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Kari’nja Dictionary and Video Documentation



Language Kari’nja
Depositor Raquel Yamada
Affiliation University of Oklahoma
Location Suriname
Collection ID 0261
Grant ID FTG0136
Funding Body ELDP
Collection Status Collection online
Landing Page Handle


Summary of the collection

Kari’nya is endangered, and there is a need for documentation that is physically and intellectually accessible to speakers, as well as descriptive materials which will support them in their revitalization efforts. This collection on the Aretyry dialect of Kari’nja is based on a long-standing collaboration between a linguist and community members and serves as a first step toward meeting these needs. The collection was built with full participation of speech community members, who were valued partners in all aspects of the documentation endeavour.

The collection includes three short films documenting the Aretyry dialect of Kari’nja as well as cultural practices. The films as well as their accompanying narrations are transcribed, translated, and subtitled. In addition, the collection includes a 3,000 entry Kari’nja-Dutch-English dictionary with Sranan Tongo word list. These materials will serve the needs of the speech community for language materials in support of their newly-instituted formal revitalization program, as well as those of the academic community for descriptions of this under-documented language.


Group represented

This collection represents members speakers of the Aretyry dialect of Kari’nja as spoken in the Wajambo River region of Suriname in the villages of Konomerume, Cornelis Kondre, and Calabas Kreek.

In this region, elder native speakers range in age from 45 to 75 years old. Younger adults understand the language, but are not fluent speakers. Currently, children are not acquiring the language natively, but there is an effort to revitalize the language through formal lessons and expanded contexts of use.

Elder native speakers use Kari’nja as their primary language of communication among themselves. In addition, most ceremonial contexts, including first blood celebrations, mourning rituals, and other major life events are conducted in Kari’nja. The Catholic Church, in which services are conducted by lay community members, has adopted a Kari’nja component.

The communities in this region have shifted to Sranan Tongo, the national lingua franca, and Dutch is learned as a second language at school. Few of the oldest native speakers were schooled in any language, though some are partially literate in Dutch. A majority of the “middle aged” native speakers as well as all young adults are literate in both Dutch and Sranan Tongo.

The community has a long-standing relationship with Racquel Yamada, the linguist researcher who worked on this collection. Community member involvement is integral to all aspects of this collection, and the materials were gathered and prepared with the full knowledge, consent, and collaboration of the community. As a result of a previous collaboration with Racquel Yamada, community members have the tools and training to conduct their own documentation, and it is from this continued partnership that the present collection evolved. For the collection archived here, Racquel Yamada works in partnership with Chief Ferdinand Mandé (primary partner) and works closely with elder teachers, Maria Alkantara, Jeanette Njanjoekare, and Norma Alkantara. In addition, Racquel Yamada advises and supports the technology team, Sieglien Jubithana and Dennis Jubithana.


Language information

This collection documents the Aretyry dialect of Kari’nja as spoken in the Wajambo River region of Suriname in the villages of Konomerume, Cornelis Kondre, and Calabas Kreek.

Kari’nya (ISO639-3:car; Carib) is classified as endangered (UNESCO Red Book 2003). There are an estimated 10,226 Kari’nya speakers worldwide (Gordon, 2005). Three dialects have been identified, though comparative work in the language is scant. Of 10,226 Kari’nya speakers, an estimated 7,251 in Venezuela speak the Tabajari dialect, 1,300 in French Guiana and Brazil speak Tyrewuju, 475 in Guyana speak the Aretyry dialect, and an estimated 1,200 Kari’nya speakers in Suriname speak either Tyrewuju or Aretyry (Gordon, 2005). Of these 1,200, the vast majority speaks Tyrewuju, the prestige dialect.

Existing publications on Kari’nja focus primarily on the more widely spoken dialects, and are descriptive, not documentary. Mosonyi (1978, 1982) has published some descriptive work on Tabajari. Renault-Lescure (1981, 1983) has described aspects of Tyrewuju (as spoken in French Guiana). The same authors have also created some applied materials for these two dialects, written in Spanish and French, respectively. Gildea (1994, 1998) analyzed aspects of the syntax of Aretyry Kari’nja. Hoff’s (1968) grammar provides an academic description of Aretyry phonology and morphology, in addition to a collection of texts. These sixteen texts represent the only widely-available documentation of the Aretyry dialect. These texts were written in an orthography that is accessible to academic, English-literate linguists, but that is largely incomprehensible to Kari’nja speakers.

Existing orthographies, including that employed by Hoff (1968), were developed for an academic audience, and do not meet the needs of community members. In response to these issues, the P.I. and Konomerume village Chief Ferdinand Mandé have developed a more practical orthography. Thus far, both teachers and learners find that this updated orthography is both practical and easy to employ.

No published material exists that is accessible to speakers of the Aretyry dialect. There are no applied materials for their own dialect of Kari’nya, and the descriptive work that exists is written for an audience of academic linguists, and is thus inaccessible to speakers. No linguistic work on Kari’nya has been published in a language that is spoken in Suriname. All but the eldest Aretyry Kari’nya speakers are literate in Dutch and Sranan Tongo, but work from Venezuela is in Spanish, that from French Guiana is in French, and that from Suriname is in English. There is a need for documentation that is physically and intellectually accessible to speakers, as well as descriptive materials which will support them in their revitalization efforts. Annotated video documentation and a trilingual dictionary will serve as a first step toward meeting these needs.


Special characteristics

The materials in this collection were gathered and prepared as a continuation of a long-standing collaboration between Racquel Yamada (linguist), and Chief Ferdinand Mandé, Maria Alkantara, Jeanette Njanjoekare, Norma Alkantara, Sieglien Jubithana and Dennis Jubithana (community members).


Collection contents

When completed, this collection will include

  • video documentaries to record cultural practices as well as document language
  • audio narration of the documentaries by elder speakers
  • time-aligned transcriptions, translations and analyses in ELAN And Toolbox
  • a trilingual Kari’nja-Dutch-English dictionary with Sranan Tongo wordlist, edited and expanded in workshops by a six-person editing team selected from the community


Collection history

Racquel Yamada’s relationship with Wajambo region communities dates to her assignment to Konomerume as a Peace Corps Volunteer in 1995. Throughout her three-year stay, she was impressed with community efforts at language documentation and preservation.

In 2006, during a fieldtrip funded by the Endangered Language Fund, Racquel Yamada collaborated with community members in Konomerume on several related projects. As part of a video documentation project, Racquel Yamada trained a technology team on video recording, transfer and editing. A 13-minute film documenting the cassava-making process was produced which was then used as an elicitation tool following a protocol akin to “The Pear Film” (Chafe, 1980). Thirteen elder speakers provided narrations of the film, the texts of which provided the basis for ongoing descriptive work by Racquel Yamada and Chief Mandé. In addition, Chief Mandé conducted interviews in Kari’nja with eleven elders. These interviews were conducted in collaboration with the Association of Indigenous Village Leaders in Suriname, which has initiated a demarcation project which aims to establish land rights for indigenous peoples in Suriname. This body of audio and video recordings, all of which have been transcribed and translated, and which are in the process of being analyzed, are deposited with the Endangered Language Fund archive, the office of the Association of Indigenous Village Leaders in Suriname, and in the Konomerume community information centre.

The materials in this collection were gathered and prepared between 2007 and 2008 as part of the research for the ELDP Field Grant held by Racquel Yamada.


Other information

The materials in this collection will also be archived with the Konomerume community information centre as well as the Association of Indigenous Village Leaders in Suriname in Paramaribo.


Acknowledgement and citation

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

Yamada, Raquel. 2014. Kari’nja Dictionary and Video Documentation. Endangered Languages Archive. Handle: Accessed on [insert date here].

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