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Documentation of Akuntsú

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Language Akuntsú
Depositor Carolina Aragon
Affiliation University of Utah, Center for American Indian Languages
Location Brazil
Collection ID 0191
Grant ID SG0028
Funding Body ELDP
Collection Status Collection online
Landing Page Handle


Summary of the collection

This project aims to document the endangered Akuntsú language1 of Rondônia, Brazil, spoken by only six monolinguals. They have been until very recently an isolated indigenous group, now the only survivors of recent genocide. After this massacre, the few surviving Akuntsú took refuge near the Omerê River (S.12.49’49.0’’ W.61.06’31.4’’), where they were contacted in 1995 by the National Indian Foundation (FUNAI).

The main goal of this project is to create high-quality documentary materials on the Akuntsú language in order eventually to prepare an ample Akuntsú grammar as part of the longer-term goal. Given the current status of the language, this project will focus on documentation of Akuntsú oral traditions and cultural activities, with special attention to recording cultural activities, such as for example, the preparation of the fermented drink (chicha), manufacture of their traditional baskets made with tucum fibers, and hair and body painting. All those documentary material will provide linguistic resources which ultimately will contribute to creating a sketch grammar and pedagogical materials.

In Brazil there are still uncontacted Indians, those not in contact with mainstream Brazilian society and whose languages are not known and have not yet been studied, of which Akuntsú was one until recently. Most Brazilian languages are endangered and their disappearance will be an incalculable loss for science and humanity. Akuntsú is highly endangered, both because of its small number of speakers and because the speakers cannot pass the native language on to another generation (due to kinship taboos and to their decision not to bring children into the circumstances they have suffered). The youngest survivor is a woman of approximately 25 years of age, with five other Akuntsú over forty, with no children and no prospects for increasing their group. (They will not marry out of the group and do not expect others to learn their language.) In short, assuming these circumstances will not change radically in the future, this language is doomed to disappear. By Krauss’s (2007) classification of degrees of language endangerment, Akuntsú is in the “critically endangered” stage.

Group represented

Akuntsú is a recently contacted indigenous group which is protected by FUNAI. There are only six monolingual individuals. According to FUNAI’s findings, since approximately 1980 the Akuntsú have been attempting to escape the intense deforestation of their ancestral lands at the hands of farmers and colonizers. After the contact in 1995, the Akuntsú had their first interaction with non-Indians (with FUNAI staff).  In an effort to help protect them from outside influences, FUNAI built a house on Akuntsú lands, and prohibited other people from going their without permission. FUNAI staff continue to be the only people that have contact with the Akuntsú. Because of this, I have helped provide some language learning materials for the FUNAI staff involved, for practical purposes for communication, since the more Akuntsú they can learn, the more they can help the Akuntsú with their needs and protect them.

The Akuntsú have no children, and they understand what will be lost when they are gone. They want to preserve their language and they allow me to document their language and to pass on the knowledge to other. They are always trying to help me understand their culture and history. All the images and video documentation are supervised by FUNAI and they are responsible for authorizing publication of such materials, since the Akuntsú do not know the world outside of their forests and lands, and thus are not themselves able to insist on their rights.


Language information

Akuntsú is spoken by only five people, all monolinguals, located near the Omerê River in Rondônia, Brazil. Until recently the Akuntsú people were an isolated indigenous group, now the only survivors of a genocidal massacre which left Akuntsú a critically endangered language.


Collection contents

This collection contains different types of records, including narratives that represent Akuntsú cultural traditions, songs and dialogues.

All the research activities described here so far take place when I visit the Akuntsú, and It is then that I learn more of their language and culture, in daily contact. From previous fieldwork, my knowledge of the knowledge has increased – it is extremely important to be in daily contact. I am now fully integrated into their daily life and activities, for example in hunting and fishing with them, etc. All research outcomes related to the Akuntsú are first submitted to the FUNAI Coordination of Isolated Indians, who has facilitated me and my linguistic work with Akuntsú since 2004.


Acknowledgement and citation

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

Aragon, Carolina. 2014. Documentation of Akuntsu. Endangered Languages Archive. Handle: Accessed on [insert date here].

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