Language boundaries, Exogamy, Linguistic Exogamy, Endogamy, Descent, Ethnicity, Upper Rio Negro, Northwest Amazon, Tukanoan, Arawakan, Naduhup


In this article we explore how languages interact with exogamous social units (e.g., clans and phratries) and descent ideologies (such as having a common mythical ancestor and emergence from the same mythical place) to help organize the multilingual and interethnic societies from the Upper Rio Negro region (URN) in the Amazon. We show that the expected alignment of language boundary, exogamous group and descent group is actually quite unusual. Complex social structures involving the aggregation of clans into larger ethnic groups or marriage alliances with other clans have important variations in the alignment of language, exogamy, and descent ideology. Existing alignments follow, in fact, a parametric variation that shed light on different contexts of multilingualism and interethnic relations. Given that language is one among many possible ethnic markers, and that no single ethnic marker is either necessary or sufficient to demarcate exogamous groups at any level of the system, we uncover the function of languages in URN societies in ambivalent processes that creating sameness and otherness within and across social units defined by affinity or common descent. This fluid and dynamic use of languages is grounded in social structure and interethnic relations, while simultaneously serving as a means to reinforce and change social and cultural relations.