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Documentation of Ecuadorian Secoya


Language Secoya
Depositor Anne Schwarz
Affiliation Centre for General Linguistics (ZAS)
Location Ecuador
Collection ID 0327
Grant ID MDP0262
Funding Body
Collection Status Collection online
Landing Page Handle


Summary of the collection

This project serves the extensive documentation of the endangered Amazonian language Secoya (sey), a West Tucanoan language that is presently still spoken by around 1,000 people divided by the Ecuadorian-Peruvian border. The participatory project focuses on the Ecuadorian variety (-0.29285/-76.283317, -0.255272/-76.426636) with less than 500 speakers, producing annotated audio/video recordings on a wide range of cultural practices and genres, to be archived with ELAR and FLACSO. It will further provide a substantial electronic dictionary (Secoya-Spanish-English) with a print version and accompanying pedagogical material which will form the basis for the future elaboration of a much required practical grammar.

We do not authorize use of any images or videos from the archive without previous and explicit permission, nor may any component of the archive be used for commercial purposes.


Group represented

This collection represents speakers of Ecuadorian Secoya. The two major Secoya communities in Ecuador are Siecoya Remolino (latitude –0.39550, longitude –75.66559) and San Pablo de K’antëtsiaya (latitude –0.25612, longitude –76.42227). Most of the Ecuadorian Secoya speakers live along the Aguarico river in the Sucumbíos province, very few also live (temporarily) in other places and the capital Quito. A few individuals have also stayed in nearby Colombia in the past.

Community life in the past decades has suffered strong impacts from the activities of the SIL missionaries and unscrupulous oil companies. Immediate witnesses of the era before and of the migration of part of the group across the Ecuadorian-Peruvian border are few.

The decision to initiate a larger documentation project that continues the current efforts and allows to involve and train more community members more systematically has directly evolved from the Anne Schwarz’s experience gained in 2010-2012 during her fieldwork. The need and interest for language documentation and maintenance has been deliberately and urgently expressed by several community members.

From the observations made during previous fieldtrips, it is understood that urgent action that supports language use in a wide spectrum of modern daily communication practices is required. Such efforts will primarily affect the youth who are/will be bilingual in their life as active members of the wider Ecuadorian society. Strategies and capacities to effectively teach the language in schools and to use it with modern media (cell phones, computers) have to be developed and implemented as soon as possible. Another task is the conservation of traditional expertise. Young Secoya are no longer able to experience hunting and other aspects of their (grand)parents’ life but they should have the resources to learn about it and to refer to it as part of their history. The urgent necessity to compile such information in an accessible and appealing form is expressed by many intellectual leaders of the community.

The potential for documentation at this moment is good, as the language is still spoken by most Secoya and transmitted to the next generation among those living in the jungle. The community is actively engaged in shaping their future (cooperating with several foundations) and ready to run a joint language documentation programme of a larger scale and longer commitment with Anne Schwarz.


Collection contents

The topics and communicative events included in the documentation were selected in discussions with community members and followed the principles of both diversity and depth.

In previous field researches a number of community members expressed their interest in the documentation of particular topics. These included nowadays less familiar cultural knowledge, such as the background for diverse paintings (occasions and locations for their application etc.), specific expertise (such as ethnobotany and naming practices by shamans), story telling and traditional music, and the complex cosmology and mythology. Some of these topics therefore form part of the corpus.

When completed, the collection will contain

  • 15 hours of audio and 35 hours video-accompanied texts of various genres
  • basic annotation of Secoya transcriptions with Spanish and English translations as well as metadata
  • more comprehensive annotation of selected recordings relevant for specific linguistic research outputs, including interlinear morpheme-by-morpheme glosses and probably further linguistic information
  • an electronic Secoya-Spanish-English dictionary (Lexique Pro) with reverse indexes that includes audio and visual (picture or video clip) illustrations for part of the entries, with more than 3,000 entries. The integration of English is of particular interest for the community and it is intended to furbish the English glosses with audio files provided by volunteering native English speakers
  • pedagogical material about orthographical and grammatical issues in Secoya (written in Spanish, but with some basic definitions in Secoya) for secondary schools in response to immediate community demands of not less than 100 pages


Collection history

The project builds on linguistic research including first documentation efforts on Ecuadorian Secoya that Anne Schwarz started 2009 (including two fieldtrips of nine months in total). In 2012, Anne Schwarz prepared a reference grammar on Secoya during her work at James Cook University, Australia. In addition to this descriptive task, in the course of which she established a digital corpus of annotated texts with a lexicon in Toolbox, she ran a documentation project particularly focussing on oral traditions. The documentation in 2010 was funded by a James Cook University-internal grant (AUD 5,000) through the Faculty of Arts, Education and Social Sciences, James Cook University, and in 2011 by a Fellowship in the Collection of Oral Literature and Traditional Ecological Knowledge with the Firebird Foundation for Anthropological Research (USD 7,980). In the course of the documentation in 2010, a number of texts were audio- and mostly also video-recorded. More than 70 minutes received a preliminary Secoya transcription and Spanish translation and were partly further elaborated by adding English translations and interlinearisation. Seven media-linked ELAN files with time-aligned annotation were prepared with the help of C. Dickinson to be deposited at FLACSO before leaving the country in July 2010. The documentation in 2011 turned into a more extensive effort of language documentation and involved community members more actively than in the previous year thanks to additional equipment for local researchers, most importantly a semi-professional HD camcorder, an audio recorder and a well-equipped laptop that allowed community members to learn and engage in documentation practice. This equipment donated to the community was administered by a committee for ongoing research after Anne Schwarz’s departure in February 2012. At that moment, the team was specifically collecting and editing traditional stories with the aim of preparing a Secoya-Spanish manuscript for a print compilation in addition of establishing another digital text corpus to be archived with FLACSO.

The collection also includes autobiographic accounts that were recorded by S. M. Cipolletti in the 1980s and 1990s in San Pablo, for which transcription and translations were still pending.

The core of the materials in this collection were gathered during Anne Schwarz’s ELDP-funded Major Documentation Project between 2012 and 2014.


Other information

The audio and video recordings, annotations and the electronic dictionary will also be archived with FLACSO ( in Quito, where they will also be accessible for the community (subject to access limitations for sensitive data). In addition, all digital data agreed for publication will be stored on an external drive in the house of the Ecuadorian Secoya organization (OISE) in San Pablo de K’antëtsiaya. This collection adds to documentation efforts on related, though different, and unrelated neighbouring languages (Stenzel on Wanano and Waikhana, Costa on Kubeo, Bruil on Ecuadorian Siona, Dickinson/High on Waorani, Bermúdez on Kichwa and others). This will allow to share insights on the degree of variation of widespread grammatical phenomena, literary themes and on documentation issues across the larger North-Western Amazonian region.


Acknowledgement and citation

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

Schwarz, Anne. 2014. Documentation of Ecuadorian Secoya. Endangered Languages Archive. Handle: Accessed on [insert date here].

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