The Archive of Indigenous Languages of Latin America (AILLA) is “a digital archive of recordings and texts in and about the indigenous languages of Latin America.”

The heart of the collection is recordings of naturally-occurring discourse in a wide range of genres, including narratives, ceremonies, oratory, conversations, and songs. Many of these recordings are accompanied by transcriptions and translations in either Spanish, English, or Portuguese. These works contain a wealth of information about Latin American indigenous cultures as well as knowledge about the natural environments that the people live in. AILLA also publishes original literary works in indigenous languages, such as poetry, narratives, and essays.

The archive also collects materials about these languages, such as grammars, dictionaries, ethnographies, and research notes. The collection includes teaching materials for bilingual education and language revitalization programs in indigenous communities, such as primers, readers, and textbooks on a variety of subjects, written in indigenous languages.

You have to register to use most of the archive, but it’s free and definitely looks worthwhile. (Via wood s lot.)

Addendum. There’s a very interesting discussion of indigenous languages, literacy, and the uselessness of government statistics going on in the comment thread.


  1. Thanks for mentioning this. I’m currently working on my undergraduate senior symposium project, and my topic concerns endangered indigenous language revitalization and preservation projects. I’m sure that this will be a handy source of information.

  2. Let me tell you about a Guatemalan child and his parents who I know from the school where I teach. The little boy and his parents recently crossed the border and made it up to the state where we live. (Before anyone gets their panties in a snit, the school doesn’t check immigration status; I am close to the families and know their various problems including lack of a green card.)The mother is completely illiterate in Spanish but can sign her name (important when cashing a paycheck). She is also a speaker of one of Guatemala’s indigenous languages, which is Spanish is referred to as “un dialecto”. Yes, we know it’s a full-fledged language not a dialect. The darling little boy, a first grader, a few times has slipped and said a word in dialect instead of English, though he’s a fluent Spanish speaker.

  3. Michael Farris says

    Just to prove that old adage that linguists are impossible to satisfy:
    Potentially a really cool site, but still young and surprisingly skimpy. No Guarani? (I know, hardly endangered, but …) No (insert missing indigenous language of choice)? nothing from Bolivia?
    I imagine that it’s hard for many linguists to put field materials out on the web were anyone can get at them like this.
    Actually, I understand and approve of informant confidentiality, and a horror story or two i’ve heard mean that I probably wouldn’t make any material I had (if I were a field linguist working in Latin America) available on a site like that either.
    What I would like to see most would be a web-based compilation of articles dealing with the structure of the languages in question and/or literacy, reading materials in various indigenous languages.

  4. You and me both.

  5. As for literacy in Indian languages in Latin America (I get sick of writing indigenous), I only know of bilingual Paraguay, possibly Peru and Bolivia. As for Guatemala, literacy for a child speaking Quiché or Cachiquel begins in first grade and it begins with ma-me-mi-mo-mu, es decir, en español. In Paraguay, even white people of recent European ancestry, speak Guaraní.

  6. Michael Farris says

    Basically no one knows what’s going on when it comes to indigenous language literacy in LAmerica. But I’ll offer some factoids from my experience. I studied Aymara for several years and have had pretty intensive contact with a number of linguists in the general field, which I once thought I was going into (before life intruded with other plans).
    Government statistics mean nothing. They’re either invented or outdated or don’t mention important information. Once in southern Mexico in an area with several indigenous languages, a colleague and I were hanging around after a conference. We visited the local INI (government funded center for indigenous studies) and found nothing going on and evidence of hardly any bilingual programs. According to some locals (met on a minibus) their village had had bilingual education for some time but it was completely non-governmental, not on anyone’s roll of statistics. At a radio station targeted to indigenous people, they had their own materials for that particular language but had never heard of any bilingual program (admitting that that didn’t mean it didn’t exist).
    Effective programs tend to lose funding or are close by executive order, while unsuccessful programs can limp along sucking at the government’s teat for years.
    At least one SAmerican country (which gives some indigenous languages ‘official’ status) seemed to have a policy of sending native teachers to different language areas (Aymara speaking teachers were sent to Quechua speaking villages and vice versa).
    Same thing goes for alphabets (a huuuuuge issue for many indigenous languages) government support often goes to the least feasible, least popular alphabets.
    The big problem with native language literacy is the lack of materials for adults, once they finish school. There’s only so much religious conversion literature or grade school “Juan grows corn” primers that people can stand.
    The biggest independent variable for successful native literacy is _authors_. Highly motivated authors will take the time to educate other speakers so that they can read what the authors wrote.
    Also (honesty compells me to include this) a couple things about field workers tend to limit their usefulness.
    Often they have a “you think _you’ve_ got it rough?” attitude. Hearing of difficulties suffered by a group another linguist is studying, they feel compelled to top it, in order to indicate that “their” group has it even worse.
    Also, most field workers have a blind person’s approach to the elephant, concentrating on one aspect of literacy (perfect alphabet, printing technology, reading theory) and ignoring everything else.
    Just thought I’d share.

  7. I agree with what Toby says about the indigenous languages being referred to as “dialects”, having myself witnessed it in Mexico as well. They are not a dialects of Spanish, rather indeed languages, as we know. For instance, if you overhear a conversation, someone will say, “Están hablando en dialecto” (They’re speaking in dialect). If anything, there are the dialects of the indigenous languages themselves.

  8. Michael Farris says

    Another thing on LAmerican Spanish usage about Native Americans, when referring NAmerican Native Americans I usually say “Indian”, a word I tend not to use at all in Spanish (such as my Sapnish is anymore) or even in English if referring to groups in LAmerica. In some countries (esp. the Andean countries) “indio” is a slur, along the lines of “n***er” in US English. The preferred words there are a) whatever particular group you’re talking about b) indigeno or c) autoctono.
    I believe in Mexico (and maybe some other countries) indio isn’t so bad.
    Similarly in the Andes, “hijo”/”hija” are terms of disrespect in Andean countries towards indigenous adults (I don’t know about other countries in this respect).

  9. An update: the AILLA just got a $350K grant to digitize eight more collections of audio. Maybe they’ll fill in some of the missing languages.
    I like this quote from the news release: “Researchers, especially linguists, use the archive to share data with their colleagues in other parts of the world. But our most important users are the speakers of indigenous languages in Latin America, who can go to info centers and schools and Internet cafes and download recordings of their grandparents and uncles and friends telling the great stories of their people.”
    I’m currently taking a course at the UT iSchool and am floating the idea of a project that would look at how to maximize the AILLA’s usability by those speakers. Although I think it may be possible to underestimate the ability of some members of each community to make it to an Internet cafe and navigate a complex web site, others may be stymied by linguistic barriers, lack of affordable high-bandwidth Internet access, or plain old usability problems.
    I haven’t talked to the AILLA yet. We’ll see what my fellow students think.

  10. That’s good news — thanks for sharing it!

Speak Your Mind