projet de recherche
The effects of obsolescence on Iskonawa and their consequences Describing a dying language: for grammatical description
Many indigenous languages of the Amazonian region of South America have already disappeared, and many others will pass into oblivion in the next years (Aikhenvald 2012: 61). In Peruvian Amazonia, for instance, official reports indicate that from the 43 officially recognized languages of the region, 27 have between 1 and 999 speakers (INEI 2007). Although a significant amount of recent descriptive work on languages of the region has been produced in the last 20-30 years, our knowledge about Amazonian languages still requires to be increased, and there is still much to be done (see, for instance, Moore 2006). The situation is particularly alarming for those obsolescent languages found in the Amazonian Basin, many of which have not been properly described yet and are currently spoken by a few (usually elderly) speakers in highly restricted communicative situations (see Dorian (ed.) 1992 for a general characterization of language obsolescence). Speakers of an obsolescent language move into another (hegemonic) language and therefore obsolescence is always accompanied by a period of bilingualism, which triggers the complete death of the subjugated language (Thomason 2001: chapter 10, Janse 2003, Newman 2003). In many cases, during the period of bilingualism, the last speakers of the obsolescent language have not used their language for a long time and have problems in remembering it (Grinevald and Bert 2011).
This is exactly the case of Iskonawa, a Panoan language spoken by six elderly people in central Peruvian Amazonia. These speakers were assimilated into another Panoan group, Shipibo-Konibo, and have been mainly speaking this language in the last decades. Language obsolescence (see, for instance, Thomason 2001: chapter 9, Palosaari and Campbell 2011) and the bilingualism that it conveys (see, for instance, the papers in Aikhenvald and Dixon (eds.) 2006) trigger grammatical and lexical changes, which have direct consequences in the
configuration of the subjugated languages.
This project explores the grammatical consequences of language obsolescence on Iskonawa, from both an empirical and a theoretical point of view. The results include a thorough revision of the drafts of a grammatical sketch and a vocabulary of the language, produced in the context of a previous project and the preparation of one scientific paper on the effects of obsolescence in the grammatical structures of Iskonawa and the methodological consequences that obsolescence has for the task of grammatical description. Additionally, this project attempts to establish a long-term collaboration with scholars in Lyon (particularly Antoine Guillaume, from the Laboratoire Dynamique Du Langage - DDL) in order to develop a working group on obsolescence and its effects on the structure of languages. Furthermore, this project contemplates the organization of a local workshop on the topic.