Working Conference on the Lexicon and Morphosyntax

11-15 May, 2015 | Lyon, France


Currently, some 25 Cariban languages are still spoken, from central Brazil north through the three Guyanas, Venezuela, and Colombia. Venezuela is home to 10 of these Cariban languages: Japreria, Kapón (Akawayo), Kari’ña, Makushi, Mapoyo, Eñe’pa (Panare), Pemón (Arekuna, Kamarakoto, Taurepan), Yawarana, Ye’kwana/De’kwana and Yukpa. The Cariban languages of Venezuela are among the least described and (not coincidentally) most resistant to sub-classification within the family. Despite the lack of reliable published lexical data, Gildea (2003) proposed that a genetic unit called the Venezuelan Branch, containing 10 languages, could be identified on the basis of three phonological innovations, one lexical innovation, and seven grammatical innovations that were shared to varying degrees by only these languages, all spoken currently or historically in Venezuela. Many of these features were not attested in multiple languages, but we cannot know if some of the languages actually lack these features or if they have the features, as long as they have not been described in the necessary detail.

Mattéi-Muller (2002, 2003) responded immediately, testing Gildea’s proposal against additional data from unpublished field work she had done with several of these languages. She contributed some revisions to the hypothesis, adding two more languages to the core group of the branch and arguing for the exclusion of Ye’kwana, leaving nine languages inside the branch. Since that time, further testing of the hypothesis has only been carried out for Ye’kwana, for which Cáceres (2011) found that, instead of sharing just one of the 11 pertinent criteria for classification in the Venezuelan Branch, Ye'kwana shares five. These findings shake up the picture regarding the Venezuelan Branch, illustrating the importance of direct descriptive work on the remaining Cariban languages of Venezuela, and hence, the importance of gathering a collaborative group of linguists who are currently working on descriptive projects.


We take two days for each participant to give a talk (in Spanish preferably but French, Portuguese or English work too), on some aspect of lexicon or morphosyntax in the language(s) they work on.

For the remaining three days, we will conduct a series of comparative Cariban workshops (in Spanish), focusing first on lexicon, then morphosyntax, and then on computational tools for text and comparative data analyses.