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Documentation of Bésiro


Language Bésɨro
Depositor Pierric Sans
Affiliation Dynamique Du Langage UMR5596 (CNRS/Université Lumière Lyon 2)
Location Bolivia
Deposit ID 0072
Grant ID IGS0126
Funding Body ELDP
Collection Status Collection online


Summary of the deposit

This collection documents and describes Bésiro, spoken by the Chiquitanos in the Bolivian lowlands. There are less than 5,000 speakers of Bésiro (including 700 living in Brazil).

The collection attempts to help classify this language, which is now thought to be part of the Macro-Jê family. Relying on second hand data, Greenberg (1987) considered Bésiro to be a member of the Macro-Jê stock, while Rodrigues (1999) did not. Recently, Adelaar (2008) brought new evidence for Bésiro’s classification in the Macro-Jê stock, based on similarities involving nasality.


Group represented

Chiquitano people in the Santa Cruz and Bení departments of Bolivia.


Language information

Alternate names: Chiquitano, Chiquito, Tarapecosi.


Deposit history

Bésɨro (ISO-639: cax), also known as Chiquitano, is spoken in the Santa Cruz region of Bolivia, in the Southeast lowlands. The region of the world among the Guaporé and Mamoré bassins (between Bolivia and Brazil) is considered one of the richest in terms of unknown languages and endangered diversity. It contains more than 50 languages, including 12 isolates, that show similarities and that prove important areal diffusion within this region (Crevels and Voort, 2008).

Bésɨro is spoken by a community spread between Bolivia and Brazil, in a borderline region, between the Andes in the West, the Amazonian in the North, and the Chaco in the South (Lat: -16, 7; Long: -61, 4). It has until now been considered as an language isolate, because no evidence of similarities with other surrounding linguistic families were found. However, a recent work by Willem Adelaar (2008) has brought some elements that tend to prove a relation between Bésɨro and the Macro-Jê stock. This work has been consolidated by an extensive work by Eduardo Ribeiro (University of Chicago, p.c.), an expert of the Macro-Jê stock. This stock is not yet fully accepted, and some languages, such as the Jabutí (Ribeiro & Voort, to appear) have only recently been included. The inclusion of Bésɨro is a tremendously exciting challenge, though needing a fair amount of data. Linguists that work on historical and comparative linguistics are waiting for a comprehensive grammar to confirm the Macro-Jê hypothesis.

Bésiro is a severely endangered language. Children and young adults (up to 25 years old) do not understand the language. People older than that normally at least understand it, and people older than 50 use it at least with people from their ages or older. This evaluation, from the researcher’s personal observations (Sans, 2009), is only valid for the region of Lomerío, which is itself an exception in terms of healthiness of the language. This shows the urgency of the documentation of this language. According to anthropological studies from Jürgen Riester (2003 and p.c.), Bésiro has incredibly quickly lost its vitality in no more than one generation (twenty years), and has almost disappeared in other regions than Lomerío and Monteverde (both regions have a certain political autonomy). However, even in these regions the use of the language has ceased being the normal speech situation in the past decades. The elders have lived in an almost monolingual Bésiro linguistic environment, but they are becoming scarcer.

Until now, the language has barely been studied. Only some of its aspects have been described, like the distinction between male and female speeches (Falkinger, 2002). Both genders have their vocabulary, sounds, and even grammatical rules. The phonology of the language has also been studied (Krüsi & Krüsi, 1978a) as well as its sociolinguistics aspects (Falkinger, 1993). Recently a Spanish priest has provided a basic grammar of the language (Galeote Tormo, 1996). This project aims to contribute to the study of Bésɨro by describing and documenting the language.


Acknowledgement and citation

To refer to any data from the collection, please cite as follows:

Sans, Pierric. 2013. Documentation of Bésiro. London: SOAS University of London, Endangered Languages Archive. Handle: Accessed on [insert date here].

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