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Iberian Imperialism and Language Evolution in Latin America

As rich as the development of the Spanish and Portuguese languages has been in Latin America, no single book has attempted to chart their complex history. Gathering essays by sociohistorical linguists working across the region, Salikoko S. Mufwene does just that in this book. Exploring the many different contact points between Iberian colonialism and indigenous cultures, the contributors identify the crucial parameters of language evolution that have led to today’s state of linguistic diversity in Latin America.
The essays approach language development through an ecological lens, exploring the effects of politics, economics, cultural contact, and natural resources on the indigenization of Spanish and Portuguese in a variety of local settings. They show how languages adapt to new environments, peoples, and practices, and the ramifications of this for the spread of colonial languages, the loss or survival of indigenous ones, and the way hybrid vernaculars get situated in larger political and cultural forces. The result is a sophisticated look at language as a natural phenomenon, one that meets a host of influences with remarkable plasticity.  

368 pages | 7 halftones, 3 line drawings, 27 tables | 6 x 9 | © 2014

Anthropology: Cultural and Social Anthropology

Language and Linguistics: Anthropological/Sociological Aspects of Language, General Language and Linguistics, Language History and Language Universals

Latin American Studies


"In sum, this volume was eye-opening in the way that the editor has produced an edited volume that should be read, with a few exceptions, as a volume, rather than as a collection of loosely connected essays that so often defines the genre....Scholars and students of language contact will be both challenged and inspired by this volume for some time to come."

Bulletin of Spanish Studies

Iberian Imperialism and Language Evolution in Latin America is a fascinating and important volume that insightfully and meticulously explores the complexities of language evolution in colonial and postcolonial Latin America. Above all, the discussions and debates by the varied and expert contributors warn against easy conclusions and oversimplification when considering the consequences of language contact, colonization of indigenous languages, and language evolution. Mufwene and the authors are at pains to stress that detailed scrutiny of what at first sight seems a generalizable geographical area actually throws up a series of different and sometimes surprising outcomes, reflecting, as this does, the enormous demographic, political, social, and ecological diversity of the vast region. This nuanced approach and resistance to generalization is a refreshing and welcome contribution to the wider literature.”

Clare Mar-Molinero, University of Southampton

“Together the chapters in this book give a well thought-out overview of the complexity of the social ecologies and linguistic development within Latin America, of the differences between the Portuguese and the Spanish empires, and of those within the Spanish viceroyalties. With this volume, Salikoko S. Mufwene brings to English-language readers the missing piece in the discussion of language ecologies in excolonial regions.”

Anna María Escobar, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Table of Contents


1 Latin America: A Linguistic Curiosity from the Point of View of Colonization and the Ensuing Language Contacts
Salikoko S. Mufwene

2 The Many Facets of Spanish Dialect Diversifi cation in Latin America
John M. Lipski

3 Amerindian Language Islands in Brazil
Hildo Honório do Couto

4 Historical Development of Nheengatu (Língua Geral Amazônica)
Denny Moore

5 Language and Conquest: Tupi-Guarani Expansion in the European Colonization of Brazil and Amazonia
M. Kittiya Lee

6 African Descendants’ Rural Vernacular Portuguese and Its Contribution to Understanding the Development of Brazilian Portuguese
Heliana Mello

7 Brazilian Portuguese and the Ecology of (Post-)Colonial Brazil
J. Clancy Clements

8 Maya and Spanish in Yucatán: An Example of Continuity and Change
Barbara Pfeiler

9 Standard Colonial Quechua
Alan Durston

10 Linguistic Subjectivity in Ecologies of Amazonian Language Change
Christopher Ball

11 The Ecology of Language Evolution in Latin America: A Haitian Postscript toward a Postcolonial Sequel
Michel DeGraff

Subject Index
Author Index

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