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Dr. Konrad Rybka has been awarded an NWO Rubicon grant. The grant will enable him to spend two years at Berkeley, the University of California, San Francisco to do post doctoral research.

Research project summary

TA fundamental question of contact linguistics is how socio-cultural relations between speakers of different languages determine the outcomes of language contact. Amazonian languages play a key role in this investigation, because Amazonian peoples deprecate lexical borrowing as the linguistic counterpart of miscegenation, leading to globally unusual patterns of grammatical convergence. Yet, these generalizations do not hold for Guianan languages, exhibiting significant lexical borrowing. In this continental context, the Rubicon project serves as a contrasting “natural laboratory” allowing us to understand the specific mechanisms moderating lexical borrowing. Hosted by the Berkeley Linguistics Department, a hub for Amazonian specialists, I will analyze lexical borrowing in four domains across four Guianan languages: Lokono (Arawakan), Kali’na (Cariban), Wayãpi (Tupian), and Warao (isolate). First, I will analyze borrowed plant terms to understand the patterns of ecological knowledge exchange. Second, I will examine borrowed animal terms to determine their function in specialized discourse genres. Third, I will investigate how borrowed star and tool terms correlate with subsistence profiles and cultural specialization. Fourth, I will map the borrowings to locate the Guianas within larger Amazonian interaction spheres. By revisiting the existing hypotheses against new challenging data, the project will advance contact linguistics, and benefit Guianan archaeology, ethnobiology, ethnoastronomy, and indigenous peoples, whose linguistic heritage is endangered.