Current Research: Nïpode language project

I am presently working on the production of Nïpode-Uitoto-Spanish-English lexicon in partnership with Dr John Coleman of the Oxford University Phonetics Laboratory. The tri-lingual lexicon will include a brief phonetic description along with some grammatical notes. The research and publication aim to increase linguistic knowledge of the Nïpode-Uitoto dialect and contribute towards the dev elopment of an orthgraphic system for writing the language.

The Nïpode-Uitoto language

Nïpode-Uitoto is a native Amazonian dialect belonging to the family of Uitoto languages that are spoken by Amerindian peoples in the southern portion of the eastern lowlands of Colombia and in some northeastern parts of the Peruvian Amazon. Uitoto "proper" relates to four mutually intelligible dialects: Búe, Mïka, Mïnïka and Nïpode. Uitoto people use language as one mode of self-identification by distinguishing among themselves according to the dialect that a person speaks. Nïpóde-speaking people associate their identity with their speech which features distinct glottalised sounds, a particular pronunciation for some words and specific words not found in other Uitoto dialects. In addition, the Nïpode dialect is interesting because it only features one fricative phoneme /v/ in contrast to the other Uitoto dialects that each feature several fricatives. If you have a sound card on your computer, click on the highlighted words to hear some examples of glottal sounds in Nipode as spoken by the Colombian Nïpode-Uitoto elder Misael Morales: 'da, 'de, 'di, 'do, 'dï and 'ba, 'be, 'bi, 'bo, 'bu. Examples of nouns and verbs with short initial and long medial glottal stops are:

Background to the study

The sample used for this phonetic study was collected in the field during my ethnographic research undertaken in the Middle Caquetá region of the Colombian Amazon between 1994 and 1996. As part of my anthropological research investigating the indigenous economy, it was essential to learn one Amerindian language in order to gain an insight into cultural discourse on livelihood and social reproduction. Uitoto elders in the study communities agreed to collaborate with the compilation of word lists on the condition that the work would contribute towards the eventual production of a Nïpode-Uitoto alphabet for use in local village schools. As the ethnographer is not a qualified linguist, the elders requested that recordings of their speech be made available to a professional phonetician. After considered debate, it was agreed that the tapes recorded during fieldwork would be taken for study at the Oxford University Phonetics Laboratory (OUPL) in the UK. The production of a document containing a lexicon and phonetic description is therefore an initiative that stems from the Colombian Nïpode-Uitoto people themselves.

Indigenous interest in developing a writing system for their language is related to their concern that school-educated younger people now increasingly use spoken and written Spanish as a first language. Like other ethnic groups in Latin America who see their language in decline, Nïpode-Uitoto elders and younger people are keen to establish an orthgraphy that can be used in their schools within a bicultural curriculum that teaches courses in both Spanish and the native language. Nïpode-Uitoto elders point out that their language is a vital cultural resource that embodies practical and esoteric knowledge essential to individual and community well-being. The following abridged extracts of comments made by the Nïpode-Uitoto elder José Vicente Suárez reveal the value of the native langauge as ancestral heritage. The comments also indicate the willingness of the Nïpode-Uitoto to accommodate the ongoing transformation of their society as it develops an oral and written knowledge system:

ákï éro káï komúiya úai "Look at our Word of Life"
akï dïno káïri peíya "It is this that is being left behind"
ákï éro káï iyano "Look! We live by this"
káï manódana itdïno, káï ráana itdïno, káï éinamakï ráa peíya "These (words) are like our science, these (words) are like our inheritance, the inheritance of our ancestors is being left behind"
káï éinamakï yagïni peíya "Our ancestors' feather headdress is being left behind"
akï dïno éro ñue káï...uánodotiyena "So that we can recover these (words) properly"
naitóidi da kuéina? "How is it written"?
dáma kue kuénina"yagïni" naitóidi kue kueíri? "Alone I am unable to write. How can I write the word "yag®Ûni" (headdress)?"
káï úai rabéchoraïmo jóoniana, káï o yóye "Once our language is written down in a book, you will explain to us""
dïnómona káï jíïtaï onóiye...rïngóta onoiye "From then on our children will understand, our girls will understand"
púia ñue da jóobiye yetíka "When this is well placed in the future"
rápue árï biyïno "Wisdom and progress will arise here above"
akï daïí nï pia káï jenuano "In this way, this (phonetic study) is just our initial search"
uápue apéno "That is truly what this part (project) is about"

Jose Vicent Suarez, mambeadero, Puerto Santander, 1995

©All rights reserved. The audio data, information and photographs presented here are included on the basis of permission granted during agreements made during collaborative work between OUPL and Nïpode-Uitoto elders in 1995 and 1996. All linguistic data included on this website is the exclusive cultural property of the indigenous authors. No copies or reproductions of these materials can be made without the prior permission of the elders Misale Morales, José Suárez and OUPL.