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Paunaka language archive

Landing page image for the collection "Documentation of Paunaka"

Landing page image for the collection “Paunaka language archive“. Click on image to access collection.

Language Paunaka
Depositor Swintha Danielsen
Affiliation Europa-Universität Flensburg
Location Bolivia
Collection ID 0104
Grant ID MDP0217
Funding Body ELDP
Collection Status Collection online
Landing Page Handle


Summary of the collection

This collection assembles the materials collected by the team of the Paunaka Documentation Project (PDP), a Major Documentation Project funded by ELDP and running from 2011 to 2013. It also contains materials collected later by the same people and colleagues closely cooperating with them.
The main language documented in this archive is Paunaka, a critically endangered (cf. Krauss 2007:6) Southern Arawakan language, spoken in Eastern Bolivia, in a region called Chiquitanía. Today, there are only 11 speakers left with competences ranging from fluent to mostly passive knowledge and even one L2 speaker. However, some children of the speakers also understand or even speak a few words. All speakers of Paunaka are trilingual with Spanish and Bésɨro (more widely known as Chiquitano). The youngest speaker is over 50, the oldest over 80 years old.
In addition, the archive includes a few data on Paiconeca, the language most closely related to Paunaka, which has been extinct for very long and on two closely related and already extinct Chapacuran languages: Kitemoka and Napeka. The Paunaka people share the same history with these small groups, and people of all three ethnic groups have long lived together in the same small villages since colonization.


Group represented

Ethnically, the speakers of Paunaka identify as Paunaka, but also as Chiquitano as they share the material culture and religion with the Monkoka, who are speakers of Bésɨro, and speakers of other languages in the region and have had a common history for more than 300 years. The same holds for the Kitemoka and Napeka people.


Language information

Paunaka, South Arawakan (ISO: pnk)

Other languages represented in this collection: Paiconeca, South Arawakan; Napeka, Chapacuran; Kitemoka, Chapacuran; Bésɨro, Macro-Jê


Special characteristics

In addition to data on Paunaka, this collection also contains some data on the extinct Chapacuran languages Napeka and Kitemoka, which may be of great importance for researchers working on Chapacuran languages.


Collection contents

The material on Paunaka has been very scarce until the beginning of the documentation project. Some small word lists have been compiled in the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries, but the focus of travellers and researchers in this region has rather been on Bésɨro for the last 300 years. Paunaka was thought to be extinct until Lucrecia Villafañe met some speakers in 2005.
The archive contains all information found on Paunaka prior to the PDP and the material collected and produced by the members of the PDP between 2011 and 2013. It includes audio and video recordings, transcriptions and analyses, lexicographic materials, photos, and the language material produced for the Paunaka community. In addition, some material on the languages Paiconeca, Napeka, and Kitemoka can be found here.
Material includes:
• video and audio recordings in Paunaka mainly made by Danielsen and Terhart during the PDP and later
• transcriptions of the PDP recordings; analyses in Toolbox (Danielsen, Terhart)
• video and audio recordings in Spanish mainly made by Villalta during the PDP
• transcriptions of Villalta’s recordings; translations into English (and/or summaries in English)
• video and audio recordings in Paunaka made prior to PDP by Danielsen (2008-2010), Riester (1960s)
• transcriptions and analyses of Riester’s and Danielsen’s recordings (Danielsen, Terhart)
• audio recordings of other languages: Napeka, Kitemoka by Riester (1960s)
• transcriptions of Riester’s recordings by Christin Wienold
• texts collected by Villafañe (2005 and 2006)
• material for the community: alphabet book, poster, booklets
• dictionaries and wordlists (divided by source and language)
• photos
• other miscellaneous documents
Topics range from the history of the Paunaka people to narratives, personal narratives and small talk between a speaker and the researcher(s).


Collection history

Most materials were uploaded in 2012/2013 when the PDP ended. Another bunch of materials was uploaded in 2015. The latest upload dates from 2023 and mainly contains materials collected in 2018.


Other information

During early colonial times, most of the Paunaka people were settled in the town of Concepción de Chiquitos (Tomichá 2002:290), where Chiquitano was the general language just like in the other mission towns of the Chiquitanía (Adelaar & Muysken 2004:477; Tomichá 2002:290). Generally, the other languages were only used in private spaces.
For the present-day speakers, the social dominance of Bésɨro (or the Monkoka, which is the name they use for the speakers of Bésɨro, but sometimes also for the language) was established when they lived in Altavista or one of the other manors in a relation of debt bondage to a patron. This is a chapter of Bolivian history that has had little appraisal up to now. However, we were told by Paunaka speakers that in Altavista, the ones who had the power knew Bésɨro as dialect (dialecto), but they knew little or nothing about the other languages like Paunaka, Napeka, Kitemoka. Some foremen and other high-status personnel spoke some Bésɨro.
The greatest pressure to give up Paunaka or any other minor indigenous language came from the speakers of Bésɨro, who frequently made fun of the Paunaka when they spoke their language. This is despite the – according to assertions of Paunaka speakers – a greater number of Paunaka speakers in Altavista in comparison with Bésɨro speakers and the fact that “everybody [= all Paunaka people] spoke Paunaka”. A great number of recordings in the archive refer to this important part of the Paunaka history. Today, Spanish has certainly outranked Bésɨro in social and economic importance and Bésɨro is also endangered (see also the collection by Sans).

The inferior status of Paunaka maintained until the 2000s when speakers who participated in the meetings of the OICH (Organización Indígena Chiquitana) about linguistic acknowledgment of Bésɨro felt ashamed to speak their language in public and did not claim any right for their language of primary identification. It was thus not incorporated into the New Constitution of Bolivia from 2009. Since then, the attitude towards Paunaka has changed and Paunaka people have demanded a subsequent integration of their language into the constitution. By 2023, this endeavour is still in process.


Acknowledgement and citation

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

Danielsen, Swintha, Lena Terhart, & Federico Villalta. 2015. Paunaka language archive. Endangered Languages Archive. Handle: Accessed on [insert date here].

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