Bringing Yagan back

Andre Cramblit andrekar at NCIDC.ORG
Fri Nov 7 17:56:19 UTC 2003

Re: CHILE posting

Unless there is some other speaker I have not heard of, Yagan now has only
one fluent speaker, Cristina Calderon. Her sister Ursula, also fluent, died

early in the year. I've been working nonstop to compile and re-edit
materials related to the Yagan language (also spelled Yahgan, Yakan, Iakan,

Jagan, etc., as well as alternate name (Kuta) Yamana), with an eye towards
the creation of teaching materials as well as archiving. So far as I know
mine is now the most comprehensive collection anywhere.

Materials (published or manuscript) produced during the late 19th century
include a number of grammars of varying degrees of coverage- in the 20th
century work was much more intermittant and spotty. Very little has been
done with regard to syntax, pragmatics, prosody- I'm hoping to pursue this
when I go down to Ukika (Isla Navarino, in Chilean Tierra del Fuego).

The language is highly unusual areally- its morphosyntactic type more
resembles many languages of North America in what Delancey has termed the
"bipartite stem belt"- Yagan has instrument/bodypart manner prefixes,
pathway/location suffixes, and a great deal of verb serialization of other
types. Yet it is largely case marking. The phonology is mostly on the lenis

side, lacking in glottalized occlusives and resonants one often sees in
languages further north. It also shares with its next door neighbor
Kawesqar an extensive pattern of geographical marking on nouns and verbs.

While Greenberg put Yagan in with his "Andean" stock (and there are some
tantalizing hints in that direction), there are actually much closer
historical linkages again with North America, especially it would appear
with Salishan. While likely to raise an eyebrow this claim is no more
unusual than that proposed by Sapir regarding the relation between
Algonkian and Ritwan (Yurok, Wiyot) in California. Sea coasts are easier to

traverse in any case. And there used to be a language group (now extinct,
with little data about the lexicon, grammar extant) just north of Kawesqar,

where the inhabitants possessed the woolly dog, just as did the Salishan
groups. I don't draw any conclusions here- just an interesting coincidence.

Bringing Yagan back from the brink will be no easy task. But it is one I am

willing to attempt. Any advice or help (for instance recommendations for
models for the creation of teaching materials) would be appreciated.

...Jess  Tauber
--- phonosemantics at

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