Documenting Kawesqar, the last spoken Fueguian language


Kawesqar and Yaghan are the only two extant languages of the southernmost region of South America. However Kawesqar is the only endangered Fueguian language that is still spoken, since Yaghan is in its last stage with just one speaker with a very deteriorated competence. In 1966 in an international conference sponsored by the Wenner Gren Foundation and the Smithonian Institution, Kawesqar was listed as an endangered language that needed urgent documentation. Since that date a good amount of work has been done, but only recently it has been possible to gather an important quantity of linguistic and ethnographic data. Kawesqar is spoken today by only 7 persons as a first language in their daily interaction. There is a small number of urban semi-speakers who rarely speak the language and use only Spanish as their means of communication, and more than 200 Kawesqar-descendants whose mother tongue is Spanish. A project funded by the Regional Government and as a result of a demand from the urban communities who urged the authorities to provide funds for the gathering of linguistic and ethnographic material that could be used in a revitalization program, after 9 months it was possible to obtain a sound archive which today is the largest and unique sound archive of an indigenous language in Chile. In this paper a description of the corpus is presented: what has been rescued and as a result what has been necessary to modify in the description of the language because of the new information gathered. For instance, a previous corpus of more than 600 texts but of short duration (the largest is a 6 minute text), showed a rather rigid word order. The new corpus with one or two-hour monologic spoken texts shows a more flexible word order, depending on various factors. Similarly the morpheme inventory increased because the speakers used certain morphemes that have become partially obsolete. Methods employed and the use of technology with its pitfalls is also presented, both recording instruments and treatment of digitalized materials for publication. The latter implies the employment of software and the issues encountered that determined the use of certain available instruments, comprising an evaluation of common commercial standard software, as well as specialized software (mainly from SIL), and the difficulties encountered with this software to adapt it to the requirements of publication needs. Finally what preservation decisions have been taken are also examined in this paper

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