The Baure classes

1. The first steps towards teaching material in Baures

Since Swintha started studying the Baure language for her PhD in 2003 the people have asked for teaching material so that the language could be taught in school. Therefore she produced various little booklets written in Spanish with bits and parts of the grammar and vocabulary.1 In 2004 Swintha delivered the first part of the Baure grammar (23 pages), including mainly the phonology and the nominal morphology. With reference to phonology there is an introduction to the Baure phonemes and the description of some basic morphophonological processes, followed by a suggestion of an orthography.2 The nominal morphology showed how possession is expressed, the application of classifiers on adjectives and numerals, and locative constructions. In addition there is a dictionary mainly with nouns, adjectives, adverbs and minor parts of speech (11 pages). In 2006 Swintha had produced the second part of the grammar, describing the pronominal system and the verbal morphology with the very complex system of verbal affixation (28 pages). The additional dictionary included mainly Baure verbs and clause connectors (11 pages). Swintha also made a small photocopied booklet with short stories, some songs, vocabulary lists, pictures, and a sketch on Baure language study history. All of the material was very welcomed, but since it was distributed in photocopy only, part of the booklets did not survive very long. The digital versions, however, have been repeatedly distributed among the school teachers in Baures.

Links to the digital material:
Grammar 1 (2004)
Dictionary 1 (2004)
Grammar 2 (2006)
Dictionary 2 (2006)
Booklet To vekori to waworonev “The language of the Baures” (scanned in)

2. The beginning of the teaching programme in 2008

The Baure documentation project made it possible to further produce teaching material and realize language classes in the village. In 2008 we presented our project to the indigenous organization of Baures and decided to start a short turn of language classes, originally thought for elders who knew a little bit about the language. Thus Swintha prepared exercises for the language classes together with Juana Pinaicobo Peña, and in October 2008 the classes began. The teachers were Swintha and Lena Terhart, a student currently doing her fieldwork in Baures.3 The teaching programme was originally designed for one week, every night two hours. Opposite to expectations, mainly small children came, and the teaching methods had to be adapted and changed slightly. After the week all the children wanted to continue studying the language of their grandparents. Therefore the teaching was continued twice a week. The group of pupils was separated into small children and adolescents, and each group would be taught for one hour. Among the adolescents there were in particular two students who learnt quickly and showed very much interest in the Baure language documentation. Therefore they were introduced to the Elan4 transcription on the local computer and given a recording device to collect further data.


Swintha owes very many thanks to Prof. Pieter Muysken from the Radboud University of Nijmegen, Holland, who supported the production of these booklets in the field.

2 Originally Swintha delivered two versions in two different orthographies, because there had not been an official decision on the Baure spelling. The current version has been revised in according to the now used orthography.
3 Lena Terhart wrote her MA thesis within the Baure project and got financial support from the DAAD for her field trip to Bolivia.
4 Elan is a programme developed at the MPI Nijmegen:

Pedro and Leonardo working on their first own transcription
Photo 1: Pedro and Leonardo working on their first own transcription

The language classes went on until December 2008, and were meanwhile taken over by Femmy, who carried on with the teaching until February 2009. The teachers developed certain learning games for the children, such as morpheme sheets in different colours according to the morpheme type for the children to combine to complete words. This way e.g. the expression of possession of objects and body parts could be practiced.

3. Advanced and interactive language classes in 2009

In August 2009 Swintha started the language classes again, supported by the students Pedro Oni and Leonardo Ojopi. Many new children attended the classes. In the following absence of Swintha, Pedro and Leonardo took over the duty of teaching twice a week. Later we did the teaching in exchange with them, and in late September 2009 Femmy came back to Baures to coordinate the Baure classes. Meanwhile the local schools had also got an interest in collecting Baure words (LINK), and we supported them by spreading the material produced before to them digitally.

Pedro and Leonardo teaching (2009)Photo 2: Pedro and Leonardo teaching (2009)



The children in classPhoto 3: The children in class

The Baure language classes are great fun, and the children are really creative in the learning process. In 2009 we introduced a technique for memorizing the newly learnt vocabulary: children had to chose one word each as homework, print the word with colour stamps on a sheet of paper and draw the referent object at home. This way the children developed a somewhat closer relationship to the new word and had fun with it as well. The drawings were photographed for future illustrations of Baure booklets, and the children took them home to hang them up their walls.

tarantulaPhoto 4: shom “tarantula”
  caimanPhoto 5: kochopon “caiman”
islandPhoto 6: echpie' “island”
  my housePhoto 7: niwer “my house”

The collection of recordings is also a process in which we involved the children directly. We made appointments with two children each and introduced them to a speaker as professional students. Then they were to ask the speaker questions and practise what they had learnt in class. The speakers could correct their pronunciation and come up with further new words. The children took the recording device home in order to listen and repeat. During the next class session they could report about their experience in front of the others. We also taught Baure songs in class, which were then performed for short video sequences for the Baure archive. Since all the speakers are elderly people, we could not take them to class every night, even though we did this eventually. Therefore some very short and grammatically restricted recordings were filmed especially for class. The first scene was a short greeting and leave-taking, the next one about counting animals, one more a song practised in class. We hope that through their language classes and involvement in the documentation process the children have started to get more access to the language of their grandparents.

Links to the Baure videos:
Children singing Misishawonoe'
  Short dialogue for Baure classes