LINGUIST List 5.1189

Fri 28 Oct 1994

Disc: New Language, New Sound

Editor for this issue: <>


  1. Dan Everett, New Language, New Sound, YES!

Message 1: New Language, New Sound, YES!

Date: Wed, 26 Oct 1994 11:05:16 New Language, New Sound, YES!
From: Dan Everett <>
Subject: New Language, New Sound, YES!

Dear Readers of Linguist,

Mary Ritchie Key recently posted a note to Linguist claiming that I
was not careful in reporting the existence of a "new language and new
sound", since, she says, these were both known long before.
Evidently, I was not sufficiently clear in my original posting. Let me
take the time here to explain my claims more carefully.

It is certainly true, as she says, that the Chapakuran languages
(Wari'[=Pacaas Novos], and others) have long been known. Loukotka's
study, for example, lists app. 22 different Chapakuran languages.

However, *'Oro Win* has not previously been reported as a separate
Chapakuran language. 'Oro Win speakers refer to themselves as Wari',
thereby making identification of 'Oro Win as a distinct language even
more difficult for the casual observer. Before posting my announcement
of this new language, I checked with all the New Tribes Missionaries
working among the Wari' and with the two of the three anthropologists
who have extensive experience on Chapakuran, Aparecida Vilaca (Museu
Nacional, Rio de Janeiro) and Beth Conklin (Vanderbilt). They both
agreed with me that no one had ever identified 'Oro Win as a separate
language. Both Aparecida and Beth had themselves noted that the 'Oro
Win's language was not mutually intelligible with Wari', but (not
being linguists) they had not checked this out; they simply assumed
that it was one of the 22 known Chapakuran languages - all but three
(More', one or two speakers left; Wari', over 1500 speakers; 'Oro Win,
6 speakers out of a population of 25-40) now extinct. 'Oro Win has
NEVER been reported before as a separate, new language. Royal Taylor
of New Tribes missions took a word list from them in the early 60's,
and he too recognized that 'Oro Win was not the same as Wari', which,
by the way, does not mean 'person', but is the first person plural
inclusive pronoun, literally meaning 'us' - but that is as far as he
took it. He didn't know it was a new language.

Key also says that the new sound, [tp~] had previously been discussed
in the literature, in her 1975 book. This sound was noticed by New
Tribes missionaries in the late 50's and this is where Key heard about
it, as she says. My claim was not meant to imply that I was the first
person to hear this sound. Rather, my claim was, and is, simply that
the sound was not recognized for what it was - a unique sound, never
before reported *as such* in the literature (modulo the similar sound
in Caucasian languages later reported on Linguist). Now, I was indeed
remiss in not finding out that Key had already documented the
sound. As Barbara Kern and I worked on our grammar of Wari' this past
March, she mentioned this sound to me and asked me whether I thought
it could legitimately be considered an allophone of /t/. According to
the data, it clearly could. But I had never heard of such a sound
before and was a bit suspicious. Kern (who has worked among the Wari'
for 32 years) was not aware that anything had ever been published on
the sound before. So I took a four-day trip to visit the Wari' and
hear this sound for myself from several Wari' men. I documented it on
video tape and practiced it with the Wari'. They said I overdid it a
bit in my pronunciation, that I sounded like a "helicoptero". My
claim, again, was that the sequence [tp~] had not been documented
before. The Caucasian languages have a [tp] sound varying with a [tp~]
sound in some contexts, but the sequence in Wari' always involves a
voiceless, bilabial trill, PLUS a voiceless alveolar stop. Thus, it is
a new sound.

Key's identification of this sound with an ordinary bilabial trill
misses the point that the sound is not simply a bilabial trill: you
won't find the Wari' [tp~] at a Pirates game. She classifies the Wari'
sound as type of bilabial trill with an "alveolar attack". That is not
wrong; but the point is that such a sound is not merely rare, it is
sui generis. And in Wari' it does not pattern with bilabials, it is an
allophone of /t/ (in the speech of speakers over 35 years of age for
the most part; it is not found in the speech of younger Wari'). Still,
Key is correct that she knew of the sound before I did and reported on
it first. No argument there.

I think that there is a lesson here: hearing of something or hearing a
sound is having an experience. For that experience to be of any use to
the scientific community it must be reported in the appropriate
way. If it was not reported, then it is not otherwise known. My claim
to have discovered a sound and a language is just the claim that I was
the first person to recognize the *significance* of these
rarities. Anyone working on natural language realizes that we hear
things all the time whose significance we do not attend to. The
discoverer is not the first one to be exposed to a new fact but the
first one to recognize it as such and report it.

I do hope that, in my initial report, it was clear that I fully and
gratefully acknowledged the selfless work and presence of the New
Tribes people and others among the Wari'. Royal Taylor and Barbara
Kern, in particular, have been both welcoming and extremely helpful to
me and I have greatly enjoyed learning from them about Wari' and
working with them on the language.

Dan Everett


Everett, Daniel L. and Barbara Kern. Forthcoming. _Wari': the Pacaas Novos
Language of Western Brazil_, Routledge Descriptive Grammar Series, London.

Everett, Daniel L. Forthcoming. "Wari' Morphology", IN: Andrew Spencer &
Arnold Zwicky,(eds.) _Handbook of Morphology_, Basil-Blackwell, London.

Loukotka, Cestmir.1968. _Classification of South American Indian
Languages_, UCLA Latin American Center.

Vilaca, Aparecida. 1992. _Comendo Como Gente: Canibalismo Entre os
Wari'_, Editora da ANPOC, Rio de Janeiro.
Mail to author|Respond to list|Read more issues|LINGUIST home page|Top of issue