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An ethnographically based linguistic documentation of Araona: a Takanan language of Bolivia

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Language Araona
Depositor Adam Tallman
Affiliation CNRS
Location Bolivia
Collection ID 0556
Grant ID IPF0277
Funding Body ELDP
Collection Status Collection online
Landing Page Handle


Summary of the collection

The first specific outcome of this project will be a database of reocrdings of naturalistic speech. I will gather approximately 120 horus of audio recordings from different speech genera such as conversations, mythologies, instructions on cultural activies and the construction of technologies, personal narratives, spells and ethnic history. Different aspect of Araona culture will also be documented. For instance knowledge of flora, fauna and biological taxa, hunting, fishing, warfare, the construction of traditional technology (houses, canoes, farming, bow and arrows), traditional clothing, ornaments, dolls, and cuisine. My previous experience documenting Chácobo and Pacahuara (IGS #0230) and a recent pilot study with the Araona, funding by DDL, suggests that these outcomes are highly feasible. In fact, I was able to gather approximately 13 hours of naturalistic speech during the last short field trip (October 2016), despite the fact that most of the pilot project consisted of learning the logistics for arriving at the Araona communities, in addition to gathering basic wordlists.

12 hours of natural discourse will be selected for transcription and translation in ELAN. These transcriptions will be imported to FLEX and provided with morpheme by morpheme analyses in glosses. I will train at least two speakers in documentation techniques; David Washima and Chanito Matawa. These speakers have expressed the most interest in the project and are already semi-literate in the language, which makes them the ideal starting point for educational efforts. Other speakers will be trained according to interest and availability. The number of hours to be transcribed may increase depending on the availability of electricity and linguistic consultants. In a previous ELDP project with the Chácobo (IGS #0230), overtime some consultants became so proficient with transcription and translation that I was able to gather 27 hours of naturalistic speech in ELAN (compare this to the 10 hours originally promised for this project).

At least 20 hours of video reocrdings focusing on different aspects of material culture, farming, fishing, canoe building, house building, cloth making, pottery, textiles, fire making, spells, traditional medicine, traditional ceremonies, bow and arrow construction will be recorded. This part of documentation is crucial to undertake now because the Araona still practice much of their material culture (making them nearly exceptional in the Bolivian context, Mily Crevels personal communication). For instance, the Araona still have detailed knowledge of how to construct bow and arrows across generations, and older Araona still know how to build fires using only material in their natural environment (creating friction between different types of wood). The amount of video recordings I gather may increase as I develop a stronger working relationship with the Araona communities.

A lexicon of at least 3000 roots, affixes, clitics and particles will be collcted. The cosntruction of this list will be built out of the elicitation of word lists (underway) and the spontaneous production of forms found in texts, and the testing of specific cognate forms with other Takanan languages. All words from Pitman’s diccionaro araona will be re-elicited, and I will systematically elicit items from other Takanan lexicons (from Guillaume and Vuillermet) in order to enrich the database for Araona and provide more comparative Takanan data.

Currently very few Araona are literate either in Spanish or in Araona. The community leadership has expressed interest in workshops on the creation of an alphabet. Currently there are two working alphabets, one based on the work of the SIL (Summer Institute of Linguistics) missionary David Pitman, and another based on the linguist Carola Emkow. I will work with the community to produce and publish a booklet of the Araona alphabet. Furthermore, I will also produce at least two booklets of Araona texts. The content of these texts (be they mythological or ethnic history or something else) will depend on the interests of the Araona community. Another type of community output will be training in documentary efforts. The non-existence of literacy and the remoteness of the Araona mean that the priorities will be less ambitious than they would be otherwise (e.g. it may be difficult to provide training in ELAN), however, training in the use of recording equipment will be provided. The type of training in documnetary techniques will depend on other factors, such as whether the government’s plans to implement schooling and create other types of workshops are successful.

Finally, a grammatical description of the Araona language will be produced. The analysis of this grammar will be enriched by greater contact with Takananists throughout the duration of the project (Antoine Guillaume and Marine Vuillermet). In collaboration with Antoine Guillaume and Marine Vuillermet I hope to produce a comparative Takanan lexicon. Currently a plethora of materials now exist to reassess the genealogical and areal relationship between Takanan and Panoan languages. Lyon will be an ideal institution to conduct this research since, Professor Guillaume and Dr. Vuillermet (an expert on Ese Ejja).


Group represented

Genealogy Araona is a Takanan language, a group of 5 contiguous languages in Bolivia and Peru. Girard (1971) provided an internal classification of Takanan languages into three subgroups; Kavinik, Chamik and Takanik. Araona is a member of Takanik along with Reyesano and Tacanan. This classification was based on 504 cognate sets (see Key [1963; 1968] for a criticism). Guillaume (2009) provided a more revised classification [Cavineña [ Ese Ejja [Araona [Tacana, Reyesano]]]]. Currently there are few comparative works on Tacanan languages. Out of the extant Takanan languages, Araona has the least documentary and descriptive resources on it, despite being relatively vital compared to the other languages (Guillaume forthcoming). Culture The Araona people divide into two moieties, one called the Araona the other called the Caviña. Comments in Métraux (1948) suggest that marriage can only occur across the moieties. The extent to which this practice persists today is unclear. It is interesting because moiety societies are not typically found in Amazonia, being more common in North America and Australia. whether there is dialectal differences is not well known. It is unknown whether moiety membership has any linguistic and/or dialectical reflexes. The fact that the moieties were separate groups until fairly recently (Arizkurinaga Zeballos 2008) suggests that there might be dialectical variation based on moeities. I collected comparative wordlists from 5 speakers on my last field trip, and found notable phonological and lexical variation between the speakers. This dialectical variation still requires documentation, since it has not been noted in the Takanan literature (Guillaume forthcoming). Previous literature There are some previous works on the Araona language, but the current descriptive record of the language remains poor. Documentation of the language, such as annotated texts, is extremely sparse. Some of the oldest sources consist of wordlists (Loukotka 1968; Ibarra Grasso 1982; Montaño Aragon 1987). Key et al. (1992) presents an analysis of Takanan historical phonology with reference to Araona. The majority of the literature on the Araona language was conducted by Mary and Donald Pitman, of the Summer Institute of Linguistics (SIL) during the 1970s. Apart from a short gramatical sketch of the language (bosquejo de la gramatica de araona, Pitman (1980)), there are only three published articles on the language, treating similar themes in the phonology (Pitman & Pitman 1965, 1969, 1976), all published by SIL. The Pitmans also left fieldnotes and a few texts stored in microfichas at SIL headquarters in Dallas, Texas (see bibliography), however, they remain unavaiable. In addition to this, Donald Pitman published a Spanish-Araona dictionary (Pitman 1981). Emkow (2006) wrote a fairly lengthy description of the language out of the Research Center for Linguistic Typology (RCLT) of La Trobe University (Emkow [2012] for a shorter version). However, there is currently no documentary record available of the language. There has been no work on Araona since Emkow finished her dissertation, despite the fact that some domains remained extremely superficially described and lack sufficient illustration with examples. A rich documentary record would correct some of the omissions from the grammar, and potentially allow researchers to reassess some of Emkow’s analyses, where necessary. Apart from the linguistic documentation, there is little ethnographic or anthropological literature on the Araona (Rivero 1985); probably the most thorough ethnographic study of the Araona based on field work is a brief study on masculinity (Arizkurinaga Zeballos 2008). This is despite the fact that the Araona is one of the only groups that has maintained most of their traditional material culture (Guillaume and Tallman 2017). Furthermore, out of the Takanan languages, Araona is one of the only languages that is spoken in day to day contexts, and has not already lost ground to Spanish. An ethnographically based linguistic documentation will provide an original contribution not just to linguistics, but also to anthropology and the ethnohistory of Bolivia. Endangerment status Despite the relative vitality of the language, the documentation of Araona is urgent because of recent construction projects initiated by the Bolivian government, that will connect the Araona with Xiamas, could result in rapid linguistic and cultural shift for the Araona people. The small number of Araona speakers makes them particularly vulnerable to language extinction, despite their current remote location. The language is currently classified as threatened by Ethnologue. Araona is also one of the only groups in the Bolivia that does not have an ILC (Instituto de Lengua y Culture, Institute of Language and Culture), meaning little or no governemnt funds (as of writing this application) are being directed to its documentation. Furthermore, a recent field trip (2016) suggests that the Araona are intermarrying with Spanish speaking Bolivians and a much more rapid rate than they did in the past. The fact that Araona is still spoken in daily life, despite its endangered status, makes now the ideal time to document the language in its cultural context.


Language information

Araona is one of five Takanan languages, all of which are spoken in Bolivia. Ethnologue states that there are approximately 110 speakers of the language. Due to recent population growth the actual number is likely larger than this (~150 speakers). The language is spoken on the manurimi and manupari rivers in the more remote Amazonian part of the department of La Paz in Bolivia. The language has been described as having a number of interesting typological features; including verb serialization, associated motion, graded tense, and ergativity. The communities are difficult to access, requiring approximately a week by boat.


Special characteristics

The collection contains clan affiliation, kin relations, and community for each of the speakers to better understand speaker and dialectal variation.


Collection contents

  • 120 hours of recordings (mostly video) of naturalistic speech
  • 12 hours of texts transcribed and translated in ELAN
  • 5 hours of texts glossed with morphosyntactic analysis


Collection history

In 2016, Adam J.R. Tallman and professor Antoine Guillaume (l’Université de Lyon 2, Laboratoire Dynamique du Langage, France) recieved an ASLAN (DDL) grant to conduct a pilot study (September 6th until October 24th 2016) with the Araona. This pilot study included work with the Araona community in Riberalta and a visit to the Araona in the communities of the manurimi river (Chacra, Los Angeles, Pampa Alegre). The goal of the pilot study was to evaluate the feasability of a postdoctoral documentation project with the Araona. We concluded that the project will be highly successful in this regard and that postdoctoral documentation project is feasible. A detailed report on the results of this pilot study was submitted to ASLAN in 2017.

We accomplished the following goals as stated in the original application; (a) learning the travel costs and logistic issues associated with conducting fieldwork with the Araona; (b) obtain an authorization letter to work in the Araona communities from the Araona representatives; (c) gather sociolinguistic information, in order to discern the educational situation of the Araona and assess the possiblity of running documentation workshops with them; (d) meeting and establishing relationships with linguistic consultants from various Araona communities; (e) gathering preliminary linguistic data through elicitation (word lists and some basic constructions); (f) gathering texts and cultural information. All of these goals were met.

We were able to record 13 hours of naturalistic speech and conducted preliminary transcriptions of 10 minutes of these recordings in ELAN. We gathared approximately 600 paes of word lists and short sentences. All of these data were deposited in ASLAN and will be part of the ELAR documentation of the language.


Acknowledgement and citation

Users of any part of the collection should acknowledge Adam J.R. Tallman as the principal investigator. Users should also acknowledge the Endangered Languages Documentation Programme as the funder of the project. Individual speakers whose words and

To cite the entire collection, please use the following format:

Tallman, Adam J. R. 2016-2020. An ethnographically based linguistic documentation of Araona: A Takanan language of the Bolivian Amazon. Endangered Languages Archive. Handle: Accessed on [insert date here].

To cite the individual items within the collection, please use the following format:

Last Name, Name (speaker), Adam J. R. Tallman (researcher). [year collected]. Title of resource (format, unique ID). Endangered Languages Archive. Handle: Accessed on [insert date here].

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