The project will produce a reference grammar of Paresi, an endangered Southern Arawak language spoken by approximately 2000 people in the State of Mato Grosso (Brazil). The goals are to advance the linguistic understanding of Paresi and to document the Paresi language and culture by organizing an archive with audio, video and annotated texts of naturally occurring discourse. The grammar will contain a description of basic grammatical phenomena, with special attention to the unusual typological features of the language, for example, Paresi nominal classification system. The basis of the grammar will be the collection, transcription and analyses of a variety of texts. The methods to be used include the recording of natural conversation, observation of oral tradition with focus on storytelling, and direct elicitation.

The grammar will serve as a reference for the production of materials for community language programs. The project will produce a resource not only to the scientific community but also to the Paresi communities by providing them with recordings of their cultural heritage and written texts which will help them to develop pedagogical materials. Speakers will be trained to document their rituals and cultural activities in audio and video. This project will contribute to the development of indigenous language study in Brazil and in United States. Due to the endangered status of Paresi, it is of crucial importance that we provide a descriptive grammar and corpus in order to systematically document the Paresi language and aspects of Paresi culture. The project will contribute to our understanding of the Arawak language family, for which few in-depth descriptions are currently available.

Project Report

The two main goals of the research were to collect linguistic data for the development of a descriptive grammar of Paresi and to collect a corpus of recordings archived in digital form. Paresi is one of the approximately 155 indigenous languages spoken in Brazil. It is spoken by approximately 2000 people. I undertook the data collection with Paresi speakers from the Formoso and Rio Verde villages in the State of Mato Grosso from September to December of 2011. The documentation in audio, video and transcribed texts contain a variety of the rich contexts of language in use, in multiple genres ranging from ritual to everyday routines. We collected a total of approximately 14 hours of video and audio recordings. It was very important to document this traditional knowledge which is no longer passed on to the young generation. I gave training in linguistics and language documentation for Paresi speakers. I trained them for one week by teaching them how to use the recording equipment, what to document, how to film and make a good video using the Studio Pinnacle program for editing. Through the training on documentation methods and linguistics, the project provided some members of the Paresi communities with skills they needed in order to carry out language documentation by themselves in the future. Most of the collected material in video was returned to the communities in the form of DVDs These DVDs can be used in the schools as educational materials (they have a DVD player in the school). In addition, there are many transcribed texts available that can also be organized in a booklet and be used in the classroom with the Paresi students. I also analyzed texts with consultants and revised texts I had collected in other trips. I analyzed more than 3 hours of texts. The database of approximately 20 hours of transcribed texts, organized during this project and previous projects, has been a very useful tool for analyzing many grammatical aspects of the language. So far there have not been in-depth descriptions of the Paresi grammar. The dissertation resulting from this project will provide an informed description of Paresi, analyzing phonology, morphology and syntax. The most important result from this project was the description of subordinate clauses in Paresi, which was one of the least studied part of the grammar to date. The findings are also a contribution to our knowledge of the languages of Amazonia, in particular of Arawak languages. The research provides information and materials that may contribute to other areas. For example, the documentation of sociopolitical and cultural aspects of the Paresi society, such as interviews with the chiefs, shamans, and other leaders in the communities, may provide a vast source of information for a investigation of the historical development of these Arawak groups. The rapidly socioeconomic and political changes have a strong impact in the way the community see themselves and the language. It is expected that with a good documentation and description of the language, this will have an impact in strengthening their cultural identity and in giving more prestige to their language.

National Science Foundation (NSF)
Division of Behavioral and Cognitive Sciences (BCS)
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Shobhana Chelliah
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University of Texas Austin
United States
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