Under the direction of Dr. Eve Danziger, Ms. Patience Epps will collect data for her doctoral dissertation. She will conduct linguistic research on Hupda, a little documented language of the Maku family, spoken in the Vaupes region of the northwestern Brazilian state of Amazonas. The investigation will produce materials for a grammar, orthography, lexicon, and collection of texts. Most of the estimated 1500 speakers of Hupda follow a semi-nomadic lifestyle and rely on hunting, gathering, fishing, and the cultivation of bitter manioc for subsistence. Given this relatively small population of speakers and the uncertain future of the cultures and lifestyles of indigenous groups like the Hupda people, the Hupda language may not be viable for many more years.
The significance of this documentation of an endangered language is twofold. First, such efforts add to our understanding of what is possible in human language. Second, such efforts contribute to language preservation. The preservation of the world's linguistic diversity is important both for the continued richness of human knowledge and for the communities of speakers themselves, whose cultural knowledge and artistic achievements are often closely intertwined with their linguistic heritage. The creation of an orthography is especially desired by the Hupda community, and this will be an important step toward native-language literacy and the creation of pedagogical materials, which in turn will encourage the community's language preservation efforts. This research also addresses questions of language contact and intergroup relations in the history and prehistory of the region.