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Review of Moseteno Vocabulary and Treatises

Moseteno Vocabulary and Treatises. Benigno Bibolotti, Priest of the Franciscan Mission of Inmaculada Concepción de Covendo in Bolivia. From an Unpublished manuscript in possession of Northwestern University Library. With an Introduction by Rudolph Schuller. Northwestern University: Evanston and Chicago, 1917. pp. cxiii, 141, facsimile, map of Bolivia.

The external facts leading up to the publication of this sumptuously printed volume are given by Dr. Schuller in his preface: “Northwestern University Library possesses a fairly large collection of unpublished Spanish manuscripts which are probably unique in the United States . . . Professor Lichtenstein, Librarian of Northwestern University, acquired this material, consisting of books, pamphlets, early periodicals and the like, from Señor Donato Lanza y Lanza during a sojourn in Bolivia. In September, 1916, Professor Lichtenstein asked me to arrange and collate the manuscripts and prepare them for the binder. While examining the different packages in order to make a preliminary selection of the papers according to the subjects treated in them, I found Bibolotti’s manuscript dealing with the Moseteno language. The unexpected discovery is all the more important since it concerns extensive materials gathered together by a yet unknown author of a relatively little studied Bolivian aboriginal idiom spoken by Indians who have almost vanished. If there are still a few of them remaining without foreign admixture, they are destined to be absorbed completely in the near future by the process of amalgamation . . . Within a few years the name of the Moseteno will be added to the alarmingly long list of extinct South American Indian tribes.” The manuscript is the work of an Italian Franciscan, concerning whom very little is known; it was written some time between 1857 and 1868.

The Moseteno, also known as Chumanos or Chomanes, are or were one of the Andean tribes of western Bolivia; their territory was embraced within the present province of Yungas. More exactly, to quote from Dr. Schuller, “the habitat of the Moseteno-Chumano embraced the mountainous regions to the east of the Beni, more or less between 15° and 16° south latitude, and 69° to 71° longitude west of Paris. Their eastern neighbors were the Yurucaré; in the north they reached as far as the territories occupied by Mobima and Moxo, or Mojo, tribes, and in the northwest they touched Tacana and Leco speaking peoples. The natural border to the south and the west is the range of the higher Andes.”

Dr. Schuller’s editorial work has been most painstaking, and the volume is a highly welcome addition to our knowledge of the exceedingly tangled and obscure problems of Bolivian linguistics. In his lengthy introduction Dr. Schuller discusses first the manuscript; the author; the Moseteno Indians and the Franciscan Missions (“in spite of uninterrupted intercourse for many centuries with the more highly developed culture of Peru and Bolivia, the primitive tribes, like the Moseteno, Tacana, Leco, Araona, etc., were not much influenced”); and gives a critical analysis of previous writings on Moseteno. Pages xxviii to xcv of the introduction give a digest in English of our present knowledge of Moseteno, as based on Bibolotti and other writers (Weddell, Heath, Armentia). This section includes notes on phonetics; vocabularies, grammatical processes (nouns: number, gender, formation of nouns, grammatical cases; adjectives; pronouns: personal, possessive, relative and demonstrative, indefinite, interrogative; numerals; adverbs; prepositions; conjunctions; verbs: verbal stems, classification of verbs, tenses, the imperative mood, the participal mood, other moods); and general observations on suffixes, reduplication, and affiliated languages and peoples. Of the three appendices, one is devoted to a full bibliography of manuscript and printed sources. The body of the work is a transcription of Bibolotti’s Spanish text (Spanish-Moseteno vocabulary and supplementary papers).

A few of the more interesting points may be noted here. Sex gender is indicated in nouns and adjectives by distinctive suffixes (e.g., izanqui-t “baby boy:” izanqui-s “baby girl;” moči-t “new” m.: moči-s “new” f.). There is a genitive suffix in -s or -si, also a number of local case suffixes. The curiously widespread American second person singular in m- meets us here once more (mi “thou”). Pronouns are not welded with the verb stem, but occur independently (e.g., ye queti “I plant”). A considerable number of verbal suffixes have been isolated by Dr. Schuller, but more intensive study of Moseteno, at first hand, if possible, is needed to make clear their functions. Phonetically, Moseteno would seem to be “far from agreeable to the ear;” it has many “clusters of totally heterogeneous consonants.” In this respect it differs from Tacana, Cavineño and other languages of the Bolivian highlands, approaching the “Chaco-Guaycurú linguistic family, although it does not have the slightest affinity with the latter.” Nevertheless, Dr. Schuller finds that “the morphological and syntactical structure convey the impression that the Moseteno is related to the Tacaan group, and particularly to the Cavineño.”

Dr. Schuller leaves no doubt of the thoroughness of his task, and students of American linguistics owe him a very real debt of gratitude. Perhaps one may be pardoned, however, for expressing the wish that penetrating first-hand phonetic and morphological studies of a number of South American languages, of a standard corresponding to some already accessible for certain North American languages, be vouchsafed to us in the course of time. These interminable vocabularies, grammatical notes, and classificatory speculations are, let us hope, but the harbingers of more substantial meals.

E. Sapir



This work is in the public domain in the United States because it was published before January 1, 1924.

The author died in 1939, so this work is also in the public domain in countries and areas where the copyright term is the author's life plus 75 years or less. This work may also be in the public domain in countries and areas with longer native copyright terms that apply the rule of the shorter term to foreign works.