Brazil is running the risk of losing its most valuable treasure—the indigenous languages—if efforts are not made to preserve them. The warning was given by anthropologist and linguist Bruna Franchetto, a professor at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro (UFRJ). She talked about the topic Tuesday (Apr. 19), Indian Day in Brazil, during a lecture at the Museum of Tomorrow, in downtown Rio.
“We're fighting against the loss of Brazil's linguistic diversity, represented by the over 150 indigenous languages that are still spoken, and against the process which makes this diversity weaker and poorer. It is estimated that, ever since the conquest, 500 years ago, up to this day, over 80% of the native cultural, ethnic, and linguistic diversity was lost,” Franchetto said.
According to Franchetto, Brazil is home to languages from 40 language families, which can de devided intwo two main language stems: Gê and Tupi. Apart from those, 10 languages are regarded as language isolates, as they belong to no existing language family. “This diversity is amazing. Preserving it and fighting for its survival is crucial. Each language carries a university of knowledge, traditions, art, and aesthetic beauty. It's as if a library were burned down with every dying indigenous person.”
The anthropologist explained that the linguistic loss was brought about by genocide and the extiction of entire peoples, ever since the conquest began. “The genocide of indigenous populations takes place to this day, and it's perpetrated by weapons, the invation of territories, the scattering of populations and diseases brought over by colonizers.”
In addition, Franchetto says, extreme cultural assimilation is also responsible for the death of ancestral languages. “There's a homogenous culture called national, and that caused the languages and cultures of the indigenous Brazil to become poorer. It took place through the work of schools, missionaries, religious conversions, and the media.”
The linguist believes measures could be taken to stop this process and ensure these languages are preserved. “Our efforts have been rather moderate, and incipient. They include research studies at universities and research centers. The number of linguists dedicated to the study and documentation of these languages is still low. We have two major documentation centers, namely the Indian Museum, in Rio de Janeiro, and the Emílio Goeldi Museum, in Pará [state].”
Another topic she deems instrumental is improving training programs for indigenous teachers, in charge of the preservation of their languages in the villages themselves. “Their training is still rather precarious. It's like running against time. We're always swimming against the tide.”
Translated by Fabrício Ferreira
Fonte: Agência Brasil.