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Calunga and the Legacy of an African Language in Brazil

Steven Byrd

Publication Year: 2012

Although millions of slaves were forcibly transported from Africa to Brazil, the languages the slaves brought with them remain little known. Most studies have focused on African contributions to Brazilian Portuguese rather than on the African languages themselves. This book is unusual in focusing on an African-descended language. The author describes and analyzes the Afro- Brazilian speech community of Calunga, in Minas Gerais. Linguistically descended from West African Bantu, Calunga is an endangered Afro-Brazilian language spoken by a few hundred older Afro-Brazilian men, who use it only for specific, secret communications. Unlike most creole languages, which are based largely on the vocabulary of the colonial language, Calunga has a large proportion of African vocabulary items embedded in an essentially Portuguese grammar. A hyrid language, its formation can be seen as a form of cultural resistance.

Steven Byrd’s study provides a comprehensive linguistic description of Calunga based on two years of interviews with speakers of the language. He examines its history and historical context as well as its linguistic context, its sociolinguistic profile, and its lexical and grammatical outlines.

Published by: University of New Mexico Press

Front Cover

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Title Page

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pp. vii-viii

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pp. ix-x

The word companion originates from Latin, cum panis, meaning ‘with bread’. This Latin expression is a reference to the person or persons with whom we share our bread. My time living and studying in Brazil and the United States has brought me some memorable and loving...

Part One: Overview

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1: Introduction

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pp. 3-14

From the mid-sixteenth century to the end of the nineteenth century millions of Africans were forcibly transported to Brazil. Although exact numbers are not known, estimates of 4 to 4.5 million slaves have been suggested by scholars...

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2: Historical Overview

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pp. 15-51

The origins of Calunga can be attributed to a series of historical factors. Of particular importance are the fifteenth-century Portuguese explorations and the subsequent establishment of the Portuguese Empire. Another key factor is the Atlantic slave trade...

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3: Linguistic Overview

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pp. 52-100

This chapter examines the linguistic context in which Calunga evolved by reviewing linguistic literature on: (1) contact between Portuguese and African languages, (2) African languages spoken in Brazil...

Part Two: Linguistic Description

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4: Sociolinguistic and Sociohistorical Considerations of Calunga

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pp. 103-122

During the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries Minas Gerais became heavily populated with slaves of African descent (African- and Brazilian-born), constituting up to 80 percent of the state’s total population during those centuries...

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5: The Calunga Lexicon

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pp. 123-165

If one asks a Calunga speaker, what is Calunga?, the speaker will typically provide a series of lexical items and translate them into Portuguese rather than explain it as a “foreign language.” That is, the key component of Calunga is its lexicon...

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6: Calunga Grammar

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pp. 166-198

This chapter aims to describe and analyze the grammar of Calunga. The linguistic corpus utilized is qualitative and drawn from recorded interviews and empirical observations. In addition to the grammatical description of Calunga, the chapter offers comparative...


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pp. 199-238


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pp. 239-240


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pp. 241-248


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pp. 249-264


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pp. 265-278

E-ISBN-13: 9780826350886
E-ISBN-10: 0826350887
Print-ISBN-13: 9780826350862
Print-ISBN-10: 0826350860

Page Count: 288
Illustrations: 10 halftones, 2 maps
Publication Year: 2012

OCLC Number: 817540035
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Calunga and the Legacy of an African Language in Brazil

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Portuguese language -- Dialects -- Brazli -- Minas Gerais.
  • Portuguese language -- Dialects -- Brazil -- Foreign elements -- African.
  • Portuguese language -- Brazil -- African influences.
  • African languages -- Influence on Portuguese.
  • Brazil -- Civilization -- African influences.
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