Forskarseminariet i lingvistik: Contact and change in Baniwa numeral classification – morphophonological aspects

24 november 2022 10:15 till 12:00 Seminarium

Sandra Cronhamn

Baniwa (Arawak, [bwi/bani1255]) is a language spoken in the Upper Rio Negro region in Northwest Amazonia. Many Baniwa people live in the traditional settlements along the Rio Negro and Içana rivers. In the past century, due to interrelated colonial, capitalist and religious pressures (da Silva 2021: 223-224), many have also settled in São Gabriel da Cachoeira, a small town with ca 15 000 inhabitants in the Brazilian state of Amazonas. An increasing gravitation towards urban life has led to a lifestyle shift, including wage labour and a monetary economy. It is in this small town context that the data presented in this seminar has been collected.

Human language has a remarkable capacity of adapting to changing circumstances in the lives of language users. As case in point is that of numeral systems. In small-scale societies which do not rely on a monetary economy, there is typically little reason for languages to develop exact systems for counting, simply because the speakers have no use for such systems. However, if speakers of such languages enter into settings where money is of importance, their languages tend to adapt quickly to the new circumstances, often by borrowing numerals from a contact language (Dixon 2012: 71-72, 75).

Baniwa is a fairly typical example of such a situation. It has a traditional counting system where only the numerals 1-3 are unanalyzable. The numeral 4 is a composite form (Aikhenvald 1996: 99; Ramirez 2001: 296), albeit no longer transparent to speakers, and from 5 on counting involves hands, fingers, feet and toes. This arithmetic operation produces very long numeral forms even for fairly low numerals, and is therefore not preferred by Baniwa speakers in situations which require frequent reference to things like precise sums of money. Instead, most speakers use Portuguese numerals from 4 and on.

The Portuguese numerals are not phonologically integrated, i.e., they are pronounced as they would be in Portuguese, even when they contain speech sounds that are not present in Baniwa’s phoneme inventory. This is complicated by the fact that Baniwa has a system of numeral classifiers which are realized as suffixes, as well as a number of productive morphophonological processes (e.g. metathesis and vowel fusion) which apply at morpheme boundaries. While classifiers are only obligatory on numerals 1-3, they can optionally attach to the borrowed Portuguese numerals, creating a situation where Baniwa’s morphophonological processes are confronted with new phonetic material to operate on. The fact that classifiers may be attached to Portuguese numerals has been described in passing by Ramirez (2001: 298), but no publications have, to my knowledge, described the resulting forms in any detail.

In this talk, I will present some preliminary analyses of how this collision between Portuguese and Baniwa linguistic material is handled morphophonologically. The analysis is based on data collected during a field trip in September-October this year.



Aikhenvald, A.Y. (1996). Areal diffusion in Northwest Amazonia: The case of Tariana. In Anthropological Linguistics, 38, pp. 73-116.

Dixon, R.M.W. (2012). Basic linguistic theory. Vol. 3: Further grammatical topics. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.

Ramirez, H. (2001). Uma Gramática do Baniwa do Içana. Ms.

da Silva, F.P.E. (2021). Pobres e Miseráveis? Preconceitos contra Povos Indígenas na Região do Alto Rio Negro (AM). In Mediações, 26 (1), pp. 219-233.

Om händelsen:

24 november 2022 10:15 till 12:00

On-site: H402, virtually: https://lu-se.zoom.us/j/63263453894


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