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Uru - Chipaya


In 2000-2001, ILCA participated in the Project
“A multimedia documentation of Uru-Chipaya languages and cultures in their territorial setting (Bolivia and Peru)”
in collaboration with the Universität Bonn, and the Uru-Chipaya communities,
as a part of the wider project on the “Documentation of Endangered Languages”
centred at the Volkswagen Stiftung
and the DOBES site at the Max Planck Institut in Nijmegen, Holland.

The Andean Uru-Chipaya Languages (State of Research 2002)
Denise Arnold / Sabine Dedenbach-Salazar Sáenz / Juan de Dios Yapita
with U. Ricardo López G.

The linguistic situation in the Andean highlands from the 16th century until the present

Today, the Andean region, with its three large ecological-geographical areas – the coast, the highlands and the tropical rainforest –, is in linguistic terms more homogeneous in the coastal and highland areas than in the tropical rainforest.

In the rainforest areas, a number of language families are still found; in the coastal region, by contrast, Spanish, introduced with the Conquest, is virtually the only language spoken today. In the highlands, two language families, Quechua and Aru, have displaced a variety of languages that were spoken until the 18th and some even into the 20th century. However, in the same region, Spanish has been extending itself to the cost of Quechua, and Quechua, in turn, has pushed back Aymara.

This process of linguistic homogenisation is first documented in relation to the Inkas who, in their efforts to extend their state apparatus throughout the whole Andean region, also spread a variety of Quechua as a ‘language of the state’.1 This ‘general language’ (or lengua general) was later adapted by the Spanish for missionary purposes. Apart from Quechua, other general languages, such as Aymara and Puquina, were in extensive use in the Andes in the early colonial era. In addition, a large variety of other languages were spoken in what constitutes today the highlands of the Andean countries (Torero; Dedenbach-Salazar Sáenz 1999).

Nowadays, only traces of these languages are left in placenames or certain words.2 And, whilst several million people still speak Quechua and Aymara, Puquina died out (see footnote 13) and is today maintained only in traces in the Machaj-juyay of the Callahuaya.3 The only other language family still spoken in the Bolivian highlands is Uru-Chipaya.

Speakers of the Uru-Chipaya languages

... we have been the first people osuñis in the exploration of the shores of the Desaguadero river .... and the language of the Urus, which they [our ancestors] spoke, was legitimate and their own language, they all spoke in their uchhumataqo. This language is also called chhiw lüsñchi chhun lüsñchi, nowadays known as pukina,4 this language of the Urus.

This statement – formulated in a folk history by a man from Irohito– reveals the complexity of the linguistic and ethnic situation of those called Uru-Chipayas (Inda 1988: 3, translation by the authors).

Early colonial and some Republican sources which deal with the Inka, as well as their own time, mention a population called Uru on the shores of Lake Titicaca as a group whose subsistence was based mainly on fishing, and was therefore considered especially “primitive” and “uncivilised” and of little use in the overall economy.5 These particular economic activities of the Urus made of them an ethnic and tribute category in itself. It is possible that their inferior status and relatively little involvement in mainstream – indigenous and Spanish – society was a factor in maintaining their language.

Colonial sources also mention that these people spoke their own language called Uru or Uruquilla,6 and it is documented until the 20th century for the southern Peruvian and north-western Bolivian highland regions (ca. 4000 m altitude), centring around Lake Titicaca, along the Desaguadero river, which connects this lake with Lake Poopó to the south, as well as around the salt lake Coipasa.7

However, an emerging debate among scholars and speakers questions former self denominations, according to the different Uru-Chipaya groups, of the languages they speak now or spoke in the past. Whereas in the recent past, some speakers of Irohito and Chipaya named their language as “pukina”, the present tendency, especially after a series of assemblies of speakers organised by regional NGOs, is to adopt more widely the Irohito self denomination maa taqu, meaning “our mother tongue”.8 This is because many speakers apparently noted the “mutual intelligibility” of the Irohito and Chipaya variants. 9

In the early 20th century, authors who described this linguistic family, mostly in the form of short outlines embedded in comparative or ethnographic research, mentioned that these languages were already threatened with extinction.10 Today the Uru-Chipaya languages, with under two thousand speakers, are severely endangered. Although existing information is inconsistent and sometimes even conflicting, there is no doubting the continuous decline in the number of speakers over the last decades.

In 1931, there were said to be approximately 40, at the most 100 speakers in Ancoaqui, on the Desaguadero river (Métraux 1935b: 75; LaBarre [1941: 494] reports 30 families in 1938); however, from the 1950s onwards, only a few speakers are mentioned in this same area (Ancoaqui and Iru-Itu, Prov. Ingavi, Dep. La Paz, Bolivia; Vellard 1954: 93, Plaza & Carvajal 1985: 185). By the 1960s, there were some 800 persons living in the Chipaya-speaking area at Lake Coipasa (south of Chipaya) and in the 1980s around 1500-2000 persons were living in Chipaya itself (Prov. Carangas, Dept. Oruro, Bolivia) (Plaza & Carvajal 1985: 93). Albó’s overview (1995/2: 36-38), based on the 1992 Bolivian census, gives 955 speakers for the towns of Chipaya and Ayparavi (Prov. Atahualpa, Bolivia). According to the 2001 census, this rises to 1,568 for the Chipaya region as a whole. Whereas Lucy Briggs and Tomás Huanca, working in the 1980s, noted that there were several speakers in the Irohito region (south of Lake Titicaca, Bolivia), now there are only a couple, and a few rememberers. The population figures for this region given by Albó (ibid. p. 38) vary between 57 and 542, but there is no data on the number of Uru-Chipaya speakers; most seem to speak Aymara. It is doubtful whether there are still speakers of Uru-Chipaya in Ancoaqui and Chimu 11 (Prov. and Dept. Puno, Peru), or living east of Lake Poopó 12 .The data provided by existing studies thus suggest that whereas Chipaya speakers can still be found in Chipaya itself (Bolivia), and in several small hamlets or homesteads in its surroundings, the situation is more doubtful with relation to Uru speakers, who are more likely to be a handful of individuals in Peru (and possibly also in Bolivia), rather than larger groups. 13

The 1992 and 2001 census figures for Chipaya indicate that the language is spoken not only by older persons, but also learned by the younger generation. In the 2001 census breakdown, there are 332 speakers between 4-9, 400 between 10-19, 277 between 20-29, 163 between 30-39, and 116 between 40-49. This tendency has been confirmed in our own preliminary research in the region. Spanish is acquired at a relatively young age, but Aymara only by adults. Very few members of the community also speak Quechua (Albó 1995/2: 36-37). The actual situational contexts of language use have not been studied so far.

This present situation seems to have come about when some Uru groups became Quechuised (for example those around Challacollo, acc. to Beyersdorff 1997, and the Uru-Moratos of Lake Poopó, acc. to Sáenz 1998), whereas most groups became Aymarised (e.g. Polo 1901: 446, Bacarreza 1957). There is also the interesting possibility that Uruquilla words are still being used in a ritual context, for example in counting (Ibarra Grasso 1961: 499).

In addition to this decline in numbers, Uru-Chipaya territories in Bolivia have been targeted in recent years for extensive development programmes, many of which are not culturally sensitive, so the additional danger of cultural disruption and destruction, within the context of national assimilation programmes (operating within a Western view of “poverty”), is already taking place. 14

As to the classification of this language, the internal relationship of Uru (spoken on the shores and islands of Lake Titicaca and along the Desaguadero river) and Chipaya (spoken in the province of Carangas, Dep. Oruro, Bolivia) was first established by Uhle (1896a, b; cf. Olson 1980: 6-7, 52-54). The relationship of these languages with Puquina (another language of the southern central Andes) 15 and Arawak (languages spoken in the eastern South American lowlands) has been a continuing point of discussion (Brinton 1890, Chamberlain 1910, Créqui-Montfort & Rivet 1925-27); as a result, Puquina and Uru-Chipaya have been considered as non-classified “residual” languages (Tovar & Larrucea de Tovar 1984: 45). Based on lexical evidence, Torero (1987, 1992) demonstrates the present uncertainty concerning a genetic relationship between Uru-Chipaya and Arawak, or between Uru-Chipaya and Puquina, Quechua or Aymara. On the same lexical evidence, Torero assumes that the most northern and most southern variety of Uru-Chipaya became separated around 200 B.C., leading us to expect substantial differences within the Uru-Chipaya family, and the presence of two “languages” rather than “dialects”. However, recent comparative lexical work in Irohito and Chipaya by Pedro Velasco suggests that there are more similarities between these variants than has been suspected by outsiders. For his part, Olson (1964/65, 1980) has tried to prove a genetic relationship to the Maya languages, which Longacre (1968) takes up in a study on the reconstruction of indigenous languages (cf. also Hamp 1967, 1970).

Speakers in both Irohito and Chipaya are very keen for their languages and cultures to be documented in the VW Foundation Project on Endangered Languages. With this impulse, and considering the overall linguistic situation, it is urgent to document Uru-Chipaya language communities, and to provide an external valoration of their language and cultures as an impetus for these same groups to reinforce their own means of cultural awareness and resistance, so that they may carry on the project’s original input in the longer term. In Irohito, the language is already being taught in school, so that it may not be forgotten (cf. Albó 1995/2: 38), and the same is about to happen in Chipaya under the present Bolivian Educational Reform.

The existing documentation of Uru-Chipaya textual and scriptural practices

The ethnographic and linguistic material on Uru-Chipaya collected during the 19th and 20th centuries has been published only in part (Polo, Créqui-Montfort & Rivet, Métraux, Olson, Polo, Vellard). Some of it consists of fieldwork notes of deceased researchers (Lehmann, Uhle, Porterie-Gutiérrez, Carpenter, and Briggs).

Most published linguistic material is relatively old (1900 to 1960s) and is limited to very brief descriptions of the phonological system as well as grammatical aspects, some texts (stories) with interlinear translation and word lists (see footnote 17 for the references). For Chipaya there is some literacy material (Olson & Olson 1966a, b), consisting of a syllable-based primer and traditional stories. There are also texts with a Christian content (Instituto Lingüístico de Verano de Bolivia 1970: 8-9; Olson & Olson 1963, 1967, 1968, 1969, 1969/70, 1970, 1975, 1978). Apart from a brief sketch on the syllable (Olson 1967), a tagmemic oriented description of some aspects of the verb system (Olson 1966?), and Cerrón’s (2001) brief sketch of phonology and morphology (mostly based on Olson’s work), there has been no analysis of the morphology and syntax of the language in terms of modern linguistic approaches. For the Irohito region (“Uru”), there are Muyksen’s recent articles (2000, 2001) which provide preliminary analyses based on Vellard’s data, and his own research respectively. The situation can be summarised as follows: despite many brief studies over the past century and in recent years, there is still not available a complete phonological chart nor a systematic description of morphology.

The texts collected by Métraux and Vellard have to be considered in the context of the time when these scholars worked in the areas. They consist mostly of fragments or an occasional story, and their (partly interlinear) translation and comments are based on a rather rudimentary knowledge of the language; they never reflect spontaneous or contextualised speech. In the last twenty years, texts have been collected by Porterie-Gutiérrez (1990), Muysken (2001), some local teachers, and in the project fieldnotes of Arnold and Yapita (2002), all awaiting further analysis. There is apparently a recent collection of Chipaya poems, by local teachers. And there are recent collections of Chipaya tales although these are printed in Spanish only and heavily edited (Choque Capuma 1998). In 1992, the Bolivian historian, Rossana Barragán, transcribed the life-history of two Uru-Morato leaders: Lucas Miranda and Daniel Moricio, aided by Don Daniel’s wife, Saturnina Alvarez. However, this work was also carried out in Spanish, apart from the inclusion of some Aymara lexicon, and a few words in Uru-Chholo.

In terms of local textual practices, there are studies of Chipaya music, dance and song (Métraux 1932, 1934; Bauman 1981), and musical instruments (Izikowitz 1932). There are various studies of vernacular architecture and housebuilding (de la Zerda, 1993). There is also mention of the Uru-Chipaya use of knotted threads, rather like kipus, for remembering prayers (Gisbert y Mesa 1980).

Apart from the historical descriptions of Uru-Chipaya dress (Forbes, 1870 etc), the Chilean scholar Verónica Cereceda (1978) studied Chipaya weavings in the 1970s, using a semiotic approach, and there may be a case for including additional studies of the weavings of former Uru-Chipaya groups in the Isluga region (Chile) within an Uru-Chipaya ambit (for example by Dransart).

The Uru-Chipaya world has fascinated Bolivian film-makers, in two classics of national cinema by Jorge Ruiz: Los Urus (1950, Bolivia Films) and Vuelve Sebastiana (con Augusto Roca 1955). The latter was based on anthropological fieldwork by Alfred Metraux and Jean Vellard. There is also a more recent documentation of housebuilding in Chipaya by de la Zerda: El sol se levanta al oeste (see also Valdivia 1988). A series of recent articles describes Uru-Chipaya daily life, and mentions many Uruquilla words and toponyms (Acosta 1997, 1998; Condori & Pauwels 1997, 1998; Delgadillo 1998, etc.). Some Chipaya texts referring to practical matters of cultural life have been published (Condori & Pauwels 1997), as well as a juridical document establishing Uru-Chipaya nationhood (called Estatutos orgánicos, 2001).

The Bolivian linguist, Tomás Huanca, collected a lexicon on Uchu-Mataco (in Irohito) in the 1980s, working through the intermediate language of Aymara, and he established a working alphabet (Huanca 1991). The Bolivian anthropologist, Ricardo López, is currently writing a Master’s thesis on Uru and Uruquilla lexicon, and an anthropology and linguistics student, Pedro Velasco, is working on a lexical comparison between Irohito and Chipaya.

More recently, some key colonial documents on the Uru-Chipaya region have been published for the first time (Pauwels 1996a), among them the 1588 Memorial by the Spanish priest Bartolomé Alvarez (published 1998). Other historical documents establish further the relationship between Uruquilla, Aymara and Quechua, and the social dynamics and regional links in the region of Oruro inhabited by the Uru. 16

The linguistic system

As mentioned above, the materials and mostly rudimentary descriptions of Uru and Chipaya date back to the first half of the 20th century, which is also reflected in the kind of analysis provided. Moreover each researcher - and not all of them were linguists - followed his or her own approach and used his or her own alphabet. In brief, all we often find are summaries of descriptions made by other authors.

This situation is reflected in speakers’ own usage of a number of different alphabets, and only in 2002, in the context of the Bolivian Educational Reform and political struggles over territories, has there been a sustained effort among speakers to unify a modern alphabet (see also the alphabet developed by Paredes Mamani et al. 1999).

Chipaya has six groups of consonant phonemes: stops, affricates, fricatives, nasals, laterals, flaps, semivowels, and ten vowels. Phonetic variants used by women only have been reported (Olson 1967, Porterie-Gutiérrez 1990). Certain affricates have the function of initial syllables. The Uru-Chipaya languages seem to be (S)OV languages. They are mainly agglutinating, with suffixes and very few prefixes, but also some incorporation. Adjectives precede the noun and are unchangeable. The negation is formed by a particle.17 According to Olson (1966?)18 Chipaya verb structure shows the following: a six-person verb system with an inclusive and exclusive first person plural and a masculine and feminine 3rd person singular. Prefixes mark features such as object referents, causativity, locativity, passivity; suffixes indicate aspect, tense, mood and evidence. Olson considers these independent verb word categories, although he gives suffixes with participal, temporal, conditional and unreal function as dependent verb word structures, some of which are used for subordination.

With 19% of loanwords, Chipaya is, according to Olson (1966?: 1), considerably influenced by Aymara. This is confirmed by Muysken (2000) who has analysed some of the Uru data given by Vellard around the middle of the 20th century.

Existing educational materials in Uru-Chipaya languages

Until recently, the only educational materials in Chipaya were prepared by members of the Summer Institute for Linguistics: Olson (1962) and Olson & Olson (1966a, b); Olson & Olson (1966a) consists of five monolingual reading primers with illustrations, based on the syllable; Olson & Olson (1966b) comprises two volumes with texts from Chipaya cultural life, including what seem to be traditional narratives (‘cuentos’) presented in Chipaya, with a Spanish translation and illustrations. Presently, a group of Chipaya teachers are preparing a series of teaching modules in their own language, according to the models provided by the Bolivian Educational Reform.

Most other current educational materials in the region have tended to be prepared exclusively in Spanish. These include a volume of Spanish tales, apparently based on Uru original versions (Molina 1992b), a legend of Tunupa (Molina 1996), and a history in Spanish of the Uru community of Irohito Yanapata (Inda 1988). The same occurs in the case of the Uru-Morato myths and legends collected in Spanish in Molina (1992a).




Cf. Dedenbach-Salazar Sáenz (1999: 506-514).



Montaño Aragón (1992) offers a good overview of these ethnic and linguistic groups, according to which – apart from the Uru-Chipaya – only the Quillaca are said to speak some form of their own language, although heavily mixed with Aymara and Quechua (Montaño Aragón 1992: 352-355).



This is a mixed language consisting of Puquina and Quechua, spoken by the Callahuaya healers who live northeast of Lake Titicaca (Girault 1989, Montaño Aragón 1992: 1-61).



Métraux (1935b: 89) also said that in 1931 the Uru speaking people in Ancoaqui called their language “bukina” or  “pukina”, in order to distinguish it from Aymara.



Visita a Chucuito ([1567] 1964: 140-141, 209); “Relación de los pacajes” ([1586] 1965); “Relación de los pacajes” ([1608] 1980); Alvarez [1588] 1998: 397). But there are also indications that this judgment was not generally maintained (Visita de Chucuito p. 111, Alvarez [1588] 1998: 399, cf. del Río 1990, Barraza [17th cent.] 1937: 197). The “Relación de los pacajes” from 1586 explains that the Urus then living in Machaca in Pacajes province were setteld there by the Inkas in order to teach them agriculture by mixing them with the Aymara speaking population. The “Relación” adds that at the end of the 16th century these Urus had almost forgotten their own language (described as “Puquina”) and now spoke Aymara.



Uru, used by most colonial authors, is not a self-denomination. The people living in the Desaguadero area called themselves Uchumi, Uchumi-tschay, Utschumataku or Kjotsuñi and their language Uchumitaja, Kjehua Uchumatakutschay, Tschischuaki-tschay (Posnansky 1934: 276). For other names for the Urus see LaBarre (1946: 575). Uruquilla is the denomination found in the “Copia de los curatos” at the end of the 16th century (cf. footnote 13). It has still to be clarified what was the difference between Uru and Uruquilla (cf. Wachtel 1990: 606).



There are indications that a language of this group was spoken in coastal areas in northern Chile and southern Peru in the early colonial period (Lozano Machuca [1581] 1965: 61-62; cf. Créqui-Montfort & Métraux 1925-27: 216-219). Just like the highland Uru-Chipayas, they are described as basing their subsistence on fishing.



However, within this same context, Cerrón-Palomino (2001) has recently called the variant spoken in Chipaya, Chipaya taqu: “Chipaya tongue”.



Personal communication by don Lorenzo Inda from Irohito, several Chipaya, and Pedro Velasco, a Bolivian anthropologist.



For the colonial sources see Créqui-Montfort & Rivet (1925-27: 214) (cf. footnote 13). For end-of-19th and early 20th century reports and studies see also Bacarreza (1910), Künne (1894), Posnansky, Métraux and Uhle.



According to Stiglich (1922) there are two villages with this name, one in the District of Zepita, the other in the District of Puno.



These people, called Uru-Moratos, still have their own cultural practices, but the older generation now speaks Aymara and Spansih whereas the younger generation speaks Quechua and Spanish (cf. Molina R. 1991, Miranda M. et al. 1992: 97).



For the data in this paragraph cf. also: Büttner (1983: 24), LaBarre (1946: 576), Montaño Aragón (1992, esp. ch. 33 & 43), Plaza & Carvajal (1985: 93-100, 185-187), Posnansky (1934: 246), Torero (1992), and Wachtel (1990: 13-14). It is often not clear whether the numbers refer to the inhabitants of a village in general or to the speakers of the languagen particular.



The rupturing of a pipeline which leaked oil into the Desaguadero river and Lake Poopó at the beginning of 2000 is another example of the disruptions the Chipaya suffer (Süddeutsche Zeitung, Magazin No. 7, 18.2.2000).



The Puquina language, which is now dead, was spoken in parts of the Altiplano; the only document to examine this language is a Christian text written by Oré in 1607, which was analysed in linguistic terms by Torero (1965). In a 1586 document (“Relación de los pacajes” 1965: 336), for example, it is said that the Urus spoke Puquina. Wachtel (1990: 605-607, following Torero), however, based on archival evidence, argues that some of those communities who had spoken Uruquilla, became Puquinised and later Aymarised. It is also clear from a 16th century document discussed by Wachtel (1990: 605) that Puquina and Uruquilla are not the same language. The document (“Copia de los curatos”) is from the Archivo General de Indias, Indiferente General 532, and was first presented by Bouysse-Cassagne (1975). In spite of this ‘external’ fact, Uru speakers themselves call(ed) their language Puquina (cf. footnote 4).



Albó (1998), Apaza (2000), Beyersdorff (1997, 1998). A thorough study of Chipaya history, including the analysis of unpublished archival material, is Wachtel (1990).



This information is mainly based on Olson (1967), Polo (1901), Porterie-Gutiérrez (1990), Torero (1992: 183) and Vellard (1954: 101-102), and it has to be considered that they draw their data from different regional varieties. The published materials on Uru-Chipaya linguistics and languages can be described as follows: Bacarreza (1910: a short Chipaya word list), Delgadillo (1998: a Chipaya word list), Cerrón (2001: brief sketch of Chipaya phonology and morphology), LaBarre (1941: Uru kinship terminology), Métraux (1934b: Chipaya kinship terminology, 1935b: a prayer, a French-Uro vocabulary, 1935c: Chipaya kinship terminology, 1935d: Andean-Christian prayers with interlinear translation, a myth and other narrative texts; 1935e: Chipaya texts, 1936b: Chipaya phonetics/phonology, French- Chipaya vocabulary, texts with interlinear translation); Montaño Aragón (1992: 101-103, 429-446: summary of some linguistic features based on other work); Muysken (2000, 2001: Uru text fragment and grammatical notes), Olson (1967: Chipaya phonological system, syllable structure; 1966?: verb structure); Polo (1901: the first brief description of some phonological, grammatical and lexical phenomena of Uru, also summarised in Chamberlain 1910); Porterie-Gutiérrez (1990: brief phonological notes and Chipaya texts with morphological boundaries and an interlinear and free translation); Posnansky (1915: Chipaya word list, 1934: animal names); Tovar & Larrucea de Tovar (1984: 47-48: summary of some linguistic features based on other work); Vellard (1949: Uru texts with interlinear and free translation, 1950: vocabulary; 1951: vocabulary, phrases, some closed wordclasses, conjugation and tenses; 1954: 100-103: aspects of morphology, 1967: phrases, prepositional constructions, interrogative particles and phrases, numbers). Unpublished linguistic material forms part of the legacy of Lehmann (1929a-d, 1929-30) and Uhle as well as Porterie- Gutiérrez.



This is a summary of the only more recent and detailed analysis of Chipaya grammatical structure, provided by Olson (1966?). Based on the tagmemic model, it has the form of a manuscript and is thus of preliminary character, which is reflected by the author’s marginal notes as well as certain inconsistencies.

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