Preservation and Access: Documenting Endangered Languages - Preservation

Period of Performance

7/1/2012 - 12/31/2015

Funding Totals

$70,937.00 (approved)
$70,937.00 (awarded)

Desano Collaborative Project (639:3): Collection of Audio-Video Material and Texts

FAIN: PD-50023-12

RIT (Rochester, NY 14623-5698)
Wilson de Lima Silva (Project Director: December 2011 to May 2016)

documentation of Desano, an endangered Eastern Tukanoan language spoken in the northwestern Amazonian region of Colombia and Brazil. The project would create a corpus of recordings, transcriptions, and translations of the variety of Desano spoken in Colombia, and, ultimately, produce a dictionary and grammar of this language.

The Desano Collaborative Project (DCP) is a two-year, team-based project that will document Desano language and oral traditions, and support community members with training about language documentation. The focus of this documentation project will be the Desano communities in Colombia. Desano is spoken by 200-300 individuals in northwestern Amazonia, in Colombia and Brazil. It is a member of the Eastern branch of the Tukanoan family, a group of some 20 languages spoken in Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador and Peru. Desano is one of the few languages in the family with speakers living in communities spread out in a wide geographical area comprising the three main rivers in the region: Vaupés, Papuri and Tiquié. It is in direct contact with other Eastern Tukanoan languages and with languages of other families (e.g., Makuan and Arawakan). Desano data will provide information that can be used by linguists to distinguish grammatical features inherited from Proto-Tukanoan from features acquired due to contact with other languages of the region. In addition, work on the language conducted during the past three years has revealed a number of typologically intriguing features that will be of broader linguistic interest. This collaborative project has three main documentation goals: (1) production of a high-quality textual and audio-visual corpus of Desano, with a focus on oral traditions; (2) the preparation of a Desano language database; and (3) provision of a collection of interlinearized texts and lexicon with English/Portuguese/Spanish translations. In addition, this project will actively support community efforts in language revitalization, by providing training to community members in aspects of language documentation, which is urgently needed in the Desano communities in Colombia. Meaningful collaborations with Desanos and Colombian linguists are an important part of this project. This will be the first language documentation project engaging the Desanos living in traditional communities in Colombia.

Media Coverage

No Loss for Words (Media Coverage)
Publication: USC Donsife News
Date: 1/15/2014
Abstract: USC Dornsife senior Evangeline Alva travels to the Amazon as a research assistant of the Desano Language Documentation Project, directed by Dr. Wilson Silva, a linguist at the Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT). Dr. Silva’s project, currently funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities’s grant for the Documentation of Endangered Languages (NEH-DEL), aims to document Desano, an indigenous language, spoken in Brazil and Colombia.
URL: /

Saving Language, Preserving Culture (Media Coverage)
Author(s): Vienna McGrain
Publication: RIT athenaeum
Date: 5/22/2014
Abstract: RIT linguist Wilson Silva treks through the Amazon to document dying languages
URL: http://