Schweizerische Gesellschaft
für bedrohte Sprachen

Fieldwork in Argentina (Resistencia, Chaco Province)
February 2022

Raoul Zamponi, Lucía Golluscio and Alba Hermida Rodríguez

Map showing the location of the former Vilela territory, Resistencia and Buenos Aires
The Vilela are one of the Indigenous peoples of northern Argentina. They once lived in the central region of the Gran Chaco Gualamba, a geographical area bordered to the west by the foothills of the Andes, to the east by the Paraná and Paraguay rivers, to the north by the Mato Grosso plateau, and in the south by the Río Salado. Back in the day, at least 2,000 Vilelas were reported to be living in the surroundings of the Bermejo river and in Jesuit reductions. Now, their language is only spoken by one semi-speaker: Ms. Gervasia Casals. Vilela is a language isolate, meaning that there are no scientifically proven genealogical relationships to other languages in the whole world. Urged by this fact, Prof. Dr. Lucía Golluscio directed its documentation within the DOBES Programme (see the Chaco Languages Project, 2003-2006) and since then she is involved in its grammatical documentation and description. Currently, Dr. Golluscio and Dr. Raoul Zamponi are carrying out the Vilela Grammar project. The map on the right depicts the location of the former Vilela territory, Resistencia and Buenos Aires.

central square in Resistencia
The present report is based on Alba Hermida Rodríguez’s one-month fieldwork (February 2022) to Resistencia (Chaco Province) and Buenos Aires, Argentina. The final goal was to describe the phonological system of Vilela as part of her Master thesis, and recompile old Vilela records and bibliography for the Vilela Catalogue Project with Dr. Golluscio and Dr. Raoul Zamponi. The image to the left shows the central square in Resistencia.

 Dr. Golluscio and Ms. Gervasia Casals
During this project, Dr. Golluscio and Ms. Alba Hermida Rodríguez created an audio-visual collection of 12 hours of Vilela elicitation sessions and interviews with Ms. Gervasia Casals in Resistencia, exposing the variation and the degree of language attrition that exists in this semi-speaker speech. This finally contributes to the documentation and description efforts on the language, providing the description of the sound system. The picture on the right shows Dr. Golluscio and Ms. Gervasia Casals in an elicitation session.

Ms. Hermida and Ms. Gervasia Casals
Upon their return to Buenos Aires, the researchers organized and systematized pre-existing recordings collected by Golluscio and Dr. Florencia Ciccone already deposited in the digital Archive at the Laboratory of Documentation and Research in Linguistics and Anthropology (DILA)-CAICYT (Argentinian Center for Scientific and Technological Information), an Institute belonging to CONICET. This could be done due to the training in the technical processes of digitization of old records and data cataloguing by Anthropologist Marcelo Domínguez, professional technician at DILA-CAICYT-CONICET. Lastly, the team is currently working in their systematization in an inventory, which will be available shortly in the Swiss Society for Endangered Languages website.