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Recent scholarship by Bonvini (2008a:54, 2008b: 101) estimates that there are perhaps 4,000 words from African languages attested in Brazilian Portuguese. In his analysis, these Africanisms originated from code-switching speakers of various African languages and Portuguese within Brazil (Bonvini 2008b: 117). However, in spite of the formerly wide distribution of African languages in Brazil, only little is known about them. African languages in Brazil have survived in various forms - such as liturgical languages and cryptolects - into the 21st century, the study of which can provide important clues regarding not only Brazil's African linguistic past but the contribution that African languages may have made to Brazilian Portuguese. The present study aims to provide a comparative grouping of selected African lexical items of various forms of Afro-Brazilian speech from Minas Gerais, Sao Paulo, and Bahia. The basis of this lexical grouping consists of selected terms from the Calunga speech community of Patrocinio, Minas Gerais as researched by the present author (Byrd 2010), who recently documented more than 300 Calunga terms. A list was then compiled of lexical items from other documented Afro-Brazilian speech communities that have similar terms. The Afro-Brazilian speech communities that were compared to Calunga are from Minas Gerais: Lingua do Negro da Costa from Bom Despacho (documented by Queiroz (1998)), Dialeto crioulo sanjoanense from Diamantina (documented by Machado Filho (1943 [1985])), Undaca de Quimbundo from Catumba (documented by Domas Filho (1943)); from Sao Paulo: Cupopia from Cafundd (documented by Vogt and Fry (1996)); and from Bahia, the different terms of falares africanos documented by Castro (2001) (see Map 1). This study primarily offers a descriptive lexical and territorial panorama of Afro-Brazilian terms of the above speech communities by presenting the forms, meanings, and tentative origins of the words in these communities. Secondarily, this study attempts to shed some light on the history of African languages in Brazil and suggests that Afro-Brazilian speech communities, such as the ones above, are "linguistic fossils" of the African languages spoken in Brazil. That is, such African lexical items provide crucial data that may add some insight to the history of African languages in Brazil and to the influence of African languages in Brazilian Portuguese.


This article was originally published in November, 2010, by The Latin American and Iberian Institute (LAII) at the University of New Mexico via their Research Paper Series, No. 52:

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