Speaker: Dr Luis Miguel Rojas Berscia, Postdoctoral Research Fellow, School of Languages and Cultures 

Dr Luis Miguel Rojas-Berscia currently holds a position as a Postdoctoral Research Fellow at the School of Languages and Cultures, UQ, within the ARC Centre of Excellence for the Dynamics of Language. He did his PhD at the Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics and Radboud University Nijmegen, in the Netherlands. His research focuses on three areas: language description, (socio)-historical and contemporary language contact, and formal syntax (Semantic Syntax). For the past seven years, he has focused on Shawi, a Kawapanan language from Peruvian northwestern Amazonia. He has also worked on several other languages such as Upper Amazonian Quechua, Muniche, Sec, Selk’nam, and Surinamese Hakka Chinese in South America; Mandarin Chinese, and Yilan Japanese, in Asia; and he is currently working on Kukatja, a Pama-Nyungan language spoken in Balgo Hills, Western Australia.

Title: Shawi in layers: The Carib, Arawak and Jivaroan components of Kawapanan

South America’s great linguistic diversity is an everyday challenge to static views of language. Although many major languages families have been identified, e.g Arawak (Payne 1991), Quechua (Parker 2013), or Chonan (Viegas Barros 1997), linguists are progressively conceiving the coming about of many modern South American languages as a product of recursive mixing (q.v. Muysken 2009; O’Connor and Muysken 2014). Here I focus on Kawapanan, a small language family located in the contemporary Peruvian regions of Loreto and San Martín.

The efforts to clade together the Kawapanan languages (Shawi (chay1248) and Shiwilu (jebe1250)) with other adjacent (Suárez 1974) or distant languages (Kaufman 1994) have not gained much support in the academic community. However, recent surveys that show how Kawapanan displays features common both to Andean and prototypical Amazonian languages (Valenzuela 2015) — a commonly observed characteristic in the languages of the so-called eastern flanks of the Andes (q.v. Wise 1999, 2011) — have shed light on possible pre-Hispanic language contact scenarios that could have engendered these typological similarities. In addition, the massive lexical comparison carried out in Jolkesky (2016) revealed the existence of an important Carib and Arawak lexical component in Kawapanan.

This talk engages with the findings of Jolkesky (2016) and argues that a dynamic approach (Bailey 1973) provides a better account of the phenomena at hand. As such, Kawapanan languages seem to have undergone a progressive mixing, the layers of which can be found both in the grammar and in the lexicon. Here, I particularly focus on the “core” lexicon of the language — which seems to be of Carib origin —, the domains of cultural vocabulary, valency change, and alienable possession — which could be easily attributed to Arawak —, and more recent processes occurring in the Cahuapanas lects of Shawi, which display an undeniable Jivaroan signal. 


Bailey, Charles-James N. 1973. Variation and Linguistic Theory. Arlington, Virginia: Center for Applied Linguistics.

Jolkesky, Marcelo. 2016. ‘Estudo arqueo-ecolinguístico das terras tropicais sul-americanas’. Tese de Doutorado, Brasília, DF: Universidade de Brasília.

Kaufman, Terence. 1994. ‘The Native Languages of South America’. In Atlas of the World’s Languages, edited by C. Mosley and R.E. Asher, 46–76. London: Routledge.

Muysken, Pieter C. 2009. ‘Gradual Restructuring in Ecuadorian Quechua’. In Gradual Creolization. Creole Language Library (CLL) 34. Amsterdam ; Philadelphia: John Benjamins Publishing Company. https://benjamins.com/catalog/cll.34.09muy.

O’Connor, Loretta, and Pieter C. Muysken. 2014. The Native Languages of South America Origins, Development, Typology. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Parker, Gary J. 2013. Trabajos de Lingüística Histórica Quechua. Edited by Rodolfo Cerrón-Palomino. Lima: Fondo Editorial, Pontificia Universidad Católica del Perú.

Payne, David L. 1991. ‘A Classification of Maipuran (Arawakan) Languages Based on Shared Lexical Retentions’. In Handbook of Amazonian Languages, edited by Desmond C. Derbyshire and Geoffrey K. Pullum, 3:354–499. Berlin & New York: De Gruyter Mouton.

Suárez, Jorge. 1974. ‘South American Indian Languages’. In The New Encyclopaedia Britannica (15th Edition). Chicago: Encyclopædia Britannica.

Valenzuela, Pilar M. 2015. ‘¿Qué tan “amazónicas” son las lenguas kawapana? Contacto con las lenguas centro-andinas y elementos para un área lingüística intermedia’. Lexis 39 (1): 5–56.

Viegas Barros, J.P. 1997. ‘Aspectos de la fonología del proto-chon: consonantes labiales, dentales, alveolares y palatales’. In Etnolingüística. Actas Jornadas de Antropología de la Cuenca del Plata y II Jornadas de Etnolingüística, I:221–28. Rosario: Escuela de Antropología. Facultad de Humanidades y Artes. Universidad de Rosario.

Wise, Mary Ruth. 1999. ‘Small Language Families and Isolates in Peru’. In The Amazonian Languages, by Alexandra Y. Aikhenvald and R.M.W. Dixon, 307–40. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

———. 2011. ‘Rastros desconcertantes de contactos entre idiomas y culturas a lo largo de los contrafuertes orientales de los Andes del Perú’. In Estudios sobre lenguas andinas y amazónicas: Homenaje a Rodolfo Cerrón-Palomino, edited by Willem F. H Adelaar, Pilar M. Valenzuela Bismarck, and Roberto Zariquiey Biondi, 305–26. Lima: Fondo Editorial, Pontificia Universidad Católica del Perú.

About Linguistics Circle Sessions

Linguistics Circle Sessions are held on most Friday afternoons during semester, 4-5pm, on campus and on Zoom. UQ staff and students, staff and students from other universities, and members of the general public are welcome.

The Circle is an opportunity to share and to hear from guest speakers, UQ staff and HDR students working on research and topics of interest in Linguistics, Language Revitalisation and Applied Linguistics.

If you would like present at or lead a discussion at our Circle, please click here to add your submission. Also contact Linguistics Cluster Co-ordinator, Samantha Disbray via email with an abstract, overview or provocation and a short bio.


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