Documentation of the Oro Win language

Documentation of the Oro Win language

Language: Oro Win
Depositor: Joshua Birchall
Location: Brazil
Deposit Id: 0120
Grant id: SG0149
Funding body: ELDP
Level: Deposit

Summary of deposit

This collection contains materials describing Oro Win (ISO-639: orw), a Chapacuran language spoken by the Oro Win (or Oro Towati') people who live near the Pacaás Novos River. The Oro Win people were once heavily oppressed and at one point lived with the Wari', which may explain some shared features between Oro Win and the Wari' language. The Oro Win population totalled 73 people in 2010, and the language has been subject to revitalization projects in the form of associations and school classes taught in Oro Win. It is as of yet underdescribed.

This collection contains language materials recorded with six elders living in the Oro Win communities. There are audio and video recordings of Oro Win speech from a variety of discourse genres, which have been used to help develop practical language materials with the community.

Group represented

The Oro Win language is currently spoken by six elders who live along the upper stretches of the Pacaás Novos River in the Brazilian state of Rondônia. Five of the speakers live together in the village of São Luís, forming the only active speaking community. A number of adults have a limited proficiency in the language. No children are currently learning Oro Win as their first language, but there is minor transmission to some children through regular interaction with their grandparents. Portuguese is the everyday language in all three of the Oro Win villages (São Luís, Pedreira and Cristo Reis). In 2010, these villages were home to 103 inhabitants, 73 of which identified themselves as ethnically Oro Win.

The Oro Win people practice slash and burn agriculture focused primarily on maize and root crop production. Their territory is also rich in fish, game and forest products. Traditionally, they were divided among six clans that occupied separate swidden areas yet maintained contact through intermarriage and reciprocal chicha (fermented corn drink)festivals. In 1963, they had their first sustained contact with non-indigenous culture when rubber tappers invaded their territory. This resulted in a sharp decline in the population due to attacks on their villages, exposure to foreign diseases, and subsequent enslavement. During their time in the rubber camps, they were forced to abandon use of their traditional language, as well as their clan system of naming. The majority of the current Oro Win descend from the Oro Towati’ clan, while some of the other clans were completely wiped out.Many of the Oro Win are also proficient in Wari’, a related Chapacuran language spoken downriver. This is due to the fact that the Oro Win were relocated to live with the Wari’ in the 1980’s after they were removed from bondage by the Brazilian National Indian Foundation. Only in 1991 were the rubber tappers expelled and the Oro Win able to return to their traditional territory. Many Oro Win have intermarried with Wari’ in recent years, further complicating the sociolinguistic situation in the communities. Even among the most proficient Oro Win speakers, borrowing of lexical items and idiomatic expressions from Wari’ is commonplace. The extent that contact and obsolescence have influenced Oro Win grammar is a topic of current study.

Language information

The Oro Win language is an underdescribed and severely endangered member of the Chapacuran family. It is spoken by six elders living along the headwaters of the Pacaás Novos River in the Brazilian state of Rondônia.

Special characteristics

The Oro Win language is atypical in many respects for an Amazonian language. The phonemic inventory has four front vowels and only one back vowel. The consonant system includes a very rare phoneme- an apico-dental stop followed by a bilabial trill. The morphosyntax is verb initial, isolating and highly serializing. Also interesting from a cross-linguistic perspective, the language lacks a numeral system, with notions like ‘one’, ‘two’, ‘few’ and ‘many’ expressed primarily as verbs. Little is known about many areas of the grammar, including: derivational processes, deixis, subordinate clauses, differential object marking, interrogatives and verbal number, among others.

Deposit history

The researcher/depositor has been working with the Oro Win language since carrying out an exploratory trip to the city of Guajará-Mirim in 2009. After building a relationship with an Oro Win speaker and her son (the community leader), the researcher was invited by the group to spend time in the village documenting the language and preparing practical materials for their use. Two field trips were carried out between 2009 and 2010 through the project ‘Documentação das Línguas Txapakuras em Rondônia’ affiliated through the Museu Goeldi and funded by the Fulbright Commission (study grant) and the GBS (field trip grant). The project produced almost fourteen hours of recorded audio and ten hours of video, and it carried out a review of historical sources on Chapacuran languages and a sociolinguistic survey of the Oro Win villages. While pursuing his PhD in Linguistics at the Radboud University Nijmegen, the researcher worked on argument marking typology and structural phylogenetics in South American languages. During this time, he also carried out historical and comparative work on the Chapacuran family.

The field trip that gave rise to this deposit coincided with the natural cycles of Oro Win life, since the dry session (June-September) makes river travel difficult, and the maize and Brazil nut harvest season (January-March) requires that many of the project’s consultants devote considerable amounts of time to those endeavours. Previous experience with the community influenced the selection of certain consultants for specific tasks based on their natural abilities and strengths. The documentation project employed a number of different methods in order to ensure a thorough and broad record of the language. Natural speech was recorded in both audio and video from a number of different contexts and genres.

The documentation project worked with the community to meet their needs for creative input, training and practical assistance. This means involving the community as a whole in the process, and not just the full speakers of the language. The local indigenous school teachers were pivotal in this work. They were active collaborators and coauthors in the design and implementation of the language learning pamphlet. They also played significant roles in the community language and culture workshop. Younger members of the community with a passive knowledge of the language were included as aides in the transcription and glossing of texts. Beyond the training needed for these tasks, additional training in photography,audio-visual documentation and computer skills were provided to interested parties. Other member of the community were included in the project whenever possible, especially for practical assistance such as river travel, purchasing foodstuffs or cultural artifacts, and organizing the community language and culture workshop.

Other information
Short description Documenting Oro Win, a Txapakuran language spoken in Rondônia, Brazil.

Acknowledgement and citation

To refer to any data from the corpus, please cite the corpus in this way:

Birchall, Joshua. 2011. Documentation of the Oro Win language. URL: Accessed on [insert date here].


Collection online
Resources online and curated


Joshua Birchall
Affiliation: Radboud University Nijmegen

Deposit Statistics

Data from 2020 May 29 to 2020 May 29
Deposit hits:1
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Showing 1 - 10 of 29 Items

Recontando a Pear Story (Chafe 1980) com falante HO em São Luiz. Retelling of the Pear Story (Chafe 1980) with speaker HO in São Luiz.

Recorded on: 2011-10-07

Conversa sobre seu primeiro encontro com o homem branco. Conversation about his first contact with white men.

Recorded on: 2011-10-13

Uma conversa especificando detalhes sobre o sequestro dos Oro Win para trabalhar no seringal. A conversation about the details of the kidnapping of the Oro Win to work on the rubber camps.

Recorded on: 2011-10-31

Conversa sobre a experiência pessoal do TI quando seu parente Pit Pit Pit morreu de barriga inchada e foi cremado. Trata de algumas práticas funerárias tradicionais. Conversation about the personal experience of TI when his relative Pit Pit Pit died of a swollen stomach and was cremated. They discuss various aspects of their traditional funerary practices.

Recorded on: 2011-10-05

Uma narrativa pessoal sobre a vida no seringal, inclusive quando pegou sarampo, quando houve uma briga entre os trabalhadores, e como só poderiam falar a língua escondido em casa ou sozinhos no mato. A personal narrative about his life on the rubber camps, including when he caught the measles, when he got in a fight with the another worker, and how they were only able to speak their traditional language when alone in their houses or in the woods.

Recorded on: 2011-11-02

Uma conversa cotidiana entre um casal falando sobre seus planos para o dia, especialmente sobre a pesca do Hoto. A daily conversation between a couple about their plans for the day, especially about Hoto's plan to go fishing.

Recorded on: 2011-10-15

Uma conversa cotidiana com sua sobrinha depois que Ti'omi chegou de uma viagem para Guajará-Mirim. A daily conversation with his niece after Ti'omi arrives from a trip to Guajará-Mirim.

Recorded on: 2011-11-02

Uma narrativa pessoal sobre sua vida quando era adolescente morando no Igarapé Água Branca e foram quebrar castanha e caçar nas cabeceiras do Rio Cautário. A personal narrativa about his life as a teenager living on the Igarapé Água Branca and going to harvest Brazil nuts and hunt on the headwaters of the Rio Cautário.

Recorded on: 2011-10-12

Terceira festa da língua e cultura Oro Win em São Luiz. Inclui a oficina sobre a língua e ortografia e também ensaios de música e dança tradicional. Third festival on Oro Win language and culture in São Luiz. Includes a workshop on the language and orthography, as well as examples of tradicional music and dance.

Recorded on: 2011-11-20

Esta narrativa tradicional conta de um jovem que caçava queixada mas só dava o figado para seu pai ao invés de carne. Após descubrir que seu pai não comia o figado e apenas o guardava, mentindo para ele, eles brigaram. O jovem e seus irmão decidem ir à cachoeira. Após cruzar o rio e descer, eles viram os grupos Wari' Oro Eo', Oro At e Oro Nao', conhecidos pelos Oro Win como mesquinhos. This traditional narrative tells of a young man who would hunt peccaries but only give the liver to his father instead of meat. After finding the liver hidden and rotten, with the father lying about eating it, they fight. The young man and his brothers leave the village and head towards the waterfall at the headwaters of the Pacaás Novos. They cross to the other side and eventually become the Wari' groups Oro Eo', Oro At and Oro Nao', who are thought of by the Oro Win as being miserly.

Recorded on: 2011-10-26