LSA 214: Language use in Amazonia

Patience Epps | session 2 | TuTh 1:30 – 3:15, 179 Stanley Hall

This course approaches the study of Amazonian languages from the perspective of discourse and language in use. While relatively understudied, Amazonian languages are well known for their many typologically intriguing features, which are often best understood from a culturally and ecologically grounded perspective. Topics of discussion will include sociolinguistic practices among Amazonian peoples, such as linguistic exogamy (by which marriage partners must be speakers of different languages) and prescribed differences in men's and women's speech among speakers of the same language. We will assess the effects of such practices on linguistic structures, which are in some cases typologically unusual; for example, linguistic exogamy leads to a resistance to lexical borrowing, combined with a striking degree of grammatical diffusion. We will consider whether specific grammatical features in Amazonian languages, such as numeral systems and evidentials, may be associated with cultural patterns, and we will address the use of lexical data in uncovering clues to past cultural practices, subsistence patterns, and interaction among peoples. The course will also examine native Amazonian discourse patterns and rich traditions of verbal art, including such phenomena as ritual wailing, dyadic delivery, shamanic language, spells, songs, and narrative.

Reading: Selected materials available online.

Areas of linguistics: Languages of the Americas

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