Colloquium: Lev Michael

Event Date: 

Thursday, November 16, 2017 - 3:30pm

Event Location: 

  • South Hall 3605

Speaker: Lev Michael (University of California Berkeley)

Topic: Proto-Omagua-Kukama, a Pre-Columbian Amazonian Creole Language

Reception: All are invited to a reception following the talk

Proto-Omagua-Kukama, a Pre-Columbian Amazonian Creole Language

Lev Michael (University of California, Berkeley)

Creole languages remain the object of significant theoretical attention for a variety of reasons (Kouwenberg and Singler 2008), with vigorous discussion regarding how creoles should be delimited, and whether they even constitute a distinct category of languages (DeGraff 2005, Mufwene 2000).  These questions have led to considerable focus on the structural properties of creoles, and on the social circumstances and language contact processes involved in their genesis, with the aim of determining features, if any, distinguish them as a group from other languages.

It has often been observed, however, that the empirical basis of this debate is biased, in the sense that the creole languages that have received the most attention arose in contexts of European colonialism, involving a small set of typologically similar European languages, and populations of Africans transported to the Americas, who themselves spoke relatively typologically similar languages (e.g. Versteegh 2008). The purpose of this talk is to partially redress these socio-historical and typological biases by bringing a language with a quite distinct socio-historical origin and language mix, Proto-Omagua-Kukama (POK), into the discussion regarding the structural, processual, and social features of creole languages.

On the basis of modern data on Omagua and Kukama (Vallejos 2016), two closely related languages of western Amazonia, I describe their immediate ancestor, Proto-Omagua-Kukama (POK), and argue that it was a creole language resulting from intense contact between speakers of a Tupí-Guaraní (TG) language closely related to Tupinambá, and speakers of other indigenous languages in the upper reaches of the Amazon River proper during the 12th-13th centuries AD. I argue that POK emerged as a result of large-scale captive-taking of non-TG individuals — a well-documented practice of inter-ethnic incorporation among TG groups (Santos-Granero 2009; Métraux 1948) — which transpired when the ancestors of POK-speakers migrated from near the mouth of the Amazon River to the upper Amazon basin. I discuss how TG was transformed by the resulting language contact process, examining large scale shifts in typological profile, as well as changes in specific grammatical domains such as negation and TAM morphology, and reflecting on how the POK facts can inform our understanding of creole genesis.