The aim of the Paunaka Documentation Project (PDP) is to document and describe the language of the last speakers and semi-speakers of Paunaka, a South-Arawakan language spoken in the Chiquitanía in eastern Bolivia. In addition, we examine how people identify as Paunaka in a setting, where the unifying identity is Chiquitano.

Paunaka is closely related to the other Bolivian South-Arawakan languages Paikoneka, Baure, and the Moxo languages Trinitario and Ignaciano. It is a synthetic and head-marking language and it is mainly suffixing. There are remnants of classifiers cognate to the ones of Baure and Moxo, and some incorporation. Nouns are subcategorised for their possessability. Paunaka has accusative alignment, but a split S system, differentiating between verbal and non-verbal predicates.

The language can be classified as a critically endangered language (cf. Krauss 2007) with ten speakers and semi-speakers, all of them older than 50 years. Transmission of the language has stopped long ago and it is hardly used in daily interaction any more. It is therefore extremely unrealistic to hope for a revitalisation of Paunaka. The PDP rather uses the last opportunity to capture this language before it is extinct. The need for documentation is strengthened by the scarcity of data available on the language. Although several authors have mentioned Paunaka or Paikoneka since the 18th century, there has never been a thorough description of this language. The speakers have expressed their wish to collaborate with us. They are aware of the loss of their language, and feel that they can benefit from linguists‘ assistance with the maintaining of some knowledge for the future generations.

It is argued that the Paunaka people were completely assimilated by the Chiquitano culture (cf. Adelaar & Muysken 2004). Nevertheless, they still identify themselves as Paunaka or of Paunaka origin. The ethnological investigation focuses on the ethnic identity of the Paunaka people with reference to their linguistic ancestry. To accomplish for that, we collect personal life stories, interviews on language attitude, etc. This approach is a modern insight into the heterogeneity of the culture in general, and is of great interest for the ethnological study of the Chiquitanía.

The PDP is hosted at the University of Leipzig, Institute of Linguistics. It receives funding by the Endangered Languages Documentation Project (ELDP) at SOAS, University of London, from February 2011 to January 2013.