The value of language and the language of value: A view from Amazonia

Alexandra Y. Aikhenvald


The concept of value is manifold. Something judged good, proper, and desirable in human life is judged as valuable. Being valuable may have economic connotations of worth—to do with the degree to which desirable objects may bring material benefits. In this article, I concentrate on the Tariana, a representative of the Vaupés River Basin linguistic area in the far corner of northwest Brazilian Amazonia. I focus on how the value of language as the mark of identity is expressed in Tariana. I then turn to the expression of meanings to do with evaluation (“good, proper, as it should be” versus “bad, adverse, other,” or “correct” versus “incorrect”), with a special focus on the danger of otherness, as an exponent of a pan-Amazonian perspective on the condition of alterity. The rampant degree of language loss contributes to additional tensions between the traditional value of language knowledge and the modern situation. The concept of monetary worth came into the society, and the language, through the introduction of market economy within the last two or three decades. At the end, the findings are put within the perspective of Amazonian languages and cultures in general.

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DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.14318/hau3.2.005