Brian Best

About Brian Best

First Year MA Student, Native American Languages and Linguistics:

My interest in linguistics began in 2002 while working with refugees as an AmeriCorps volunteer. This experience exposed me to Farsi, Arabic and Latin American Spanish, and led me to South America. Building communicative bridges fueled my interest in languages, and once I began to learn the native Amazonian language Shipibo-Konibo (often recognized solely as Shipibo) of the Panoan language family I became fascinated with it, especially the semantics and origins.

Since 2004 I have informally studied the Shipibo-Konibo language while working with Shipibo colleagues in the regenerative development fields of integrated waste management and ecological sanitation, initially through my undergraduate studies in anthropology at the University of Nebraska, and later with the Peruvian NGO Alianza Arkana that I helped found in 2011. Learning Shipibo-Konibo helped me begin to understand my colleagues' culture and history, and build true and lasting relationships.

The Endangered Languages Project lists 16,100 - 22,517 speakers of Shipibo-Konibo and classifies the language as “vulnerable”. The level of endangerment is calculated at 20%, which puts it on the cusp of being labeled as a “threatened” language. 

Wade Davis states that the loss of a language is the loss of "a flash of the human spirit", "an old-growth forest of the mind", and "an ecosystem of spiritual possibilities". 

Similar to the Shipibo’s territory, their ancient language is currently being deforested, as a Shipibo-Spanish hybrid is increasingly spoken by most children and adults under the age of 50, causing a rapid decline in the diversity of words used by the current generation. This decline is threatening the language's treasures that shed light onto our common human history and experience. However, the Shipibo-Konibo language provides an outstanding opportunity to fully document, celebrate, and share a window into the intricate, yet vanishing, relationship of a forest people's way of life and connection with their environment.

My wife Luz is the granddaughter of Bawan Metsa, a Shipibo knowledge keeper, who inspires and motivates us to help with the documentation, revitalization and maintenance of the Shipibo-Konibo language. Together with our eleven and five year-old sons we have a tri-lingual household and our collective language acquisition further deepens our commitment. Furthermore, our children’s invaluable relationship with their maternal great-grandfather, and our close relationships with three female and three male elders, provide additional inspiration for us through their traditional stories and songs. Luz and I collaborate on transcriptions and translations, and we also provide interpretation services.

Our current project with Alianza Arkana led us here to the University of Arizona to share our experience and learn from the resources available here to help us design and create an online, digital and printable Shipibo-Spanish-English dictionary and cultural encyclopedia. We hope this interactive text will help ensure that the diversity of this beautifully intricate language does not disappear so that it can be revitalized and maintained by our children’s generation.

Areas of Study

Shipibo-Konibo Language, Culture and History

Permaculture and Regenerative Development Practices

Ecological Sanitation and Waste Management

Nutrition and Health

Storytelling and Song

 

Projects

www.alianzaarkana.org

Alianza Arkana works predominantly with Shipibo communities, in the fields of regenerative infrastructure, intercultural education, and eco-social justice, on projects cultivated from within communities that offer practical, relevant and long-term alternatives to outdated, orthodox development models. Alianza Arkana builds bridges. Communities lead.

Research Interests

Lexical and Conceptual Semantics

Historical-Comparative Linguistics

Diachronic Linguistics

Language Documentation, Revitalization and Maintenance

Bilingual Intercultural Education

Gaia Hypothesis/Theory and Geophysiology

Areas of Study

Shipibo-Konibo Language, Culture and History

Permaculture and Regenerative Development Practices

Ecological Sanitation and Waste Management

Nutrition and Health

Storytelling and Song

 
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Contact Information

Degree(s)

Bachelor of Arts, Anthropology with a minor in Fine Art, University of Nebraska 2006