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GIZAC – Gwarayu and the Intermediate Zone (Amazonia – Chaco, Bolivia) documentation project


Language Gwarayu (ISO639-3:gyr), Guarasuñe’e/Pauserna (ISO639-3:psm)
Depositor Swintha Danielsen
Affiliation University of Leipzig
Location Bolivia
Collection ID 0385
Grant ID MDP0299
Funding Body ELDP
Collection Status Collection online
Landing Page Handle

Blog post

Guarayu Community Event from Gizac Project 

Summary of the collection

This collection is the result of the GIZAC is a language documentation project in Bolivia, working with endangered Gwarayu (gyr) and almost extinct Guarasuñée (psm), more widely known as Pauserna. Both languages belong to the Tupi-Guarani family. Gwarayu has approximately 5,000 speakers of varying competence, and of Guarasuñée there are only a few speakers left. The two hitherto under-investigated languages are found in a linguistic contact region and geographical intermediate zone between Bolivian Amazonia and Chaco. GIZAC aims at compiling a large multi-purpose corpus that allows for scientific research on the two languages as well as for revitalisation activities.


Group represented

This collection represents members of two communities: the Guarayu people, who speak Gwarayu, and the Guarasu’we people, who speak Guarasuñe’e.
The Guarayu community lives in Guarayos Province (Santa Cruz Department, Eastern Bolivia) in six villages: Ascensión, Salvatierra, San Pablo, Urubichá, Yaguarú and Yotaú. Their language is called Gwarayu.

Guarasuñe’e (mostly known as Pauserna) was spoken north of Gwarayu, around the rivers Paraguá and Iténez/Guaporé, in the Provinces of Velasco (Santa Cruz) and Alto Iténez (Beni). Guarasuñe’e is almost extinct today, except for some four speakers or rememberers. The last descendants of the Guarasu’we live in Bella Vista at the Río Guaporé/Iténez border with Brazil. The ethnic group counted 46 members in 1994 (Crevels 2007:159-160). According to a census of 2004, there are 10 people of “pure” Guarasu’we origin in Bella Vista and 49 of mixed origin with Guarasu’we and either Chiquitano or Brazilian (Becerra Vargas 2006: 85-96).

The area through which the Guarayu and Guarasu’we moved and where the Guarayu were later settled in mission towns by the Jesuits is an interesting contact area: the intermediate zone between Bolivian Amazonia and Bolivian Chaco (Danielsen & Terhart, own investigations). Various Tupi-Guarani groups met here, Chapacuran groups lived in this area, and the Moxo people (Arawakan) passed this zone to meet the Chiquitano people in the south.

Before colonization, as typical for a Tupi-Guarani tribe, the Guarayu lived as semi-nomads in small clans, and there was not one single endonym.

Gwarayu is an endangered language, but there is still a number of speakers including monolingual speakers and young language learners. Nostas estimates that there are around 5,000 Gwarayu speakers of varying competence levels from including monolinguals with perfect competence to semi-speakers to learners of Gwarayu as second language. Language use is in decline, as is the case with the majority of indigenous languages in Bolivia. Parents do not speak the language with their children anymore, and adults experience the dominance of Spanish over Gwarayu: they “start to speak in the originary language but finish their discourse in Spanish without realizing it” (Armoye 2009:8). The degree of endangerment is thus correctly stated as “vigorous” by Ethnologue (Lewis et al. 2013) and as “definitely endangered” by the UNESCO Atlas (Moseley 2010).

Gwarayu is one of the 36 indigenous languages with an official status in the Bolivian Constitution of 2009 (Article 5). According to Bolivian law (Article 12 of an addition No. 269 to the New Constitution in 2012), the language should be taught in schools (Danielsen & Hannß 2013). The official alphabet was developed in the 1990s (Ministerio de Educación 2007:212-213), but according to Armoye (2009:1), Gwarayu is hardly ever written. Education in Gwarayu has not been consistently implemented either, and despite efforts by some speakers and teachers, there is not enough educational material.

The language of the Guarasu’we is also officially listed in the Bolivian Constitution.

There are serious language revitalization and maintenance efforts from the Guarayu people themselves, and the Guarayu welcome a documentation project.


Language information

Gwarayu (ISO639-3:gyr) and Guarasuñe’e (ISO639-3:psm; mostly known as Pauserna) are Tupi- Guarani languages spoken in Bolivia. Note that there is another Guarani language in Paraguay also called Guarayo (gui). Guarayo spoken in Paraguay is different from Bolivian Gwarayu.

Gwarayu and Guarasuñe’e are spoken in the intermediate zone between Bolivian Amazonia and Bolivian, an interesting contact area with past or present contact between speakers from various Tupi-Guarani groups, Chapacuran groups, Moxo people (Arawakan) and Chiquitano people in the south. GIZA focuses on the least investigated languages of this zone that still have to be linguistically analysed and classified.

Gwarayu is classified as a language of Tupi-Guarani subgroup II (Rodrigues 1984-1985, Jensen 1999), together with the Sirionoide languages: Siriono, Jorá, Yuqui. Guarasuñe’e/Pauserna is often also included in Tupi-Guarani II (cf. Adelaar & Muysken 2004:431). It seems that these languages are classified together mainly for extra-linguistic factors: the geographical proximity in Lowland Bolivia and their status as underinvestigated languages.

Gwarayu is clearly Tupi-Guarani, however, its classification together with the other Bolivian Tupi-Guarani languages is not completely justifiable (cf. Chousou-Polydouri & Wauters 2013; Mello 2000). Comparing Gwarayu to the other languages and to Proto-Tupi-Guarani, we find that in some aspects it pairs with Guarasuñe’e. In many other aspects, though, Gwarayu is the most conservative, whereas Guarasuñe’e is the most advanced in terms of changes from Proto-Tupi-Guarani. Gwarayu e.g. keeps *ts, *y, and *p_, whereas the Sirionoide group shows certain cases of friction and consonant loss (Danielsen & Gasparini forthcoming). Gwarayu also preserved the Proto-Tupi-Guarani circumfixal negation (cf. Dietrich 2007:14-15). Hoeller (1932a:2) mentions that men pronounced consonants differently (with less or no friction) from women. This genderlect difference is a very interesting and infrequent typological phenomenon and worth studying in detail (cf. Rose submitted). We suspect that there is actually an interaction between gender-sensitive and clan-derived differences.

In most classifications today, Guarasuñe’e (Pauserna) is simply subsumed under Tupi-Guarani subgroup II, together with the geographical neighbours. However, other linguists have claimed a special position of Guarasuñe’e as “a separate language with great time divergence from any of the others” (Riester 1972:56-57). GIZA can resolve these speculations and clarify the classification of Guarasuñe’e and its relations to the other Tupi-Guarani languages.

Riester (1972, i.a.) studied the Guarasuñe’e group for his ethnological dissertation and collected recordings since the 1950s. GIZA can use his recordings and personal notes stored at APCOB. In 1955, von Horn published a dictionary with some pages of expressions, phrases and utterances, altogether around 1000 entries. In addition, there are some more word lists of varying lengths (e.g. Snethlage 1935, Fonseca 1881). The data available on Guarasuñe’e are enough to be published as a heritage dictionary and for an analysis of the position of Guarasuñe’e inside the Tupi-Guarani group.


Special characteristics

Armoye, the Bolivian co-depositor of this collection, is a native speaker of Gwarayu and son of the current Guarayu cacique. He has studied linguistics at the indigenous university and written his MA thesis on a sketch of Gwarayu with focus on phonology. Since 2012, he has been the technical responsible for Guarayu language and culture.

In addition, two Bolivian students (Uranungar, Linguistics; Uranavi, Anthropology), who both are Guarayu, were involved in all the processes of the investigation and participated in the documentation and analysis of data.

With the analysis of the two hitherto underinvestigated languages Gwarayu and Guarasuñe’e, GIZA fills a gap in Tupi-Guarani studies, in particular by the classification of grammatical, not only lexical or phonological (as in Rodrigues 1984/1985) features.


Collection contents

The materials in this collection were gathered using different methods, such as elicitation of words and forms, story-telling, special communicative tasks including stimuli like picture books or special figures and games, and also uncontrolled spontaneous communication between speakers. The recordings include speakers of different generations and genders in the interviews, as well as descendants of different clans, inhabitants of different communities, and especially also young speakers and semi-speakers.
When completed, the collection will include both new and legacy materials.

Gwarayu legacy materials

  • video recordings (Jürgen Riester 1980-2013)
  • audio recrodings (Megan Crowhurst 2001-2008, archived at AILLA; Jürgen Riester 1950s-1960s)
  • written materials (Jürgen Riester’s fieldnotes, Alfredo Hoeller’s 1932 dictionary and grammar, Celso Armoye’s MA thesis)

Guarasuñe’e legacy materials

  • audio recordings (Jürgen Riester 1950s-1960s)
  • written materials (Jürgen Riester’s collection of notes by earlier travellers, Friedrich von Horn‘s 1955 wordlist)

New materials

  • audio (60 hours) and video (10 hours) recordings of all relevant genres (legends, personal narratives, jokes, procedural texts, conversation, description, historical accounts), but also elicitation and cultural activities, commented in the indigenous language
  • photographs
  • time-aligned transcriptions and translation into Spanish and English in ELAN for 75% of the recordings, additional glosses in Toolbox for 30% of the recordings
  • an electronic lexical database and grammatical description and analysis in Toolbox, including the data in Hoeller’s 1932 dictionary and grammar and von Horn’s wordlist
  • a comparative Tupi-Guarani database of lexical and grammatical morphemes
  • a bibliography of all relevant sources for the study of Gwarayu and Guarasuñe’e
  • scanned literature and maps
  • language community products such as poster, storybook, digital and printed dictionaries
  • metadata on session content as well as workflow status


Collection history

The new materials in this collection were gathered and prepared between 2014 and 2017 during the research for the ELDP-funded Major Documentation Project held be Swintha Danielsen.
Before the research for this collection, many of the team members had already worked in the area and on the languages. Armoye has written his MA thesis on a sketch of Gwarayu with focus on
phonology. Terhart worked with three young Gwarayu speakers in Concepción in 2012. Riester (Apoyo Para el Campesino-Indígena del Oriente Boliviano) has long worked with the Guarasu’we.


Other information

The materials in this collection were also deposited in Bolivia with the Confederación de Pueblos Indígenas de Bolivia (Confederation of Indigenous Peoples of Bolivia) and Apoyo Para el Campesino-Indígena del Oriente Boliviano.


Acknowledgement and citation

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

Danielsen, Swintha. 2016. GIZAC – Gwarayu and the Intermediate Zone (Amazonia – Chaco, Bolivia) documentation project. Endangered Languages Archive. Handle: Accessed on [insert date here].

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