Back to listing

Seminar: Martin Kohlberger, 16 June

Australian National University

Date: 25 May 2016

Seminar: Bridging the Andean and Amazonian Language Areas: Evidence from contact-induced change and toponymy
Speaker: Martin Kohlberger, Leiden University/James Cook University
Date: 16th June
Time: 3.30-5pm
Venue: Engma Room (5019), HC Coombs Building, ANU

The Andes and the Amazon have long featured prominently in the literature as linguistic contact zones (Adelaar & Muysken 2004; Dixon & Aikhenvald 1999).  Despite the fact that they are geographically contiguous, the two areas have traditionally been discussed separately: publications and conferences have focused on either one or the other, but relatively little attention has been given to how they interact with each other.  Recent work, however, has emphasised that the division between “Andean” and “Amazonian” languages is not as clear as was once thought and that the distinction between the two areas is not fully reflected in studies of typological variation in South America (Birchall 2014; Krasnoukhova 2012; Müller 2013).

The Chicham (Jivaroan) family is a group of five closely related languages spoken by around 150,000 people in the lowlands of eastern Ecuador and northern Peru, a region straddling the Andean (Adelaar & Muysken 2004) and Amazonian (Dixon & Aikhenvald 1999) areas. Proposals that Chicham languages are related to various neighbors, such as Kawapanan (Greenberg 1987; Kaufman 1990), Kandozi (Payne 1981; Stark 1985) and Palta (Loukotka 1968), have been either based on limited evidence or since retracted. The family is generally thought of as an isolated grouping with no known relatives. Nevertheless, there is ample evidence that Chicham languages have been in contact with a number of other languages in the region, crucially from both sides of the Amazonian/Andean divide.  In this talk we will assess various cases of lexical and syntactic borrowings and will conclude that Chicham languages exemplify an intermediate zone between the Andes and the Amazon with influence from both areas.

First, evidence for borrowed words will be drawn from a controlled lexical data set covering over 300 basic, flora-fauna, and cultural vocabulary terms in 89 languages of northern Amazonia and the Andes. Data for Chicham languages was taken from dictionaries, field notes, and other sources. Most of the loans detected in Chicham languages are from Kandozi and Quechuan languages, but some words with more distant sources are found as well, including well-established Amazonian Wanderwörter.

Second, we consider evidence for syntactic similarities between Chicham and neighbouring languages, such as strategies for forming complex predicates. Our analysis is informed by field data from Shiwiar and Shuar (Chicham), as well as a set of grammatical features drawn from a large sample of northern South American languages. Interestingly, these syntactic similarities link Chicham both with Andean languages such as Ecuadorean Quichua, and Amazonian languages such as Ecuadorean Siona.

By looking to both sides of the Andean/Amazonian divide, it is possible to arrive at a more holistic understanding of the contact phenomena that have influenced Chicham languages over time.  This gives us crucial insights into the diachronic development of languages of this region.  Finally, understanding the influences languages undergo when they are spoken at the peripheries of contiguous contact areas can enrich our knowledge about the dynamics of contact from a cross-linguistic perspective.


Adelaar, Willem, with Pieter C. Muysken 2004. The Languages of the Andes. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Birchall, Joshua 2014. ‘Verbal argument marking patterns in South American languages.’ Pages 223–249 of The Native Languages of South America, edited by L. O’Connor and P. Muysken. Cambridge University Press.

Dixon, R. M. W. and Alexandra Y. Aikhenvald (Eds) 1999. “Introduction”, pages 1–21 of The Amazonian Languages. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Greenberg, Joseph. 1987. Language in the Americas. Stanford: Stanford University Press.

Kaufmann, Terrence. 1990. Language history in South America: what we know and how to know more. In: Doris L. Payne (1990), 13-73.

Krasnoukhova, Olga 2012. The Noun Phrase in the Languages of South America. Utrecht: LOT.

Loukotka,  Čestmir. 1968. Classification of South American Indian Languages, ed. Johannes Wilbert. Los Angeles: University of California (UCLA), Latin American Center.

Müller, Neele. 2013 Tense, Aspect, Modality, and Evidentiality Marking in South American Indigenous Languages. LOT.

Payne, David. 1981. Bosquejo fonológico del proto-shuar-candoshi. Revista del Museo Nacional 45, 323-77.

Starke, Louisa. 1985. Indigenous languages of lowland Ecuador. In: Klein and Stark (1985), 371-404.

  • Australian Government
  • The University of Queensland
  • Australian National University
  • The University of Melbourne
  • Western Sydney University