Iberian Imperialism and Language Evolution in Latin America

Iberian Imperialism and Language Evolution in Latin America

by Salikoko S. Mufwene

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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.  

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780226125671
Publisher: University of Chicago Press
Publication date: 05/14/2014
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 368
File size: 11 MB
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About the Author

Salikoko S. Mufwene is the Frank J. McLorraine Distinguished Service Professor of Linguistics in the College as well as professor in the Committee on Evolutionary Biology and the Committee on the Conceptual and Historical Studies of Science at the University of Chicago. He is the author of several books, including, most recently Language Evolution: Contact, Competition and Change

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Iberian Imperialism and Language Evolution in Latin America

By Salikoko S. Mufwene

The University of Chicago Press

Copyright © 2014 The University of Chicago
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-226-12620-3


Latin America: A Linguistic Curiosity from the Point of View of Colonization and the Ensuing Language Contacts SALIKOKO S. MUFWENE

1. Historical Background

The starting point is the fifteenth century. Southern Europe was then emerging out of seven centuries of Arab economic hegemony and even, in the case of Spain, political rule. It had become widely accepted that the world was round, the navigational knowledge and technology developed in the Far East had spread, and European merchants wanted to trade directly with the spice growers of Asia and Africa. Just like Iberia (Spain and Portugal) in the west, the Ottoman Empire was then also asserting itself as a new world power around the eastern Mediterranean, in the wake of the weakening Arab domination in the region. Not wanting any military confrontations with the Muslims, the Iberians chose to avoid them by sailing both around Africa and westward across the Atlantic. Nobody anticipated that Christopher Columbus would accidentally discover the Americas, which from the early sixteenth century came to be designated as the New World. But from then on, the Iberians sought new trading commodities across the Atlantic.

The Iberians' ambitions were facilitated by the invention of the caravel ship, equipped with "a large hull for sailing the high seas, a stern-post rudder and triangular sails for directional mobility, and artillery to intimidate those who challenged or refused to cooperate with them" (Eakin 2007, 52). They were now ready to face the rough waters of the Atlantic Ocean, able to transport more goods, including fresh water and non perishable food, and many people over long distances. With the concurrent invention of capitalism, they were contributing to a mercantile revolution that could be compared to what had initiated modest long-distance trade a couple of millennia earlier: the use of rivers and other waterways as highways (Chaudenson, forthcoming). Similar technological progress with sea navigation had enabled the Arabs and the Chinese to become major mercantile powers centuries earlier, traveling back and forth between East Asia and East Africa. Thanks to their knowledge of monsoon wind cycles, they had learned to sail east or west during the right season and thus minimize the risks of shipwreck (Ansaldo 2009). For the first time, the Europeans could now sail to the same markets around Africa and across the Atlantic, in order to open their own trade forts outside Europe.

The leading European maritime powers were then Portugal and Castile, which was expanding into today's Spain. The two territories had then emerged as two autonomous nations, out of the multitude of smaller political/ethnic entities that the Greeks and the Romans had identified collectively as Iberia ([TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] in Greek) and Hispania (in Latin). Portugal and Castile had just freed themselves from seven centuries of colonization by the Moors, the Arabs, and the Islamized Berbers, who had worked for the Almoravid Dynasty. They were looking for external resources to solve their economic problems, some of which were consequences of the expensive Reconquista campaign they had concluded.

Endeavors to settle and develop economic markets (for grain, spices, gold, and slaves in particular) in northwest Africa and the neighboring islands (Azores, Madeira, and the Canaries, in order to produce sugarcane) brought these emergent world powers into conflict with each other, too. Because their geographical expansion also contributed to the spread of Catholicism, popes intervened to resolve the conflicts through successive bulls, the last of which is associated with the Treaty of Tordesillas in 1494 (Clements 2009). According to that agreement, Portugal laid claim to all territories and seas lying east of a north-south line descending from west of Cape Verde across present-day Brazil all the way to modern Indonesia. Spain would claim control of all territories and seas extending from west of that line all the way to the Philippines.

Navigators from both maritime powers could thus prove empirically that the world was round by sailing east and west, respectively. The treaty provisions explain why Christopher Columbus, rather than Bartolomeu Dias, discovered the New World. This division also explains why Spain did not acquire exploitation colonies in Africa until the Berlin Treaty in 1885 and why Portugal had only one colony in the New World, Brazil, and wound up with mostly exploitation colonies, typically in continental Africa, and small settlement colonies on Atlantic islands off the western coast of Africa, in India (Gao and Korlai) and Malaysia (Malacca), in Indonesia (Sumatra, Jakarta, Timor), and in China (Macao). According to Eakin (2007, 53), the other reason may lie in how the two powers were engaged in their territorial expansions: "Spain was the cutting edge in state formation and nation building in the Renaissance" and may thus have sought to build what was later designated as "New Spain," whereas "Portugal was at the forefront of the trade revolution" (indeed, it played a more important role than Spain in the slave trade!) and was more interested in developing coastal trade colonies in Africa and Asia, from which it benefited immensely.

Within a century, the Spanish conquistadores had colonized the Caribbean and the lion's share of the Americas. They first settled Hispaniola (present-day Dominican Republic and Haiti) and then Cuba, from which they colonized the rest of the Caribbean. From Cuba Hernán Cortés launched expeditions to Mexico, and from there the Viceroyalty of New Spain was founded. It included Florida, the Mississippi Valley, the present southwestern United States, Mexico, Central America minus Panama, and the Caribbean. The Spaniards also founded concurrently the Viceroyalty of Peru, which included all of present-day South America except for the part of present-day Brazil that had been allotted to and settled by Portugal starting in 1500.

As noted previously, the Portuguese were focused on expanding from the Atlantic Ocean all the way to the Pacific. After experimenting with sugarcane cultivation on the Azores and the Madeira archipelagos, they developed, as noted, settlement colonies on islands off the western coast of Africa (Cape Verde, São Tomé, and Principe) and a long chain of trade colonies on the eastern coast of the Atlantic, in the Indian Ocean (on or close to the eastern coast of Africa and on the coast of southern Asia and Southeast Asia) all the way to Indonesia (Java, Sumatra, and Timor) in the Pacific, and on the coasts of China (Macao), and Japan (Nagasaki).

The seeds of "Latin America" as a new cultural region, synonymous with "Iberoamerica" or "Hispanic America," were then planted, although from the seventeenth century onward the Spaniards and the Portuguese faced the competition of England, France, and Holland. These nations had by then also emerged as important maritime and economic powers in their own right and coveted all these territories that their European forerunners had claimed. Latin America itself gradually acquired a geographic definition, at least in the United States: it comprised all parts of the New World south of Anglophone North America, the areas where Romance languages are spoken as dominant vernaculars. Within the next two centuries, the world map had to be redrawn several times to accommodate the additional power players.

Although Portugal successfully drove the Dutch and the French out of northeastern Brazil, it lost many of its African and Asian colonies, in particular the Cape of Good Hope (in present-day South Africa), Sri Lanka (then named Ceylon), and Indonesia to Holland. (The Cape of Good Hope was colonized another century later by England.) This hitherto mercantile superpower later also lost Elmina (Ghana), India, and Malaysia to England, as well as Gorée (Senegal) and Indochina to France. No European nation colonized Japan or China, where Portugal kept Macao up to the late twentieth century and where England founded the trade colony of Canton in the eighteenth century (and later claimed Hong Kong, which it also relinquished to China in the late twentieth century).

Spain was not spared the loss of colonies. Central and South American countries such as Belize, Guyana, French Guyane, and Surinam, once colonized by England, France, and Holland, are in the geographic space that the 1494 Treaty of Tordesillas had assigned to Spain. The Louisiana colony was taken by the French at a time when Spain neglected this part of New Spain. The Spanish Empire also lost several Caribbean islands in the same way, although some of them were seized through wars, for instance present-day Haiti, Jamaica, Trinidad, and St. Kitts, as well as Aruba, Bonaire, and Curaçao (also known as the Netherlands Antilles). Later on, the United States acquired Florida from Spain, and Texas, New Mexico, and California were acquired from Mexico in the nineteenth century.

Linguistically, the Iberian colonial empire has remained an enigma, especially regarding the rarity of vernaculars that linguists have identified as creoles (thereby disfranchising them from other colonial varieties of European languages spoken predominantly by descendants of Europeans). These vernaculars, now spoken typically by descendants of African slaves and of the nineteenth-century contract laborers from India and West Africa who joined or replaced them on the plantations, have been associated primarily with sugarcane cultivation. Brazil had started this industry about a century before the Caribbean colonies, with which our heuristic creole prototypes have been associated, adopted it; but Brazil has no creoles. What are the answers to the following relevant questions? Since there is a popular or vernacular Brazilian Portuguese (VBP) that is distinct from (nonstandard) European/Peninsular Portuguese, does this (apparent) enigma mean that we may not have to dwell so much on the distinction between creoles and noncreoles in discussions of the divergence of colonial varieties of European languages from their metropolitan counterparts? Or are there specific ecological reasons for why VBP should not be considered a creole (Mufwene 2001, 2005, 2008)? And why are there no distinct varieties associated with the descendants of African slaves in Brazil, except perhaps for the varieties spoken in the Quilombos (hinterland maroon settlements; see chapter 6)? Why did the New World's only Portuguese Creole (albeit with Spanish influence), Papiamentu, emerge in the Netherlands Antilles, where the official language has been Dutch and where no sugarcane industry developed?

Given the size of the Spanish Empire in the New World, why did the only creole associated with Spanish, Palenquero, emerge, of all places, in the Palenque (settlement of escaped slaves) of San Basilio, Colombia, where there was no sugarcane industry? Why did Cuba and the Dominican Republic, which engaged in sugarcane cultivation, had large slave populations, and continued the institution of slavery up to the late nineteenth century, not produce any creole (pace Schwegler 2006)? Why did Puerto Rico, which also engaged in the sugarcane industry, not produce a Spanish creole? What specific ecological conditions distinguishing Iberian colonization in the New World from the English, French, and Dutch colonization can shed light on the magic of creole formation—although, as argued by Mufwene (2001, 2005, 2008), there are no restructuring processes or combinations thereof that distinguish the emergence of creole vernaculars from normal language change and speciation?

What particular ecological factors in the Portuguese colonies off the shore of the western coast of Africa and in small settlement isolates in Asia favored the emergence of creoles (Kriolu Kabuverdianu, São Tomense, Principense, Korlai Indo-Portuguese, and Macanese/Papia Cristam di Macau) that did not obtain in Brazil? Or is there a problem with the way the putative process of "creolization" is conceived of in linguistics? The same question does not quite arise about Spanish, in part because Spain had very few colonies outside the New World. Those of Africa, namely present-day Morocco, Western Sahara, and Equatorial Guinea, were acquired in the late nineteenth century, during the "Scramble for Africa," with the Berlin Treaty (1885). Besides, these developed on the exploitation-colony model, which was not conducive to the emergence of creoles, typically associated with plantation settlement colonies. An explanation is thus needed for the emergence of Chabacano/Chavacano in the Philippines, if it too qualifies as a creole, as it does according to the stipulations of some linguists. The Spaniards did not colonize the Philippines in the same way as the Portuguese did their Atlantic islands, which the latter peopled with exogenous slaves. Nor did the Spanish colonize the archipelago on the model of Portuguese trade colonies such as Korlai and Macao. So, what in Iberoamerica generally prevented the emergence of creoles?

Latin America is a linguistic curiosity in another way, too. In reality, the geographical colonization of Brazil is still in process today, with the ongoing penetration of the Amazon rain forest primarily by Brazilians of European descent. While the earlier Portuguese colonial expansion into the interior was driven especially by the gold rush to Minas Gerais and by later farming settlements in the Southwest, as well as by the cultivation of coffee farther west and by the extraction of "drogas do sertão," the present penetration of Amazonia has been driven by Hevea cultivation for rubber and, more recently, by lumbering and the exploitation of diamonds. The negative consequences of deforestation caught the attention first of environmentalists and later of linguists, who, since the early 1990s, have been decrying the endangerment of Native American and other "indigenous" languages around the world.

However, as observed by Nettle and Romaine (2000) about this worldwide problem, proportionally fewer Native American languages have been lost in continental Latin America than in Anglophone North America. There are some demographically major languages such as Quechua, Aymara, and Nahuatl, that continue to be spoken by more than 1 million people each in this part of the Americas. As discussed by Hildo do Couto and by Denny Moore, Nheengatu, a legacy of the geographical expansion of Tupinambá (also known historically as Língua Geral 'general/common language' or Língua Brasílica 'Brazilian language'), has continued to be spoken, albeit by fewer and fewer people as the most likely speakers have adopted Portuguese as their vernacular. The overall picture is rather unlike that in North America, where linguists now have only memories of major indigenous lingua francas such as Mobilian and Chinook jargons and where former major indigenous vernaculars such as Navajo and Cree are spoken only by a little over one hundred thousand people each.

In Brazil, the Portuguese colonial expansion actually contributed to the geographical spread of Língua Geral (Couto and Lee, chaps. 3 and 5, this volume) up to the nineteenth century. For a long time, the Spanish expansion also contributed to the spread or maintenance of Quechua as a lingua franca, a function it had acquired as a unifying language since the Inca Empire. And even as Spanish spread in South America, it did not prevent the emergence and spread of Media Lengua 'middle language', unlike what happened in Anglophone North America, where Michif and Medny Aleut (a.k.a. Copper Island Creole) are now moribund legacies of the European expansion in the social periphery. However, while a general discussion of the present kind can help develop the big picture, it hides a lot of details that set almost every colony apart from the others. This is what the following chapters will help us understand, although many parts of Latin America not covered by the book deserve just as much attention as those included.

Unfortunately, all sorts of practical constraints made it difficult to cover additional areas of Latin America. We hope, nonetheless, that the approaches to language contact adopted here, from the colonial to the present period, will inspire future research and more publications. They certainly demonstrate that language contact in the European colonies can be seriously investigated from a non-European perspective; that language evolution did not proceed uniformly even in those contexts where one does not have to distinguish between creoles and noncreoles (see, e.g., Escobar 2012); and that structural change, language speciation, and language vitality (including language endangerment and loss) can be discussed as related folds of language evolution. Finally, there is something to be gained from the depth and complementarity of some of the chapters, especially regarding Brazil; this heuristic model can be emulated in future collective publications about Latin America or any other area.


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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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