusion of the Jabutí language family in the Macro-Jê stock. International Journal of American Linguistics, no. 4, p. 517–70.

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