Multilingualism, language, ontology, ideology, breath, ornamentation, substance, names, kinship, house-society, shamanism, mythology, ritual.


By focusing on ordinary conversational language, relying on a notion of “group” derived from unilineal descent theory, and neglecting mythology and ritual, studies of Vaupés Tukanoan multilingualism have inadvertently tended to reproduce a Western ideology of language as marking national identity and concerned with conveying meaning. This paper suggests that attention to musical, ritual, and shamanic contexts reveals multilingualism in a different light, with ritual speech acts as constitutive of social groups, names as vehicles of reproduction, and breath as a substance-like bodily element and source of vitality. The more esoteric, rhetorical, musical, or visual ornamentation is given to breath, the more substance, vitality, and strength it possesses.