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Iberian Imperialism and Language Evolution in Latin America$
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Salikoko S. Mufwene

Print publication date: 2014

Print ISBN-13: 9780226126173

Published to Chicago Scholarship Online: September 2014

DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226125671.001.0001

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Amerindian Language Islands in Brazil

Amerindian Language Islands in Brazil

(p.76) 3 Amerindian Language Islands in Brazil
Iberian Imperialism and Language Evolution in Latin America

Hildo Honório do Couto

University of Chicago Press

Using ecolinguistics as a framework for language contact, this essay begins by showing that the arrival of the Europeans in the territory of present-day Brazil pushed the autochthonous peoples to the condition of small enclaves, forming what in German dialectology is called “language islands.” First, a brief history and definition of this term is given. Second, there is an overview of the linguistic situation before the arrival of the Portuguese. Third, from their arrival on, two varieties of a Tupi-based lingua franca called Língua Geral ‘general language’ emerged which served as a means of communication between Europeans and Natives speaking diverse mutually unintelligible languages, as well as between the Natives themselves. Fourth, we see that around 1000 languages out of the roughly 1200 that existed before the European invasion died out in about 500 years, i.e., two languages per year. The almost 200 remaining ones are obsolescent or moribund, even those that were enclosed in reservations, not counting a few small groups that may still be spoken in the interior of the Amazon jungle. The general conclusion is that the colonization of Brazil by Europeans was devastating for native peoples and their respective languages.

Keywords:   Ecolinguistics, language islands, Língua Geral, language death, colonization

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