The wonders of the Gran Chaco: setting the scene

Aikhenvald, Alexandra Y. (2011) The wonders of the Gran Chaco: setting the scene. Indiana, 28. pp. 171-181.

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Abstract

[Extract] This dossier of Revista Indiana consists of three articles, each focusing on languages of the region of Gran Chaco in Bolivia, Paraguay and Argentina. In my brief introduction, I address issues raised in the contributions to the volume, within the general context of language contact, language typology and language analysis in the South American domain.

To many people, South America, and especially Lowland Amazonia, is known as an exotic land of impenetrable rainforest, colourful wildlife and a hot-spot of biological diversity. Adventurers of the colonial times looked upon it as the land of El Dorado, a treasure trove of gold and gemstones. This is also the place of amazing linguistic diversity, rivalled only by the Island of New Guinea. Over 400 languages are grouped into over twenty families, in addition to a fair number of isolates. (Various macro-groupings or 'stocks' have been suggested, by Greenberg and others; these are almost without exception illusory and otiose: see, for instance, Aikhenvald in press: Chapter 1, Dixon & Aikhenvald 1999, Adelaar 2004: 1-45). South American languages display highly unusual grammatical and lexical features which make them crucial for linguistic typology.

Most archaeologists agree that the Americas were first populated about 12,000 years ago (mostly likely in successive waves of migration). Waves of peoples probably moved across from Asia, over what would have then been a land bridge at the Bering Strait. All the Americas are highly linguistically diverse. This makes us think that the first prehistoric migrations would have been made by many separate groups speaking genetically unrelated languages. However, numerous migrations and movements of population groups resulted in speakers of various languages coming in contact with each other. Consequently, many South American languages - which cannot be demonstrated to be related genetically - display similar features, in their phonetics, phonology, and in grammatical structure.

Item ID: 19679
Item Type: Article (Refereed Research - C1)
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ISSN: 0341-8642
Date Deposited: 14 Feb 2012 07:13
FoR Codes: 20 LANGUAGE, COMMUNICATION AND CULTURE > 2004 Linguistics > 200407 Lexicography @ 100%
SEO Codes: 97 EXPANDING KNOWLEDGE > 970120 Expanding Knowledge in Language, Communication and Culture @ 100%
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