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» Kawapanan Languages

Kawapanan Languages

Over the past five years, Professor Pilar Valenzuela has led a project to document the endangered Kawapanan languages of Peru. Her work includes a trilingual dictionary (Shiwilu-English-Spanish), video and audio tapes containing different types of Shiwilu and Shawi texts that have been processed to varying degrees, the description of certain phonological and grammatical features of Kawapanan (especially Shiwilu). The project has been primarily funded by the National Science Foundation (DEL 0853281).

Shiwilu (a.k.a. Jebero (jeb)) and Shawi (a.k.a. Chayahuita (cbt)) are the extant members of the little-known Kawapanan family of languages from northeastern Peru.

Shwilu is a severely endangered language, with only approximately 30 fluent speakers left, whose ages range from 57 to over 90 years old. All of the speakers are bilingual in Spanish with most concentrated in the town of Jeberos and neighboring villages (Jeberos District, Alto Amazonas Province, Loreto Department).  A younger generation, approximately 40 years of age and older, includes a few passive speakers. Shiwilu has not been passed on to children for several decades, and thus younger community members do not speak or understand their ethnic language at all.

For the Shiwilu, their language is an undisputable mark of their distinct identity that most wish to preserve. This ethno-linguistic documentation aims to help them strengthen their ethnic identity and pride, which may in turn have an impact on their status and rights as indigenous people (e.g., bilingual education and territorial rights).  Also, the development of a practical orthography and other resources may help them carry out revitalization efforts more effectively.

In contrast to the critical position of Shiwilu, Shawi is a very vital language. It is the main means of communication of the approximately 20,000 members of the respective ethnic group, and it continues being acquired by children. Most Shawi live in some 180 “comunidades nativas,” on the banks of the Cahuapanas, Cachiyacu, Paranapuras, and Sillay rivers. There is also a Shawi population along other tributaries of the Huallaga and Marañón rivers.

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Bibliography of Kawapanan Linguistics

Barraza de García, Y. 2005. El sistema verbal en la lengua chayahuita. Tesis de Doctorado en Lingüística. Universidad Federal de Pernambuco. Ms.

Barraza de la Cruz, Yris. 2007. “Lengua Shawi”. Y. Barraza de la Cruz y T. Rojas Curieux (coord.), Fonologías, vol. 1.  Iquitos:  FORMABIAP.

Bendor-Samuel, J.T. 1981[1958].  The structure and function of the verbal piece in the Jebero language.  Lima:  Ministerio de Educación e ILV.

Bendor-Samuel, J.T. 1961. The verbal piece in Jebero. Word, 17, 1-120.

Hart, H. 1988. Diccionario chayahuita-castellano (Canponanquë nisha nisha nonacaso’).  Yarinacocha: Ministerio de Educación e ILV.

Hart, G. y H. Hart.  1981.  “La cohesión en el texto narrativo del Chayahuita”.  In M. R. Wise y A. Steward (eds.), Cohesión y enfoque en textos y discursos. Serie Lingüística Peruana17: 69-151.  Pucallpa: ILV.

Hart, G. y H. Hart.  1976.  “La fonología chayahuita”, Datos Etno-Lingüísticos 28 (microficha).  Lima: ILV.

Valenzuela Bismarck, Pilar. 2012. Voces Shiwilu: 400 Años de Resistencia Lingüística en Jeberos. Lima: Fondo Editorial Pontificia Universidad Católica del Perú.

Valenzuela Bismarck, Pilar M. 2011. “Contribuciones para la reconstrucción del proto-cahuapana: Comparación léxica y gramatical de las lenguas jebero y chayahuita.”  In W.F.H. Adelaar, P. Valenzuela Bismarck & R. Zariquiey Biondi (eds.), Estudios en lenguas andinas y amazónicas. Homenaje a Rodolfo Cerrón-Palomino.  Lima:  Fondo Editorial Pontificia Universidad Católica del Perú, pp. 271-304.

Valenzuela, Pilar M. 2011. “Argument Encoding and Pragmatic Marking of the Transitive Subject in Shiwilu (Kawapanan).”  International Journal of American Linguistics, 77: 91-120.

Valenzuela, Pilar M. 2010.  “Ethnic-racial reclassification and language revitalization among the Shiwilu from Peruvian Amazonia.”  International Journal of the Sociology of Language, vol. 2010, 202: 117-130.

Valenzuela, Pilar M. & Carlos Gussenhoven. Forthcoming. “Illustration of Shiwilu.” Journal of the International Phonetic Association.


We would like to thank our Shiwilu and Shawi consultants who have given their time and expertise to help document these languages.

Most Shiwilu speakers live in and around the village of Jebero (Province of Alto Amazonas, Dept. of Loreto, Peru).

Most of the approximately 14,000 Shawi speakers live in separate villages or "comunidades nativas," on the banks of the rivers Paranapura (and its tributaries), Cahuapanas, Sillay, Supayacu, and Shanusi (Depts of Loreto and San Martin, Peru).

Dr. Valenzuela has been working on this project with Scott Farrar. He also has a website devoted to the documentation of the two endangered Kawapanan languages.

More information!

Want to learn more about the Kawapanan Languages, please contact Dr. Pilar Valenzuela at (714) 997-6516.