Patience Epps

Patience Epps

University of Texas

Patience Epps is Professor of Linguistics at the University of Texas at Austin and a co-director of the Archive for Indigenous Languages of Latin America. Her research interests focus on indigenous languages of the Amazon basin, and involve linguistic description and documentation, historical linguistics and language contact, linguistic typology, and verbal art. Since 2001, she has been engaged in fieldwork with languages of the Naduhup family in the context of the multilingual Upper Rio Negro region of northwest Brazil. She is also interested in broader-scale explorations of language contact and change across Amazonia, and in investigating how these effects inform our understanding of the dynamics of linguistic diversity in South America and beyond.

Talk Information:

Indigenous languages, knowledge, and socio-environmental sustainability in Amazonia
May 12, 2023 | 9:00 AM

The Amazon region of South America stands out globally not only for its ecological diversity, but also for the diversity of the languages and cultures of its Indigenous inhabitants. All of these are under threat in today’s world, in which logging, mining, agrobusiness, and a host of other enterprises are eating away at the rainforest and the ways of life that depend on it. And they are crucially linked, as can be seen in a glance at a satellite map – where Indigenous territories represent islands of intact forest surrounded by an ocean of deforestation. This presentation explores how community-grounded, collaborative documentation of Indigenous cultural and linguistic practices and knowledge highlights these connections and can contribute to their maintenance and revitalization. To illustrate, I focus on a particular form of verbal art as it is practiced among the Hup people of the Upper Rio Negro region of Brazil: bi’id ɨd, or shamanic incantation. This culturally highly salient genre embodies an intricate organizational template for understanding and integrating the natural and the cultural worlds in which the Hup people live. An appreciation of the richness and complexity of this genre is crucial at a time when the peoples of this region are experiencing rapid cultural change; missionaries’ attempts to convert the younger generations involve explicit denigration of healers and shamans; and the Hup people themselves are expressing concern that the cycle of transmission is being disrupted.