THOUSANDS of indigenous languages have disappeared in Brazil since it was colonised by Portugal in the 16th Century.

But more than 200 still survive in Latin America's biggest country, including one that was  ''resuscitated'' - with help of its last remaining speaker - by experts at the Federal University of Para in northern Brazil.

Nelivaldo Cardoso Santana, a linguistic professor, tells media how he and his team were able to help 80 Xipaya indigenous people from the Xingu region learn to speak their ancestral language.

''People have long thought that only Tupi and Guarani, the two best known indigenous languages were spoken. But there are many more, with many dialects,'' explains Santana.

''It is estimated that there were more than 3,000 of these before the colonizers arrived,'' he said.

''Contacts with Europeans unleashed the slow death of indigenous languages. But curiously, even some of the languages that have disappeared have ended up leaving traces in Portuguese as it is spoken in Brazil, such as abacaxi for pineapple, for example.''

In the case of Xipaya, the university's work at resurrecting Xipaya was no small task.

The indigenous group had 'scattered most of them were working as farm labourers for large landowners,'' Santana explained.

''They gradually get together in the 1990s and obtained land where they could settle, but they longer spoke their language,'' he said.

The last known speaker was a an elderly woman.

''We recorded her her talking and singing, and we developed a basic grammar,'' the professor said.

''Then the Indians organised cooking or craft workshops with her, giving the food or plant names in the ancestral language,'' he added.

''Today about 80 of the Xipaya sing in this language during their festivals, formulating new sentences, even using it to choose the names of their children.'' [Agencies]


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