Josefina Bittar is a M.A. student in the Department of Linguistics at UNM.
Paraguay is well known for its unique linguistic situation in Latin America: almost 90% of its population speaks the indigenous language, Guarani. Half of the population in the country is bilingual in Spanish and Guarani (DGEEC, 2003). Although, traditionally, Guarani has been associated with rural areas, and Spanish, with urban areas (Rubin, 1968), this split does not fully represent Paraguay’s current linguistic reality. In the 1960s, Garvin and Mathiot (1968) already spotted what they called ‘the urbanization of Guarani’. Many decades later, Jinny Choi (2005), compared surveys about language use from 1990 and 2000 taken by people who live in the capital and detected an increase in the use of Guarani. Thus, Choi proposes that there is a tendency towards bilingualism in urban areas.
What implications does this tendency towards bilingualism have in the structure of the languages, in particular, in the structure of Guarani? It has been proposed that, due to the intensification of the contact with Spanish, Guarani has increased both lexical and grammatical borrowings (Gómez Rendón, forthcoming). This highly ‘Hispanicized’ Guarani has been referred to as Jopara (the Guarani word for ‘mixture’) by many scholars (e.g. Palacios Alcaine, Gómez Rendón) who have embraced this widely spread term in the Paraguayans’ consciousness in their linguistic studies. More over, the latest publications on Paraguayan Guarani talk about a break between ‘traditional Guarani’ (a variety that only exists in the written form) and ‘Paraguayan Guarani’ or ‘Jopara’, the only spoken form of Guarani. (Dietrich, 2000). Some have even proposed that Jopara is of individual nature and even a somewhat random and on-the-spot mixture between Guarani and Spanish (Kallfell, 2006, Palacios Alcaine, 1999). Hedy Penner (2014) has criticized the idea of a random mixture by claiming that if the only version of Guarani spoken today is a mixture of Guarani and Spanish, or Jopara, then where would speakers get the input of a non-mixed variety of Guarani?
Among many features of the highly Hispanicized Guarani, one that stands out is the ‘hybrid’ or ‘bilingual’ verbs, that is, verbs that have Spanish-origin stems (roots) and Guarani morphology. The mechanism that Guarani uses to incorporate verbs from Spanish has been described as follows: the infinitive form minus the final –r is borrowed (for instance, “leer”, to read, would be borrowed as “lee”). Then, the speakers add the Guarani inflectional morphemes (for example, to “lee” they add “o”, which indexes the third person. The result is “olee”, which means “He/She reads”) (Gregores and Suárez, 1967).
This pattern follows one of Muysken’s (2000) types of “bilingual verbs”. An “imported stem” takes the “native affixes.” Muysken (2000) claims that the formation of this or any other type of bilingual verbs serves the purpose of vocabulary extension or indicates lexical loss. Whether ‘bilingual’ verbs in Guarani are an indicator of the
former or the latter, however, remains to be determined, as no prior studies of this construction exist.
Because of the increase in the numbers of bilingual speakers in Paraguay, younger Guarani speakers, who have more contact with other bilingual speakers than older Guarani speakers, are hypothesized to incorporate more Spanish-origin verbs in their speech. Which verbs are these? Are they replacing Guarani-origin verbs? What other characteristics of the speaker could determine what verb forms they produce? What language-internal factors could also have an impact? Those are some of the questions that are being explored in my research.
Field trip and data analysis
In order to study linguistic phenomena, many linguists look at a corpus (or several corpora), a database of audio or video recordings of the speakers of a language. Thanks to the Field Research Grant from the Latin American and Iberian Institute, I went to Paraguay in June of 2015 to record interviews with Guarani and Spanish speakers. A total of 44 interviews, of approximately 60 minutes each, were recorded in Asunción, the capital of Paraguay, and its neighboring cities. These audio recordings are now part of the corpus I’m studying.
Out of the 44 interviews, 36 were in Guarani. I’m using these to explore the Spanish-origin verbs. The age range of the interviewees is 18-79. All of them were born and raised in Paraguay, they live in Asunción, or its neighboring cities, and are Guarani-Spanish bilinguals.
First, I looked at four of the interviews: the oldest male (75) and female (79) speakers and the youngest male (18) and female (24) speakers. I transcribed all the verb tokens in each one of these interviews. Then, in order to see if Guarani-origin verbs were being replaced by Spanish-origin verbs, I looked for verbs that presented a degree of variability, that is, actions that could be expressed with the Guarani-origin form or with the Spanish-origin form. However, out of the 370 verb meanings found, only 12 that had a token frequency higher than 7 (that is, that were produced more than seven times overall in the four interviews) presented some degree of variability. One of these verbs was ‘to have a birthday’, that was expressed with the Guarani-origin form ‘mboty’ as well as with the Spanish-origin form ‘cumpli’. The rest of the verbs were always categorical, that is, the actions were either expressed with the Guarani-form or the Spanish-form. For instance, the verb ‘to read’ was only found in the Spanish-origin form. Likewise, the verb ‘to go’ was only found in the Guarani-origin form.
I am currently identifying these 12 variable verb types in the other interviews. Once I complete this stage, I will correlate the type of verb with age, gender, and level of formal education of the speaker. I will also consider internal factors that may have an effect on the speaker’s choice.
Although the data analysis phase has not been completed yet, the preliminary results show a low degree of variability among the verbs. This might indicate that if it was the case that the Spanish-origin verbs are replacing the Guarani-origin verbs, the process is happening at a slow pace and it affects only a marginal number of verbs. In fact, the average percentage of Guarani-origin verbs produced by the two oldest speakers (age average: 77) is 87%, and the percentage corresponding to the two youngest speakers (age average: 21) is 79%. Also, this low variability of verb types could be an argument against the claim that current spoken Guarani is a random, on-the-spot mixture of Guarani and Spanish.
The data collected during my field trip to Paraguay constitute the corpus for my MA thesis on Spanish-origin verbs in Guarani. My research will result in a description of the way different social groups speak in Paraguay. In a bilingual community, a variationist (socially-segmented) language study like the one I am proposing is of utmost importance for language teaching and language policy. In Paraguay, these studies are urgently needed, not only because of the majority of Paraguayans are bilingual, but also because only a handful of scholars are doing research on the country that has been considered to have “the highest degree of bilingualism in the world” (Rubin, 1968).
I’m thankful to my professors at UNM, who have helped me develop my research, especially Chris Koops, Rosa Vallejos and Naomi Shin. También agradezco a mi fantástico co-entrevistador, Israel Pedrozo, quien me abrió las puertas al testimonio de gente maravillosa. A las personas que compartieron sus voces y su historia conmigo, ¡infinitas gracias! Pua’e jajotopáta!
Choi, J. K. (2005). The linguistic situation in urban Paraguay: A tendency toward Spanish-Guaraní bilingualism? Spanish In Context, 2(2), 175-201.
Dietrich, W. (2010). Lexical Evidence for a Redefinition of Paraguayan “jopara”. Language Typology and Universals, 63(1), 39-51.
Gómez Rendón, J. A. (forthcoming). Language contact in Paraguayan Guarani. To appear in: Anthony Grant (editor). The Oxford Handbook of Language Contact. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Kallfell G. (2006). Uso de las voces verbales del yopará, en comparación con las del guaraní. In W. Dietrich & H. Symeonidis (Eds.), Guaraní y "Mawetí-Tupí-Guaraní": Estudios históricos y descriptivos sobre una familia lingüística de América del Sur. Berlin: Lit.
Palacios Alcaine, A. (1999). Introducción a la lengua y cultura guaraníes Valencia: Universitat de València, Departament de Teoria dels Llenguatges.
Paraguay. (2003). Principales resultados del Censo 2002: Vivienda y población. Asunción, Paraguay: DGEEC.
Garvin, P. L., & Mathiot, M. (1968). The urbanization of the Guarani language: a problem in language and culture. In Readings in the sociology of language. De Gruyter, Berlin, Boston.
Penner, H. (2014). Guaraní aquí. jopara allá: Reflexiones sobre la (socio)lingüística Paraguaya. Bern, Switzerland: Peter Lang.
Rubin, J. (1968). National bilingualism in Paraguay. The Hague: Mouton.