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  • This raises an important question

    2024-04-02

    This raises an important question: May the lack of ethnolinguistic theories and of explicit references to language be related to the lack of contact with other groups and their languages? For the past few centuries at least, the Aché seem to have been culturally and linguistically isolated (Hill and Hurtado, 1996). Before contact in the twentieth century there is no documented evidence of non-hostile contact with groups speaking other languages and even between ethnolinguistically different Aché subgroups, similar to what Vilaça (2016, 57) reports for the Wari' who also “were not exposed to any other language.” Their isolation might have provided no grounds and necessity for group-identification via language.
    Of words and souls
    Language and anti-language However, despite the absence of explicit metalinguistic theories and of language as an object of discursive consciousness, this should not be read to imply an absence of language ideologies altogether. Language ideologies range from explicit formulations about the nature of language and assumptions of ideal usage that can be read from metalinguistic discourse, to implicitly held presuppositions, deeply rooted in practical consciousness that never become available to discursive awareness (Kroskrity, 1998, 2010). A good place to start here is to look at meaningful differences in forms of discourse, specifically verbal art forms, for which I turn to the work of Pierre Clastres, student of Lévi-Strauss and ethnographer of the Aché.
    The objectification of language among the Aché The objectification of culture is often times one of the side products of the Octyl-α-ketoglutarate encounter. In the confrontation with an Other, cultural assumptions and practices that were once taken for granted, transparent ways of experiencing the world are questioned and thereby thrown into relief. “The habitual, unconscious, unexamined assumptions that were once the background of everyday experience become foregrounded as objects of attention” (Throop, 2012, 87). As Bauman and Briggs (1990, 73) have argued, discourse lends itself particularly well to objectification through its reflexive capacity, the capacity to turn back upon itself and “become an object to itself” (Babcock, 1980, 2), what Jakobson (1960) calls the metalingual and poetic functions. Indeed, language is one of the primary cultural objects in many communities across the world today. However, the objectification of culture and that of language do not necessarily follow the same schema. Among the Aché, important differences exist in how culture and language have emerged and transformed, which I will explore in the following sections.
    Conclusion In this paper, I have explored the original absence and origin in absentia of “language” among the Aché. Before contact, neither in ideology nor in practice had language been constituted as an entity. Djawu as a concept referred to speaking or making noise by humans and nonhumans alike. It was never an issue or topic, neither in mythology nor in everyday life, until the encounter with Paraguayans and missionaries, and their languages and language ideologies. Through a number of interrelated developments after contact, language became then constituted as an object, an object to be abandoned at first alongside other bad habits, and later to be resurrected, in the post-millennial quest for ethnic and cultural continuity and authenticity. I have suggested that this process is best described as the “origin” of language and not just as the transformation of the nature of language, although the latter is part and parcel of it. Indeed, I could likely write a very similar paper depicting the changing linguistic nature of djawu. When I have chosen to focus on “nonlanguage” or the “absence” of language here, it is to highlight the fact that there is a difference between understanding what is first and foremost observable as practice (speaking, singing, etc.) as some kind of entity – be that a subject, an actant, a double, or an object – and to not conceive it as such at all, to not conceive it. Comparing Guaraní and Aché understandings of speech allows us to appreciate this difference. While both of these differ in important ways from “modern” conceptions of language as autonomous, representational system of denotational code (Bauman and Briggs, 2003), for the Guaraní, speech was part of a specific subjectivity, the ayvu or word-soul, whereas for the Aché, djawu was part of bodily habits if anything. These habits, “speaking,” were not attended to as language – certainly not as “a” language, but neither as a soul, a type of force, or a material object (see, for example, the papers by Chernela, Course, High, or Walker in this volume). And if language has entered their lifeworld today, it was not as a particular subject position or actant (Course, 2012), but as a true object in the modern sense of the word, an iconic index of ethnic identity.