Steven Byrd, Ph.D., associate professor of Spanish and Portuguese, was recently invited to give a video conference lecture on his book “Calunga and the legacy of an African language in Brazil,” at State University of New York at Albany.
Byrd’s book describes an Afro-Brazilian speech called Calunga that is spoken primarily in and around the rural city of Patrocínio, Minas Gerais, Brazil. In the early twenty-first century this Afro-Brazilian speech existed in a moribund state, spoken primarily by older Afro-Brazilian men as a “cryptolect” (that is, a secretive language form used by a subculture.)
The history and origins of Calunga are largely unknown, but its vocabulary provides evidence tracing it to Portuguese slave trading along the western central African coast, known today as the region of Congo and Angola. The grammar of Calunga, in contrast, is based on the rural Portuguese of the state of Minas Gerais.
Byrd delivered a 45-minute video lecture to students and faculty and fielded questions about his undertaking of field research in the Calunga community, different words and word origins in Calunga, and the present and future of this unique Afro-Brazilian speech.