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  • Modern Rapanui Adaptation of Spanish Elements1
  • Miki Makihara

Rapanui is a Polynesian language spoken on Easter Island, Chile. In this paper, I focus on the linguistic adaptations that Rapanui speakers make when transferring Spanish elements into their Modern Rapanui speech. I analyze Spanish transfers and the mechanisms of adaptation at the levels of phonology, morphology, lexicon, syntax, and discourse. The discussion includes phonological adaptation; application of Rapanui bound morphemes; possessive class assignment; kin and emotion semantic fields; syntactic category crossing; the introduction of a modal construction of obligation, coordinating conjunctions, and an adverb of negation; and the use of Spanish elements as discourse markers and the indexicality they make possible. The analysis of Modern Rapanui speech presented in this paper demonstrates that mixing Spanish elements in Rapanui discourse requires that speakers hold significant tacit knowledge of the Rapanui linguistic system. Instead of looking at these Spanish transfers as evidence of Rapanui becoming contaminated by Spanish, they can be analyzed as evidence of the bilingual speakers' creative performance in Modern Rapanui speech and what extends the remarkable survival and adaptability of the Rapanui language. By considering the diachronic and synchronic variation found in Spanish transfers, the analysis also contributes toward the understanding of the process of language change, speakers' roles in it, and the ways in which linguistic variation is related to the phenomenon of language change. Most of the data I employ are taken from transcripts made from naturalistic verbal interactions among the island residents recorded during my ethnographic research in this Rapanui-Spanish bilingual island community (1993-1996).

1. Introduction.

Rapanui, the Polynesian language spoken on Easter Island, Chile, presents a case of remarkable language maintenance. The island's [End Page 191] population, estimated to have been 4,000 in the 1860s, was reduced to 110 in the period of a little over a decade shortly thereafter by labor raids and the spread of disease. 2 In spite of profound social disruption and numerous contacts with outsiders since then, the Rapanui people have continued to speak Rapanui. Although Rapanui was considerably influenced through contact with other languages such as Tahitian and Spanish, it remained the dominant language for everyday means of social interaction on the island until relatively recently. During the 1960s, a community-wide language shift to Spanish began as the island was integrated into the Chilean national economy and migration from the Chilean mainland increased. Now, virtually all speakers of Rapanui are bilingual in Spanish, the national language, and many Rapanui children are growing up predominantly Spanish-speaking, with only passive knowledge of Rapanui.3 During the last few decades, the speakers have developed bilingual and syncretic styles of speaking Modern Rapanui. Today informal conversations among the Rapanui are carried out primarily in a mixture of Rapanui and Spanish varieties, and the exclusive use of Rapanui, void of Spanish mixing, is relatively rare and marked.4 Recently, however, with the increased awareness of their cultural and linguistic distinctiveness from the Chileans in the climate of an indigenous movement, the Rapanui are developing a purist linguistic ideology. They are remaking Rapanui as a public language, functionally recompartmentalizing Spanish and Rapanui, and developing a purist Rapanui register.5

Modern Rapanui is based on Old Rapanui.6 Other languages such as Spanish and Tahitian have influenced it since the late nineteenth century, but it is not a "mixed language" in the sense that the grammatical systems of two or more separate languages have interpenetrated each other. For example, Ma'a, spoken in northeastern Tanzania, is considered a mixed language. It is a Cushitic language that retains about half the vocabulary of Cushitic but has borrowed almost its entire grammar from Bantu (Thomason and Kaufman 1988).7 In contrast, grammatical or structural borrowing from Spanish into Modern Rapanui has not been extensive. Spanish borrowing is primarily at the level of vocabulary. Spanish mixing and, in particular, code [End Page 192] switching-juxtaposition of Spanish and Rapanui varieties-are primarily at the level of verbal interaction. When I refer to Modern Rapanui as a language variety, I have in mind what the Swiss linguist Fernand de Saussure would call langue 'language'. On the other hand, by bilingual and syncretic ways...


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pp. 191-223
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