The art of speech

Alexandra Y. Aikhenvald

in The Languages of the Amazon

Published in print May 2012 | ISBN: 9780199593569
Published online May 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780191739385 | DOI:
The art of speech

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Every Amazonian language has a remarkably rich lexicon, and a plethora of genres with their varied stylistic features, as befits essentially oral cultures. Shamans, with their supernatural powers, have their own distinct way of speaking. Some relatives cannot be spoken to directly—an avoidance style is then required. Elaborate speech formulae are often used to greet, and to farewell. As the modern world with its novel realities encroaches upon the speakers, ways of saying things in Amazonian languages change and adapt. Counting and number words in Amazonian languages stand apart from what speakers of familiar Indo-European languages take for granted. Amazonian languages are relatively poor in underived number words. In many Amazonian societies counting did not used to be a cultural practice. The lexical wealth of Amazonian languages lies in the terms for flora and fauna, and the verbal lexicon. Sadly, as many languages become endangered, these terms pass into oblivion. A number of languages (especially those in the Xingu Indigenous park) have special avoidance styles. Men’s speech is different from women’s speech in Karajá, a Macro‐Jê language, and a few others. Mixed languages include a curios Carib-Arawak Pidgin (now extinct), Media Lengua, and Callahuaya, a language of itinerant healers in Bolivia. New realities of the modern world are ioften expressed through loans, and also through semantic extensions of already existing words.

Keywords: mixed language; taboo; counting; avoidance style; shaman; greeting; farewell; language obsolescence

Chapter.  12257 words. 

Subjects: Historical and Diachronic Linguistics

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