Rice Linguists Study Native Languages in Brazilian Jungle

first_imgAddThis Share CONTACT: Philip Montgomery PHONE: (713)831-4792E-MAIL: [email protected] LINGUISTS STUDY NATIVE LANGUAGES IN BRAZILIAN JUNGLELike an old-time traveling medicine show, Ricelinguist Spike Gildea and his team of Rice graduate students show up everysummer in jungle villages in Brazil playing guitars and offering trade goods.The deal is simple. Gildea trades fishhooks and cloth for stories and time.He has two purposes: documenting living languages of indigenous people whoseways of life are threatened by encroaching Western civilization; and spreadingword among natives of the threat of AIDS, which caused the first official deathamong northern Brazilian Indians last year.Gildea, an associate professor of linguistics, received a three-year NationalScience Foundation grant in 1992 to study the Cariban family of languages inBrazil. Additional grants from Rice allowed him to stretch the funding throughthe summer of 1997. He concluded the first phase of his research in August andnow will take some time to write for publication.The team has been working in northern Brazil studying 10 of about 25languages of the Cariban family spoken in a geographic area stretching fromsouthern Columbia across to Venezuela and the Guianas to well south of theAmazon River. The territory is hostile and remote.Aside from snakes and large insects that bite, there are numerous parasitesand fierce diseases. In addition, the native speakers are known for beingaggressive and are reputed to have been cannibals, a practice they haveapparently given up under pressure from contact with Westerners. But Gildea hasmanaged to make numerous friends among the tribes.###last_img