Language Policy

, Volume 17, Issue 4, pp 523–543 | Cite as

Signs of status: language policy, revitalization, and visibility in urban Amazonia

  • Sarah ShulistEmail author
Original Paper


This paper examines the implications and implementation of official language policy designed to support endangered Indigenous languages in the municipality of São Gabriel da Cachoeira, Amazonas, Brazil. The policy, in place since late 2001, declared three of the region’s many Indigenous languages (Nheengatú, Tukano, and Baniwa) to be “co-official” at the local level; the practical implementation of this policy, however, has remained limited. I specifically use the linguistic landscape of the city of São Gabriel as an entry point for considering the contested ideologies relating to the use of this official language policy as a strategy for language revitalization, and how some actors in the city have responded to the limited “top-down” implementation by creating space for the use of these languages in public and prestigious settings. I argue that the impact of the policy must be considered not simply in direct examination of the degree to which its articles have been implemented, but also in relation to the semiotic possibilities that it has created for Indigenous people and their allies in language activism. Signage in the official Indigenous languages reveals that the official language policy is embedded in a series of linguistic ideologies that make its implementation (or lack thereof) a complex question.


Linguistic landscape Language revitalization Northwest amazon Language ideologies Indigenous languages 



Funding for this research was provided by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council Canada Graduate Scholarship, the University of Western Ontario Department of Anthropology, and the Regna Darnell Scholarship. Institutional support was also provided by Ana Carla Bruno and the Instituto Nacional das Pesquisas Amazonicas, and the Federação das Organizações Indígenas do Rio Negro. I am grateful to Tania Granadillo and Kim Clark for extensive comments on previous drafts of this article, as well as to Jenny Davis for organizing (and inviting me to) the American Anthropological Association panel where I began considering these ideas, and to Jocelyn Ahlers and Anthony K. Webster for comments on that presentation that have strengthened the final version. Any mistakes are entirely my own.


  1. Ahlers, J. C. (2006). Framing discourse: Creating community through native language use. Journal of Linguistic Anthropology, 16(1), 58–75.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Aikhenvald, A. Y. (2012). Languages of the amazon. Oxford: Oxford University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Andrello, G. (2010). Falas, objetos e corpos: Autores indígenas no alto rio Negro. Revista Brasileira de Ciências Sociais, 25(73), 5–26.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Benton, R. (1999). Maori language revitalization. Final Report, WellingtonGoogle Scholar
  5. Chernela, J. M. (2004). The politics of language acquisition: Language learning as social modeling in the Northwest Amazon. Women and Language, 27(1), 13–21.Google Scholar
  6. Chernela, J. M. (2013). Toward an East Tukano Ethnolinguistics: Metadiscursive practices, identity, and sustained linguistic diversity in the Vaupés Basin of Brazil and Colombia. In P. Epps & K. Stenzel (Eds.), Upper Rio Negro: Cultural and linguistic interaction in Northwestern Amazonia (pp. 197–244). Rio de Janeiro: Museu Nacional, Museu do Índio/FUNAI.Google Scholar
  7. Coupland, N. (2010). Welsh linguistic landscapes “from above” and “from below”. In A. Jaworski & C. Thurlow (Eds.), Semiotic landscapes: Language, image, space. Advances in sociolinguistics (pp. 77–101). London: Continuum.Google Scholar
  8. Coupland, N. (2012). Bilingualism on display: The framing of welsh and english in welsh public spaces. Language in Society, 41(1), 1–27.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. da Cruz, A. (2011). Fonologia e gramática do nheengatú: A língua geral falada pelos povos Baré, Warekena, e Baniwa. Ph.D. Dissertation, Vrije Universiteit, Amsterdam.Google Scholar
  10. Daveluy, M., & Ferguson, J. (2009). Scripted urbanity in the Canadian North. Journal of Linguistic Anthropology, 19(1), 78–100.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. de Oliveira, G. M., & de Almeida, A. W. B. (2007). Terra das línguas: Lei municipal de oficialização de línguas indígenas, São Gabriel da Cachoeira, Amazonas. Manaus: PPGSCA-UFAM/Fundação Ford.Google Scholar
  12. Epps, P., & Stenzel, K. (Eds.). (2013). Upper Rio Negro: Cultural and linguistic interaction in Northwestern Amazonia. Rio de Janeiro: Museu Nacional, Museu do Índio/FUNAI.Google Scholar
  13. Fleming, L. (2009). Indigenous language literacies of the Northwest Amazon. Working Papers in Educational Linguistics, 24(1), 35–59.Google Scholar
  14. Fleming, L. (2010). From patrilects to performatives: Linguistic exogamy and language shift in the Northwest Amazon. Ph.D. Dissertation, University of Pennsylvania.Google Scholar
  15. FOIRN/ISA. (2006). Mapa-livro povos indígenas do Rio Negro: Uma introdução à diversidade socioambiental do noroeste da Amazônia Brasileira. São Paulo: FOIRN/ISA.Google Scholar
  16. Freire, J. R. B., & Rosa, M. C. (Eds.). (2003). Linguas gerais: Politica linguistica e catequese na america do Sul no periodo colonial. Rio de Janeiro: Editora da Universidade do Estado do Rio de Janeiro.Google Scholar
  17. Gorter, D. (2006). Linguistic landscape: A new approach to multilingualism. Philadelphia: Multilingual Matters.Google Scholar
  18. Gustafson, B., Guerrero, F. J., & Jiménez, A. (2016). Policy and politics of language revitalization in Latin America and the Caribbean. In S. M. Colonel-Molina & T. L. McCarty (Eds.), Indigenous language revitalization in the Americas (pp. 36–51). New York: Routledge.Google Scholar
  19. Heller, M., & Duchêne, A. (2007). Discourses of endangerment: Ideology and interest in the defence of languages. London: Continuum.Google Scholar
  20. Hornberger, N. H., & McCarty, T. L. (2012). Globalization from the bottom up: Indigenous language planning and policy across time, space, and place. International Multilingual Research Journal, 6(1), 1–7.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Hugh-Jones, S. (2010). Entre l’image et l’écrit. La politique tukano de patrimonialisation en Amazonie (trans: Pierre D.). Cahiers des Amériques latines 12(63–64), 195–227.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Instituto Brasileiro de Geografia e Estatística. (2010). Censo 2010: Resultados. Accessed October 10, 2012.
  23. Irvine, J. T. (1989). When talk isn’t cheap: Language and political economy. American Ethnologist, 16(2), 248–267.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Jackson, J. E. (1983). The fish people: Linguistic exogamy and tukanoan identity in Northwest Amazonia. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Jackson, J. E. (1989). Language identity of the Colombian Vaupés Indians. In R. Bauman & J. Sherzer (Eds.), Explorations in the ethnography of speaking (2nd ed., pp. 50–64). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Jaworski, A., & Thurlow, C. (Eds.). (2010). Semiotic landscapes: Language, image, space. Advances in sociolinguistics. London: Continuum International Publisher.Google Scholar
  27. Landry, R., & Bourhis, R. (1997). Linguistic landscape and ethnolinguistic vitality. Journal of Language and Social Psychology, 16(1), 23–49.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Leeman, J., & Modan, G. (2009). Commodified language in Chinatown: A contextualized approach to linguistic landscape1. Journal of Sociolinguistics, 13(3), 332–362.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Maia, P. (2009). “Desequilibrando o convencional”: Estética e ritual com os Baré (Amazonas, Brasil). Ph.D. Dissertation, Universidade Federal de Rio de Janeiro.Google Scholar
  30. McCarty, T. L. (Ed.). (2011). Ethnography and language policy. New York: Routledge.Google Scholar
  31. Meek, B. A. (2011). We are our language: An ethnography of language revitalization in a Northern Athabaskan community. Tucson: University of Arizona Press.Google Scholar
  32. Milroy, J. (2001). Language ideologies and the consequences of standardization. Journal of Sociolinguistics, 5(4), 530–555.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Pietikëinen, S., Lane, P., Salo, H., & Laihiala-Kankainen, S. (2011). Frozen actions in the arctic linguistic landscape: A nexus analysis of language processes in visual space. International Journal of Multilingualism, 8(4), 277–298.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Ramos, A. R. (1998). Indigenism: Ethnic politics in Brazil. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press.Google Scholar
  35. Ramos, A. R. (2003). The special (or specious?) status of Brazilian Indians. Citizenship Studies, 7(4), 401–420.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Romaine, S. (2002a). The impact of language policy on endangered languages. International Journal on Multicultural Societies, 4(2), 217.Google Scholar
  37. Romaine, S. (2002b). Signs of identity, signs of discord: Glottal goofs and the green grocer’s glottal in debates on Hawaiian orthography. Journal of Linguistic Anthropology, 12(2), 189–224.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Shohamy, E., & Gorter, D. (2008). Linguistic landscape: Expanding the scenery. London: Routledge.Google Scholar
  39. Shulist, S. (2013). Collaborating on language: Contrasting the theory and practice of collaboration in linguistics and anthropology. Collaborative Anthropologies, 6(1), 1–29.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Shulist, S. (2016). “Graduated authenticity”: Multilingualism, revitalization, and identity in the Northwest Amazon. Language and Communication, 47, 112–123.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Shulist, S. (2018). Transforming indigeneity: Urbanization and language revitalization in the Brazilian Amazon. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Sorensen, A. P. (1967). Multilingualism in the Northwest Amazon. American Anthropologist, 69(6), 670–684.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Spolsky, B. (Ed.). (2012). The Cambridge handbook of language policy. Cambridge handbooks in language and linguistics. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  44. Stenzel, K. (2005). Multilingualism in the Northwest Amazon, revisisted. In memorias del congreso de idiomas indígenas de Latinoamérica. Austin: University of Texas at Austin.Google Scholar
  45. Woolard, K. A. (1998). Introduction: Language ideology as a field of inquiry. In B. B. Schieffelin, K. A. Woolard, & P. V. Kroskrity (Eds.), Language ideologies: Practice and theory (pp. 3–50). Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  46. Wortham, S. (2012). Beyond macro and micro in the linguistic anthropology of education. Anthropology and Education Quarterly, 43(2), 128–137.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Wright, R. (1992). História indígena do noroeste da Amazônia: Hipóteses, questões, e perspectivas. In M. C. da Cunha (Ed.), História dos índios no Brasil (pp. 253–265). São Paulo: Companhia das Letras.Google Scholar
  48. Wright, R. (1998). Cosmos, self, and history in Baniwa religion: For those unborn. Austin: University of Texas Press.Google Scholar
  49. Wright, R. (2009). The art of being crente: The Baniwa protestant ethic and the spirit of sustainable development. Identities, 16(2), 202–226.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V., part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Anthropology, Economics and Political ScienceMacEwan UniversityEdmontonCanada

Personalised recommendations