Hixkaryana is a Carib language, spoken by some 500 people, in the states Amazonas and Pará in Brazil. I am interested in the history of this language, but very little is known. Can someone help me to find out when this language came into existence?

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    Actually, no. Nobody can help you to find that out. That is not findoutable. Because languages do not "come into existence" unless they're contact pidgins, which Hixkaryana isn't. Real languages descend slowly from slightly different versions of the same language, and nobody was paying attention when Modern Hixkaryana emerged from the chrysalis of Early Modern Hixkaryana. Every language in the world (again, except contact pidgins) is the same age -- it goes back to the origin of human speech, just like every human is a descendant of the first humans. How else could it possibly be?
    – jlawler
    Dec 22, 2013 at 15:14
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    @jlawler: Also except spontaneously emerging languages like Nicaraguan Sign Language. Dec 22, 2013 at 16:47
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    Lien, what jlawler says is spot on. There's plenty of nationalists making claims for their language being the oldest etc, but to linguists this doesn't make sense. Now there are some related concepts though. For instance it can make sense to ask which languages in a family branched off from their parent before or after their sibling languages. Or when a variety of a language gained recognition as a language in its own right, such as Afrikaans from Dutch. Or which language is more conservative, having few innovations and thus resembling its ancient form more closely. Dec 22, 2013 at 16:51
  • Languages become different from others when communities stop talking to each other. So the point at which the tribe arrived on the island is a concept similar to a language birthdate & potentially meaningful point in time (i.e. the point at which it began to branch from other the "mother" mainland language) Feb 21, 2014 at 20:06

2 Answers 2


Languages don't technically just "come into existence" as they're products of language evolution that is quite subtle, gradual and slow. Language is not only defined by mutual intelligibility - or lack of it - with other languages, but also by its speakers' concept of a separate linguistic identity.

I don't think you could get a precise date, but as Manjusri stated your best bet would be glottochronology or diachronics as to determine the amount of separation between Hixkaryana and other Cariban languages. I can't recommend sources of whose content I can be certain as Carib languages are quite far from what I know well, but you should research what you can on the history of Cariban languages, Proto-Cariban and most of all this new work published by Spike Gildea in 2012 ("Linguistic studies in the Cariban family") if you're serious about it as it seems interesting.


I think the best outcome you can hope for is an information about the eldest written record of this language. Comparative language study with a glottochronological method is a way different service which requires time and money, and more time, than money.

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    More than that, glottochronology requires an assumption of the rate at which roots are lost to a language. But there is very little reason to suppose that this rate is constant over either space or time, so in the absence of other evidence datings from glottochronology are pretty worthless.
    – Colin Fine
    Mar 24, 2014 at 18:29

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