[Colloquium] Specialist discourse, language contact, and language change: Observations from Amazonia

While much work on language variation and change has stressed the role of social context, relatively little attention has been paid to the ways in which particular socio-cultural practices may guide processes of language change in locally or regionally variable ways. This talk explores the role of specialized discourse forms, such as shamanic incantation and ceremonial dialog, as robust loci for the emergence and propagation of linguistic innovations in the Amazon basin, particularly those associated with language contact. Specialized discourse in this region arguably enables a potent recipe for language change, via an emphasis on extensive circulation across speakers, communities, and languages; a particular value ascribed to dispersed and linguistically distinct forms; discursive norms that favor close replication while also licensing creative manipulation; and the social position of specialists themselves, who tend to bring together both diffuse social networks and relative status. Various examples of lexical and grammatical change in Amazonian languages are identified that have plausible ties to specialist discourse.