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Variation and Language Attitudes in the Yurakaré: Towards a Language-Comparative Perspective

(DFG, 04/2016-03/2019)

This project investigates linguistic variation in the Yurakaré, an isolated language spoken by approximately 2,000 people in the Bolivian Amazon. Variation patterns show systematic relations to social factors such as age, gender, region, social group and style. These findings, however, come largely from studies on English and a few other major Western languages.
Our knowledge of variation and language attitudes in small, non-Western languages, on the other hand, is relatively low, although existing studies on small languages show that they may differ from large Western languages in their patterns of variation. To get a more comprehensive picture of linguistic variation in the languages of the world, many more case studies on variation in different languages are needed. Such a case study will be carried out in the proposed project.

The project has three goals: The first goal is to identify and describe variation patterns in the Yurakaré. To this end, a corpus study will be carried out using the DobeS Yurakaré corpus. To verify the results, a field study will be conducted in the form of structured interviews in two Yurakaré villages. Systematic language data will be collected from speakers representing all relevant social groups. The second goal of the project is to investigate the relationship between variation and language attitudes. This goal is also part of the structured interviews in which data on the perception of certain linguistic variants, on the linguistic socialisation of the speakers and on their attitudes to certain variants are collected. The third goal of the project is to explore the relation between linguistic variation at the level of individual language and linguistic diversity. To achieve this goal, the applicant cooperates with Nicholas Evans of the Australian National University in Canberra. In his project The Wellsprings of Linguistic Diversity he and his colleagues are exploring this question. Case studies will be conducted in language communities of different social organisations. The project proposed here is a further case study that represents one of the most linguistically diverse regions in the world: the Amazon region.