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Documentation of Cabiyari


Language Cabiyari
Depositor Katherine Elízbeth Bolaños Quiñonez, Ricardo Palacio Hernandez
Affiliation Universidad de los Andes, Universidad de Antioquia
Location Colombia
Collection ID 0648
Grant ID IPF0319
Funding Body ELDP
Collection Status Collection online
Landing page handle


Summary of the collection

Cabiyarí is a severely endangered language spoken today by about 54 people, out of whom only about less than 20 speakers speaks the language actively. Members of the Cabiyari ethnic group live scattered along 6 different villages on the shores of the Cananarí and Apaporis Rivers in the Vaupés area of Northwest-Amazonia, in Eastern Colombia. The language has been classified as Northern-Maipuran branch of the Arawakan family. The remaining speakers of the language use Cabiyarí only in private, ritual or family contexts, while favoring the use of one (or all) of the 5 Eastern-Tukanoan languages also spoken in the villages where Cabiyarí speakers inhabit. This project aims to document the Cabiyarí language as well as a documentation of its speaker’s rapidly disappearing cultural practices and traditional knowledge. The outcomes of this project will be a transcribed, translated, and annotated audiovisual corpus of Cabiyarí, a documentation of cultural practices, and the training of community people in documentation processes, a lexicon and a sketch grammar. Likewise, this project will provide further data that can be used for the reconstruction of historical and cultural heritage of a severely endangered language and ethnic group.


Group represented

Cabiyarí is an Arawak language spoken fluently today by about 18 people, living on the shores of the Cananarí and the Apaporis Rivers in the Vaupes area of Northwest Amazonia, in Eastern Colombia. Cabiyarí belongs to the Arawak linguistic family, to the Northern-Maipuran branch of the family. Although about 200 individuals self-identify as ethnically Cabiyarí, most of them claim not to speak the language. Instead, the vast majority of Cabiyarí people have adapted to speak the languages of their geographic neighbors, speakers of Eastern Tukanoan languages, with whom they have maintained strong socio-economic and cultural contact relations. Nonetheless, there are still some individuals that need to be accounted for at least as ‘knowers’ of the language, even whent they are not regarded by community members and leaders as ‘speakers’ of the language, as these are people who have some knowledge of vocabulary in Cabiyarí (at least).

Most groups in the Vaupés region (excluding peoples belonging to the Kakua-Nukak family and the Nadehup family, but including the Cabiyarí people), participate in a marital net known as linguistic exogamy, which requires individuals to marry outside of their language group (c.f., Sorensen 1967; Jackson 1983, 1974). Language is past on through the father’s lineage, and the marital exchanges are patrilocal. Women from different language groups move to live in (traditionally) long houses where they will share their nuclear family space with some other 5 or 6 families, all relatives to their husband. The result is an extensive and active multilingualism; women will stick to speak their father’s language, while man will speak their father’s lineage language, children then, will grow up speaking and listening to several different languages being spoken in one same household.

Most of the Cabiyarí people, however, seem to have yield the use of their ancestral language in order to adapt to the dominant languages of the area where the Cabiyarí people live. The Cabiyarí people intermarry with speakers of Eastern Tukanoan languages (mainly Bará, Barasana, Carapana, Tatuyo, and Taiwano), and most of their communication with non-Cabiyarí people is made in one of the aforementioned Tukanoan language, resulting in anunbalanced linguistic multilingual interaction. While all Cabiyarí speakers learn and speak some of Tukanoan languages, Tukanoan speakers in contact and interaction with the Cabiyarí people do not master the language. This has resulted also in a drastic decrease of speakers of Cabiyarí, and as of 2022, the last count of Cabiyarí speakers on the entire Apaporis area was of less than 20, spread along 6 different villages in the Cananarí and Apaporis rivers in the Vaupés area of Eastern Colombia. Surrounded by speakers of Tukanoan languages, and with a long history of socio-economic relationships with speakers of these other groups, Cabiyarí presents an exciting microcosm to investigate the social and interactional underpinnings of language contact, language diffusion, and language evolution.

Speakers of Cabiyarí do not hold any contact relationship with speakers of other Arawak languages. Historically, they might have had contact with speakers of Carijona (Carib), but the extent of linguistic traces on Cabiyarí is yet to be investigated. According to the Cabiyarí people in the village of Buenos Aires, their initial relations with the Tukanoans were hostile, and after some generations they were finally dominated by the latter.


Special characteristics

This collection is also a result of several ethical discussions that ruled the development of the project. The ethical aspects of this project were among the first aspects discussed with leaders from the Cabiyarí villages of Buenos Aires and Jirijirimo, as well as with speakers of the language with whom we had established a relationship since 2014. The proposed documentation project thus takes into account many ethical issues that were discussed and debated together with Cabiyarí village’s leaders, community members, and speakers. These aspects include the involvement of speakers and community members, the involvement and participation of the researcher (proposed postdoctoral fellow) and proposed research staff collaborator, and community collaborators. The ethical agreement includes consent regarding participation, intellectual property rights, the acknowledgment to the speaker and collaborators to the project, and data access.


Collection contents

This collection focuses on digitally recorded audio and visual data of the language and recordings of cultural related data (aiming for around 180 hours of recorded raw data). Transcriptions and translations of the recorded linguistic data (aproximately 40 hours, with about 15 hours of fully linguistically glossed data) is also included. All of this has been done through work with speakers of Cabiyarí and the assistance and collaboration of other individuals who recognize themselves as Cabiyarí, and others who have at least a passive competence in the language.

The materials in this collection includes documentation of the language and different contexts of uses, as well as a documentation of historical knowledge and cultural practices of the Cabiyarí ethnic group. Including different discourse practices and data on cultural and historical practices, is aimed as a strategy of building a robust and ecological approach to the understanding of languages, and the social underpinnings of language expression.

The data in this collection includes natural speech on the following discourse genres:
– life story narratives
– family stories
– chants and songs
– culturally relevant practices and activities
– traditional knowledge and traditional stories
– narratives of mythological origin and cosmology
– counsel giving narratives, and polite responses.

Some recordings correspond to a few elicitation sessions especially regarding tone and nasal distinctions in the language.


Collection history

The project from which this collection originated was financed by an ELDP individual grant (IPF0319) awarded for the period from November 2022 – November 2024. Data collection for this project begun in June of 2018 in collaboration with speakers of Cabiyarí from the villages of Buenos Aires (at the Cananarí River), Jirijirimo and Villa Real (both at the Apaporis River).

This project has also been possible thanks to the active participation and collaboration of members of the Cabiyarí community in Buenos Aires and Jirijirimo, who were trained in the use of equipment for the documentation, as well as in the use of some language analysis software (ELAN and FLEx) during training sessions offered in early 2020.

Several meetings with members of the community and speakers of Cabiyarí in Buenos Aires took place. We particularly highlight a ‘Cabiyarí Conference’ held in January of 2020, to which speakers from Buenos Aires, Jirijirimo, Villa Real, and Morroco, where it was discussed the different language needs of the Cabiyarí community of speakers and the possible outcomes of the project.


Acknowledgement and citation

Users of any part of the collection should acknowledge Katherine Bolaños as the principal investigator and Ricardo Palacio as the data collector and researcher, as well as Hermes Sánchez, Bladimir Sánchez, Karina Sánchez as data collectors, interpreters. Users of parts of the corpus should acknowledge by name the people who recorded the given session, and the individuals appearing in the recordings whose words, and images are used.

Users should also acknowledge the Endangered Languages Documentation Programme as the funder of the project. Individual speakers whose words and/or images are used should be acknowledged by name. Any other contributor who has collected, transcribed or translated the data or was involved in any other way should be acknowledged by name. All information on contributors is available in the metadata.

To refer to the linguistic data from the collection, please cite the collection in this way:

Bolaños, Katherine. 2022. Documentation of Cabiyari. Endangered Languages Archive. Handle: Accessed on [insert date here].

To refer to historical and cultural data collected in Spanish found in this collection, please cite that data in this way:

Palacio Hernández, Ricardo. 2022. Documentation of Cabiyari. Endangered Languages Archive. Handle: Accessed on [insert date here].

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