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Documentation of Cha’palaa


Language Cha’palaa, Cayapa
Depositor Connie Dickinson
Affiliation FLACSO/University of Oregon
Location Ecuador
Collection ID 0086
Grant ID FTG0100
Funding Body ELDP
Collection Status Collection online
Landing Page Handle


Summary of the collection

The collection is documentation of the culture and language of the Chachi (Cayapa), an indigenous group located in the northwestern corner of Ecuador. Cha’palaa, the language of the Chachi, is a little described member of the under-documented Barbacoan language family.
The documentation project pursues three primary, inter-related goals:

  • the compilation of ethnographic and linguistic information based on video recordings covering a wide range of genres and contexts
  • the compilation of an electronic dictionary database and a descriptive grammar
  • the production of materials for use by the Chachi community itself

To achieve these goals, videos from a wide range of contexts and genres have been transcribed, translated, and analyzed in Toolbox and then combined with the media files in ELAN.
Much of the work will be carried out by trained Cha’palaa speakers. The material is of interest not only to researchers but to the Chachi community itself.
A parallel version of this collection with Spanish metadata is available here:


Group represented

The Chachi community of Loma Linda.

The Chachi live in scattered communities along the rivers of the northwestern lowlands of Ecuador. Archaeological evidence as well as the Chachi’s own historical accounts, indicate that the Chachi once lived in the Andes, around Ibarra, and emigrated down to their present territory sometime after the invasion of the Inca and the arrival of the Spainards. Population estimates for the present-day Chachi vary from the Summer Institute of Linguistics’ estimate of between 3,500 and 5,000, with around 3,500 speakers, (SIL 2000) to Medina’s estimate of 7,600 (Medina 1997). The population figures are somewhat misleading in that, while the number of speakers is high, the social and economic situation of the Chachi clearly endangers the language and culture. The Chachi were relatively isolated until the middle of the 20th century, when the area began to be heavily logged, which has led a deterioration of the environment (Ribadenieira, 1986) and a large influx of Spanish-speaking migrants, colonists and recently, Colombian refugees. Most of the game and fish have disappeared. With the loss of their traditional means of subsistence, many Chachi have immigrated to nearby urban areas. Most of the remaining Chachi now live in villages with mixed populations. Television and radio have arrived with electricity and Spanish is now the dominant language in many Chachi communities. In addition, intermarriage between the Chachi and the local population is increasingly common. According to Santiago Añapa, Supervisor of the bilingual schools, all the Chachi are bilingual, with Spanish being the younger generation’s preferred language. He states that when the young do speak Cha’palaa, their language is heavily influenced by Spanish.


Special characteristics

The genetic classification of Cha’palaa remains an open question. The three Barbacoan languages spoken in Ecuador—Cha’palaa, Tsafiki and Awa Pit (Coaiquer)—have been classified in the Chibchan family since 1891 (Brinton, 1891; Rivet 1924; Jijón y Caamaño 1945; Loukotka 1968; Swadesh 1959; Moore, 1952; Tovar and Tovar 1984; Greenberg 1960, 1987). While the grouping with Chibchan has been questioned (Kaufman, 1990; Constenla, 1981), the sub-grouping with Paesan of Colombia has generally been accepted, although never conclusively demonstrated.

The South American western lowland cultures are severely under-documented. The project’s results will not only be of interest to linguists and anthropologists, but also to those interested in broader areal studies of this region.


Collection contents

When complete, the collection will include

  • video recordings covering a wide range of genres and contexts (minimum 15 hours)
  • time-aligned annotations with transcriptions, interlinear parses, glosses and translations into both Spanish and English (minimum of five hours fully annotated, another ten hours with time-aligned transcrptions)
  • an electronic dictionary database as a basis for future linguistic and anthropological studies
  • a descriptive grammar
  • community materials for use by the Chachi community


Collection history

During the summer of 2005, Connie Dickinson and Simeon Floyd spent several weeks in the Chachi area, primarily in three villages, Loma Linda, Zapallo Grande and Cafetal, to gather preliminary data and identified Chachi that would be interested and willing to work on the project including, Samuel Añapa, Raul Añapa, Pedro de la Cruz, Rocky de la Cruz and Martha Añapa. The researchers presented the documentation project to the community and the bilingual school and received their support.

The core of the materials in this collection were gathered and prepared during the research for Connie Dickinson’s ELDP Fieldtrip Grant in 2006.


Other information

Copies of all materials collected will be archived in the offices of the Chachi bilingual school and be available for the school’s use. The material will also be archived at the Universidad San Francisco, the host institution for the project.


Acknowledgement and citation

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

Dickinson, Connie. 2011. Documentation of Cha’palaa. Endangered Languages Archive. Handle: Accessed on [insert date here].

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