Linguistic diversity and language contact in Amazonia: tracing multilingual interaction in prehistory
While efforts to understand global patterns of linguistic diversity have explored a wide range of nonlinguistic correlates, associations with sociocultural patterns have generally tended to assume a correspondence between linguistic diversity and a lack of contact among groups. In this talk, I develop the hypothesis that the maintenance of extensive linguistic diversity in the Amazon basin has in fact been widely grounded in the dynamics of interaction among groups, as opposed to being simply a factor of isolation. I focus here on linguistic evidence for contact, drawing on an extensive survey of lexical and grammatical features across northern Amazonian languages. An evaluation of patterns of lexical borrowing, Wanderwörter, and grammatical diffusion suggests that multilingual interaction has been widespread in native Amazonia, facilitated by particular activities such as trade, intermarriage, and participation in networks of ritual practice, even while linguistic diversity has been maintained.