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The Language of the Slave Spirits in Brazilian Umbanda: Memories of Ancestral Dignity
Stockholm University, Faculty of Humanities, Department of Romance Studies and Classics.ORCID iD: 0000-0002-4223-6084
2019 (English)In: Shackled Sentiments: Slaves, Spirits, and Memories in the African Diaspora / [ed] Eric J. Montgomery, Lanham: Lexington Books, 2019, p. 177-194Chapter in book (Other academic)
Abstract [en]

This chapter focuses on the speech of slave spirits, or pretos-velhos (‘old Blacks’), that we meet in Umbanda communities in Brazil. Such spirits are understood as old African slaves who may possess initiated mediums during the state of trance in rituals. Pretos-velhos represent the memory of slavery by showing a linguistic behavior associated with their condition of enslaved Africans brought from Africa to Brazil: a particular way of speaking, as if an old speaker of African languages who had learned Portuguese as a second language. Earlier studies discuss linguistic characteristics that distinguish the speech of pretos-velhos from other varieties of Brazilian Portuguese, and compare their speech with literary representations of the speech of Africans and their descendants in Brazil, affirming that the contact between speakers of Portuguese and African languages can explain the emergence of specific linguistic features. This chapter will analyze both recordings with one preto-velho called Pai João (‘Father John’) gathered by the author during fieldwork in an Umbanda community in 2005, and written representations of the speech of pretos-velhos in books with Umbanda ritual songs. The findings indicate that, at some point in time, the linguistic features represented in the speech of pretos-velhos were characteristic of all speakers of African languages who learned Portuguese as a second language informally in Brazilian colonial settings. Moreover, the use of certain phonetic and grammatical features in the speech of pretos-velhos has contributed to the characterization of the linguistic behavior of native speakers of African languages who acquired Portuguese as a second language. Some of the features are also present in the so-called Brazilian vernacular Portuguese (and may even be explained by contact with African languages), other signal the speech of a foreigner. The oral representations can be used to complement the limited written data available to us on the speech of the slave population. Finally, we believe that in sacred spaces, where the agents or owners of discourse belong to Afro-Brazilian religious communities, specific or innovative linguistic features seem to recreate African ancestral dignity. After all, the pretos-velhos, spirits of the light, born in Africa, are always ready to help people who often come to Umbanda temples the consult them.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
Lanham: Lexington Books, 2019. p. 177-194
Keywords [en]
Umbanda, Preto-velho, language, representaions
Keywords [pt]
Umbanda, Preto-velho, linguagem, representações
National Category
General Language Studies and Linguistics Religious Studies
Research subject
Portuguese
Identifiers
URN: urn:nbn:se:su:diva-163074ISBN: 978-1-4985-8598-9 (print)ISBN: 978-1-4985-8599-6 (electronic)OAI: oai:DiVA.org:su-163074DiVA, id: diva2:1270334
Available from: 2018-12-13 Created: 2018-12-13 Last updated: 2019-08-20Bibliographically approved

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Alvarez López, Laura
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