Matsigenka-Spanish dictionary published in Peru

Members of the Matsigenka community at the Congress for the Normalization of the Matsigenka Alphabet

(April 2012) SIL is pleased to announce the recent publication of a new work which provides insight into the language and culture of the Matsigenka community of Peru. Diccionario Matsigenka-Castellano (the Matsigenka-Spanish dictionary), is a result of collaboration between Irene Chávez and other community members with outside linguists, including SIL’s Betty Snell.

Snell and her husband Wayne began language development work in Peru’s southern rainforest in 1952. Although a dictionary was not originally one of the goals of the project, it became clear that this would be a valuable addition. A visiting educator from Ecuador challenged Snell to compile a lexicon of at least six thousand entries. She agreed that anything smaller would be unlikely to capture the richness and complexity of the language.

With over eight thousand definitions and a wealth of supplementary material, the completed Matsigenka dictionary is a monumental work of great value to community members and researchers alike. Notable elements of the volume include:

  • Notes on Matsigenka grammar
  • Notes on traditional beliefs and practices
  • An index of Matsigenka affixes
  • Useful words and phrases

Jim Roberts, SIL Americas Area Director, observes:

The Matsigenka Dictionary (Peru) is an outstanding example of SIL's historic commitment to serving minority language communities. This dictionary is a key element for preserving a record of the language and cultural heritage of the Matsigenka. Most importantly, we in SIL hope this dictionary will encourage the approximately twelve thousand members of the Matsigenka community to continue to develop the use of their own language in social, business and educational domains. We also hope the Matsigenka dictionary will help to highlight the contribution the Matsigenka language and people make to the multicultural tapestry that is Peru.

In the foreword to the dictionary, Snell describes the process:

Little by little, syllable by syllable, word by word, slower than the famous tortoise, a door began to open to a world that had seemed impenetrable and at the same time drew us in. Thus, we began walking in the dark on the journey of a lifetime, a journey interrupted by illnesses, the birth of two daughters and the death of our parents and sometimes diverted by our own inabilities, other times by our preoccupation with other things. Even now, so many years later, the eliciting of data, the refining of definitions and improvement of explanations hasn’t stopped. But the time has come for the owners’ hands to touch the riches which have been removed from the “inexhaustible mine” which is their mother tongue. An invitation is made to other linguistic “miners” who are interested in continuing the search for the keys to the mysteries that are waiting to be solved.

A previously released volume, Pequeño Diccionario Machiguenga-Castellano, provided a brief introduction to the vocabulary and grammar of the language. Another, Tata onkantakera niagantsipage anianeegiku (Diccionario Escolar Machiguenga), was designed for use in the Matsigenka-Spanish bilingual education program for school children.

The Matsigenka-Spanish dictionary is available for free download from SIL Peru.

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