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  • Introduction br This paper is a commentary on the history

    2024-02-23

    Introduction
    This paper is a commentary on the history of language among the Aché. What was language for the Aché prior to contact with Paraguayan society? How has the Aché language come to be endangered? Why is language such an important issue today? In exploring these questions I come to a slightly different conclusion than the elder quoted above. The Aché language is not something that once was there and is now “almost gone.” On the contrary, it Dovitinib Lactate has just now arrived. I argue that before contact and settlement there was no such thing as “the Aché language.” What is understood today as the “real” Aché language, ache djawuetegi, is the result of a number of developments in post-contact history that allowed “language” to emerge as an object that could be talked about, written down, protected, and claimed for identity – but which could now also be lost. But why was there no such thing as language among the Aché? And how did linguistic practices associated with life before contact with Paraguayan society come to be apprehended as language today?
    The natures of language and nonlanguage From various perspectives, the papers united in this special issue explore the ontological variation of different linguistic phenomena in the Americas. The underlying question that informs all of these inquiries is, in the words of Magnus Course (this volume) “whether our difference is the same kind of difference as theirs” (see Wagner, 2016 [1975]; Strathern, 1980; Viveiros de Castro, 1998), i.e., whether the different phenomena that “we” (the anthropologists and linguists) usually subsume under the umbrella term “language” are really instances of one and the same phenomenon for “them” (the speakers of these “languages”). Are the different languages, genres, or registers that we explore ethnographically ontologically equivalent and commensurable – a fact that the use of terms such as “language,” “genre,” or “register” implies? Is the difference between them actually a difference of “language,” of different conventional systems of representation or “different ways of saying the same thing”? Or may Hydropathy plot be better understood as fundamentally different phenomena, are they “different things”? Our comparative exploration of “language” in the Amerindian imagination expands on scholarship of language ideologies (Kroskrity, 2010), taking seriously beliefs and presuppositions about language, but without taking language as the ground. We have introduced the term “natures of language” in order to destabilize the notion of language as a singular phenomenon, the nature (sg.) of which is already known. The English term “language” must be understood as an “equivocation” (Viveiros de Castro, 2004) that might index potential referential alterity, to be ethnographically explored (Hauck and Heurich, this volume). These solutions have produced a vast amount of valuable research, and I do not question the utility of turning the focus away from “language” or of expanding the meaning of the term to include a range of aspects of communication that are not part of the “code,” narrowly defined (Jakobson, 1960). However, for the purpose of my discussion here, and in light of the general topic of this special issue, I feel that both solutions provide too easy a way out of our dilemmas. They both evade the question of what language actually is or may be (Hauck and Heurich, this volume). And they do not allow for a meaningful difference between attending to discursive phenomena as “language” and not attending to them. Therefore, as will become clear below, although I do focus on (the Aché word for) “speech” to some extent, my question is not what speech is for the Aché. Rather, my aim is to productively explore the absence of speech as language in the Aché pre-contact lifeworld (I do not claim they did not ever attend to the practice of speaking or to what people said).