multilingualism, lowland South America, regional systems, linguistic diversity


Recent decades have seen an exponential growth in our understanding of the indigenous languages of lowland South America – from their structures and interrelationships to the dynamics of their day-to-day use and the ways they are conceptualized by their speakers. These advances highlight not only the diversity of languages in lowland South America, but also the complexity of the dynamics of interaction among speakers in multilingual settings. The region is home to a range of interactive indigenous ‘regional systems’, such as the Vaupés, Upper Xingu, and other areas, where multiple languages have thrived alongside each other for generations, and interaction has been shaped by practices such as linguistic exogamy, multilingual song repertoires and ceremonial registers, and exchange networks. However, our understanding of these dynamics remains limited, even as they are eroded by new linguistic ecologies imposed by the national society. This special issue brings together a set of articles by scholars working in historically multilingual areas of lowland South America, whose collective experience and scope of interest spans temporal, geographic, and disciplinary perspectives. In the face of the accelerating loss of both linguistic and biological diversity today in the Amazon basin and beyond, the multilingual experiences of indigenous South Americans may have much to teach us about how language, society, and engagement with a range of others may be mutually constitutive and even mutually sustainable.