Science Friday: Another addition to the “details that need to be worked into a story someday” file

From an article in the NYT on the planet’s estimated 3500 disappearing languages:

Many of the 113 languages in the region from the Andes Mountains into
the Amazon basin are poorly known and are giving way to Spanish or
Portuguese, or in a few cases, a more dominant indigenous language. In
this area, for example, a group known as the Kallawaya use Spanish or
Quechua in daily life, but also have a secret tongue mainly for
preserving knowledge of medicinal plants, some previously unknown to
science.

A secret tongue for preserving knowledge of medicinal plants. Where could we go with this? For what other purposes might a secret language persist? What kinds of knowledge–magical, religious, craft-related–might be so important to preserve as secret that an entire parallel language could be invented to represent it?

And another note: According to UNESCO, the Kallawaya tradition of herbal medicine is practiced by "exclusively male itinerant healers," meaning that this secret language is most likely spoken only by men as well. How might the grammatical structure and vocabulary of a male-only language differ from that of a female-only language?

And yet another note: Was this language a "secret" language of its own prior to the arrival of the Spanish conquistadors, or did it develop deliberately to keep traditional knowledge secret from the invaders? Might it have started as some sort of pig-Latin version of the everyday language? Quopechopua, perhaps?

The possibilities simply boggle…

About Molly Newman

Writer, cook and trivia/spelling bee hostess, living it up in North Portland.
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1 Response to Science Friday: Another addition to the “details that need to be worked into a story someday” file

  1. Helena says:

    Whoa. This needs looking into!

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