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Grammar and multilingual practices through the lens of everyday interaction in two endangered languages in the East Tukano family


Language Kotiria (ISO639-3:gvc), Wa’ikhana (ISO639-3:pir)
Depositor Kristine Stenzel, Nicholas Williams
Affiliation Federal University of Rio de Janeiro/University of Colorado Boulder
Location Brazil
Collection ID 0491
Grant ID
Funding Body National Science Foundation
Collection Status Collection online
Landing Page Handle


Summary of the collection

Over 200 hours of raw data was collected between July 2017 and December 2019 by linguists Kristine Stenzel, Nicholas Williams, and members of indigenous documentation team. Corpus recordings were made in a variety of sites, including the Kotiria villages of Caruru Cachoeira, Jutica, and Taracuá, in collaboration with the Khumuno Wʉ’ʉ Kotiria indigenous school. Recordings were also made in the Wa’ikhana village of Aracú Porto, in Iauaretê, a larger, ethnically mixed village, and in the city of São Gabriel da Cachoeira, where many Kotiria and Wa’ikhana families have relocated. In all, some 200 members of the Wa’ikhana and Kotiria language communities took part in project activities and appear in corpus recordings. The deposited materials include approximately 60 hours of recordings, transcribed and translated into Portuguese in ELAN by indigenous team members Auxiliadora Figueiredo (Kotiria) and Edgar Cardoso (Wa’ikhana). English translations are in progress.

The primary focus of the project and this corpus is video documentation of naturally-occurring language use in a variety of social contexts. Much of the recording was done during activities chosen by the communities as culturally significant and representative of their daily lives. Recurring contexts include family life, work in swidden gardens, preparation of food, river travel, interactions in school-related settings, collective meals and other social gatherings, and groups of people engaged in a wide range of everyday tasks.

The collection also includes several subsets of recordings for which stimuli designed to elicit interaction were used. Among these are pairs of people engaged in the Family Problems Picture Task (San Roque et al. 2012), pairs of people tasting and commenting on different foods (Temer and Ogden 2015 ), groups engaged in game playing, and observing and remarking on a silent film recorded in the Upper Rio Negro region in the early twentieth century.

The largest subset of recordings (approx. 20 hours) contains extensive sociolinguistic interviews conducted in Kotiria and Wa’ikhana by team members. The 42 interviewees include a representative sample of community members of different genders, ethnicities, and age groups, ranging from teenagers to elders, residing both village and urban settings.
The collection also includes a set of edited films produced from documentation recordings by the indigenous team and Nicholas Williams. Themes for these films were determined by the communities and represent important aspects of everyday life, including: the essential role of women in cultivation and processing manioc, the primary food staple; views of childhood in the village of Caruru; profiles of the villages of Caruru, Jutica and Taracuá; activities during collective work days; the reconstruction of the Kotiria longhouse; travel to sacred Kotiria and Wa’ikhana sites. These films will be available with subtitles in the indigenous languages, Portuguese, and English.


Group represented

The Upper Rio Negro region is recognized as home to one of Amazonia’s most complex ‘small-scale’ multilingual societies, in which many people (above all, members of Tukanoan ethnic groups) have extensive language repertoires. Kotiria and Wa’ikhana are typical representatives of these groups and individuals’ repertoires regularly include a variety of indigenous languages, as well as the national language, Portuguese (though many are also familiar with Spanish). Tukano is now a dominant regional lingua franca in the Brazilian sub-region of the greater Upper Rio Negro area and is understood and used in many contexts by members of both groups, as evidenced in numerous recordings in the corpus. Other neighboring language groups with which speakers of Kotiria and Wa’ikhana are in frequent contact include the Kubeo, Desano, and Baniwa (Arawak), languages that occur sporadically within collection materials. The Kotiria and Wa’ikhana speakers who appear most regularly in corpus recordings live in villages or towns on the Brazilian side of the border. While dialect differences were not the focus of documentation, their speech likely differs from ethnic Kotiria and Wa’ikhana residing in Colombia and in contact, through trade and intermarriage, with different neighboring groups.


Language information

Kotiria and Wa’ikhana (also known, respectively, as Wanano and Piratapuyo) are spoken in the Upper Rio Negro region of northwestern Amazonia by binational populations living in the Brazilian state of Amazonas and the Colombian departamento of Vaupés. The two languages are closely related and form a sub-branch of the East Tukano language family.

The Kotiria and Wa’ikhana ethnic populations currently number between 1,800 and 2,000 people, and both languages are still used by members of the ethnic communities. However, levels of language vitality vary, with Wa’ikhana particularly vulnerable due to migration away from traditional villages on the Papuri River and language shift to Tukano. Most fluent Wa’ikhana speakers are currently over 40 years old. Kotiria is vibrant in remote villages, where it remains the dominant language and is acquired by children at an early age. Nevertheless, the overall population in all villages has declined over the past three to four decades, and the greatest threat to both languages occurs in larger mixed-ethnic villages and more urban contexts to which many families have moved.

East Tukano languages have many fascinating typological features. They are highly synthetic and agglutinative, with nominative-accusative syntactic alignment and clear OV core constituent order, with subject positioning conditioned by discourse-pragmatic considerations. There is limited indexing of arguments in verbal morphology, leaving order and a small system of morphological case markers (with differential use of the ‘object’ case suffix) responsible for signaling grammatical relations. The two basic word classes are nouns and verbs, with adjectival and adverbial notions expressed through a variety of derivational processes and complex morphological constructions. Nominalization is particularly productive in subordination, complementation, and qualitative/attributive noun modification. Tukanoan noun classification systems display an interesting amalgam of both canonical ‘gender’ and ‘classifier’ types roughly aligned with an animate/inanimate distinction, in which classification morphology is employed in concordial, derivational, and referential functions. Verbal morphology can be extremely complex due to pervasive use of root serialization to express adverbial, aspectual, modal and spatial notions. Finite verbal inflection codes person, tense/aspect and ‘clause modality’ distinctions – including obligatory evidentiality in declarative (realis) statements. Prominent features of discourse include tail-head linking, switch-reference marking, and word order variation related to topic and focus.

This corpus offers ample documentation of natural occurrences of all these grammatical features, none of which have ever been examined from the interactional perspective proposed in the documentation project. Initial priorities for grammatical analysis include investigation of the use of evidentials and other epistemic resources, noun class morphology, and quotative constructions in conversational contexts.

The collection also offers a wealth of information related to actual communicative practices in a highly complex and increasingly endangered small-scale multilingual context. Complementing information on the grammatical structures of the two languages, this corpus also provides the means for empirical examination of not only how and when people employ diverse elements of their language repertoires, but more crucially, what such use of multilinguistic resources accomplishes for participants in interaction.


Special characteristics

This collection is unique in being the first documentary corpus to focus on everyday interaction among speakers of Kotiria and Wa’ikhana and embracing language use in its broader multilingual environment. The recordings of sociolinguistic interviews form a unique sub-collection within the collection. They provide both extensive linguistic data and insights into speakers’ own experiences and perspectives on language identity, acquisition, and use, thus contributing to our understanding of past and current dynamics of multilingualism in the Upper Rio Negro region, patterns of contact, and processes of language shift.

The collection complements previous documentation on Kotiria and Wa’ikhana conducted between 2000 and 2010 (cf. ELDP MDP-0155), which is primarily monologic, (e.g. narratives, procedural texts, public addresses, elicitation) and focused on profiling the individual languages and cultures of the two ethnic groups.
Kotiria Linguistic and Cultural Archive:
Wa’ikhana Linguistic and Cultural Archive:

Related collections at ELAR:

Tukanoan Languages

Documentation of Brazilian Tuyuka:
Desano Audio and Video Materials:
Documentation of Ecuadorian Siona:
The work of the Kubeo Language Documentation Team:

Related collections elsewhere:

Amazonian Languages Collection of Arthur P. Sorensen, Jr Handle:
Bará Collection of Jean Jackson:
Tucanoan Language Collection of Elsa Gómes-Imbert:
Tucanoan Language Collection of Janet Chernella:


Collection contents

Most of the bundles in this collection are video recordings, ranging in length from a few minutes to more than two hours, all accompanied by transcription and Portuguese translation in ELAN. The primary focus of this documentation project was everyday interaction. While there are a few recordings in which language use is more monologic, the great majority of recordings involve more than one speaker and very often more than one language. Accompanying metadata identifies the speakers and language(s) that predominate in a specific recording. As analysis of the data progresses, further detail and supporting text documents will be added to the bundles.

The approximately 60 hours of deposited recordings can be broken down into roughly four groups:

  • 20 hours of sociolinguistic interviews, conducted in pairs or groups in the indigenous languages (Kotiria, Wa’ikhana, Tukano)
  • 6 hours of stimulus-induced interaction (e.g. completing interactive tasks, playing games, watching and commenting on movies)
  • 26 hours of spontaneous conversational data, sometimes focused on a specific topic, but often also containing everyday ‘chit-chat’ involving a number of briefly-touched-upon topics
  • 8 hours of edited documentary films with subtitles (indigenous languages, Portuguese, English)

Besides written documents related to specific bundles (e.g. detailed transcriptions processed in Microsoft Word), additional textual materials in the collection include:

  • Documentation of informed consent
  • Teaching materials developed in conjunction with community language workshops: dictionaries and pedagogical grammars


Collection history

Recordings in this collection were gathered from 2017-2020 within the NSF-DEL funded project “Grammar and multilingual practices through the lens of everyday interaction in two endangered languages in the East Tukano family” (BCS-1664348). PI Kristine Stenzel and Post-doctoral researcher Nicholas Williams conducted approximately 8 months of fieldwork, organized language-community workshops and production of pedagogical materials, trained and coordinated the documentation activities of a team of indigenous researchers, and were responsible for data management.

The following people worked as members of the indigenous documentation team, contributing to video and metadata recording, planning and editing of films, conducting of sociolinguistic interviews and other interactive tasks, transcription and translation, dictionary work, revision of didactic materials, and data analysis. Their invaluable efforts, dedication and knowledge are gratefully acknowledged.

  • Auxiliadora Ferreira Figueiredo: Kotiria/Tukano Transcription and Portuguese Translation, film editing, interviewer, dictionary work, revision of materials, data analysis
  • Daniel Fontes Figueiredo: Kotiria documentation, film editing, dictionary work
  • Cesar Ferreira Gomes: Kotiria documentation, film editing
  • Miguel Trindade Cabral: Kotiria dictionary work, revision of materials, data analysis
  • Isabel Fontes Figueiredo: Kotiria film editing, dictionary work
  • Arivaldo Alvares Figueiredo: Kotiria documentation, film editing
  • Cledes Figueiredo Moreno: Kotiria documentation, film editing
  • Ronaldo Francisco Martins Gomes: Kotiria documentation, film editing
  • Mariano José Álvares: Kotiria dictionary work
  • Sérgio Gabriel Galvão Trindade: Kotiria dictionary work, revision of materials
  • Salvador Montenegro Figueiredo: Kotiria documentation
  • Maria Roseane Gonçalves Figueiredo: Kotiria dictionary work
  • Edgar Alves Cardoso: Wa’ikhana/Tukano Transcription and Portuguese Translation, film editing, dictionary work, data analysis
  • Marcelino Cordeiro: Wa’ikhana dictionary work, interviewer, revision of materials, data analysis
  • Dorvalino São José Velasques Chagas: Wa’ikhana documentation, interviewer, dictionary work, data analysis


Acknowledgement and citation

Users of any part of the collection should acknowledge Kristine Stenzel and Nicholas Williams as the researchers responsible for the corpus. Users should also acknowledge the National Science Foundation-Documenting Endangered Languages Program as the funder of the project. Individual speakers should be identified with codes Examples of data should identify individual speakers with codes

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

Stenzel, Kristine & Nicholas Williams. 2017. Grammar and multilingual practices through the lens of everyday interaction in two endangered languages in the East Tukano family. Endangered Languages Archive. Handle: Accessed on [insert date here].

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