Apinayé language

Panhĩ kapẽr
Pronunciation[paˈɲĩ gaˈpẽɾẽ]
Native toBrazil
Native speakers
2,300 (2014)SIASI/SESAI
Language codes
ISO 639-3apn
This article contains IPA phonetic symbols. Without proper rendering support, you may see question marks, boxes, or other symbols instead of Unicode characters. For an introductory guide on IPA symbols, see Help:IPA.

Apinayé or Apinajé (otherwise known as Afotigé, Aogé, Apinagé, Otogé, Oupinagee, Pinagé, Pinaré, Uhitische, Utinsche, and Western Timbira) is a Subject–object–verb is a Northern Jê language (, Macro-Jê) spoken in Tocantins, Eastern Central Brazil by some 2277 speakers of Apinajé people according to the most recent census taken by SIASI/SESAI in 2014.[1] There are thirteen villages that speak the Apinayé language. The biggest and oldest villages include São José and Mariazinha; and the smaller villages are Cocalinho, Patizal, Buriti Comprido, Palmeiras, Prata, Cocal Grande, Serrinha, Botica, Riachinho, Bonito and Brejão.[2]

Ethnologue considers Apinayé "developing," with a rating of 5 on the Expanded Graded Intergenerational Disruption Scale (EGIDS).[3] It can be hypothesized that language transmission is high, since Apinayé was ranked as a threatened language in the past 10 years, but presently it is no longer at that level.


Before the 20th century, there used to be three main Apinayé groups known as the Rõrkojoire, the Cocojoire, and the Krĩjobreire. Each had their own land and political division, which totaled more than half of the current territory.[2] Currently, the three distinct Apinayé groups have been living together, though São José is controlled by the Krĩjobreire, and Mariazinha has Cocojoire leadership.[2] During the first quarter of the nineteenth century the Apinayé had a successful economic growth fueled by extensive cattle farming and the extraction of babaù palm oil which brought an increase in migration. The land rights of the Apinayé have been recognized by the federal government of Brazil in the 1988 Constitution.[2]


The Apinayé indigenous population has had contacts with the Jesuits, military bands and explorers, which is similar to the experiences of other indigenous groups. Between 1633 and 1658, the Jesuits journeyed up the Tocantins River in order to “[persuade] the Indians to ‘descend’ the river to the villages of Pará”.[1] This ushered in the potential of further encounters. On one of his expeditions, Captain-General D. Luiz Mascarenhas was confronted by “war-like” people, the Apinayé, in 1740.[2] Another confrontation between the Portuguese settlers and the Apinayé occurred in 1774 when Antônio Luiz Tavares Lisboa and his band of explorers were traveling by way of the Tocantins River.[2] These early contacts did not greatly disrupt the lifestyle of the Apinayé people. It was not until the 19th century that the indigenous group would suffer from colonization. This was due to the shrinking of their territory and population reduction in the face of settlement establishment by the Portuguese.[2] Da Matta (1982) believes that the Apinayé were saved from extinction mainly due to the fact that the area they were situated in did not have true economic value.[4]


During the initial colonization period, the Apinayé had been recorded as being hostile to European expeditions. This prompted the construction of the military post of Alcobaça in 1780.[1] However, it was soon abandoned due to the successful raids of the Apinayé. This only prompted further fortifications. In 1791 “another military post was founded on the Arapary river” and the same occurred in 1797 with the construction of the post of São João das Duas Barras.[1] Regardless of previous conflicts, the Apinayé participated in the War for Independence of 1823 after sending “250 warriors to join the troops of José Dias de Mattos”.[4] The most recent area of conflict was during the construction of the Trans-Amazon highway in 1985, which was supposed to be built over indigenous land. With the support of Krahô, Xerente, Xavante, and Kayapó warriors, the Apinayé had their lands recognized by the Brazilian state and the route of the highway was altered to avoid passing through this indigenous territory.[1]

First Schools

Schools existed in the area of the Apinayé as early as the early 19th century,[2] however it is unclear if their purpose was for the indigenous group or the general settler population. The first instructional materials for the Apinayé language were organized by the missionaries of the Summer Institute for Linguistics, in this particular case, Missionary Patricia Ham.[2] Governmental support for indigenous schools was established as part of the 1988 Constitution.[2] The current school system of the Apinayé shows that children start to learn in their native language up to the 4th grade, when Portuguese is introduced.[2] The schools are run by the Apinayé community, with some teaching staff that comprises non-indigenous instructors and assistants.[2] These schools further support the hypothesis that transmission rates are high; children are monolingual until they reach an age when they can start learning another language, leading to the majority of the population as being bilingual. It seems like the Apinayé language is still an important part of the culture of the group, and therefore has the ability to continue thriving.

Language Family

The family is the largest language family in the Macro-Jê stock. It contains eight languages, some of which have many dialects within them. The languages of this family are concentrated mostly in “the savanna regions of Brazil from the southern parts of the states of Pará and Maranhão south to Santa Catarina and Rio Grande do Sul”.[5] Unfortunately, many other languages in the Macro-Jê stock have become extinct, because their East coast location meant for the first contact with Europeans, which, as written above, was violent and detrimental to many indigenous communities.[5]


A descriptive grammar of this language exists, written by researcher Christiane Cunha de Oliveira in her dissertation “The Language of the Apinajé People of Central Brazil”. Oliveira provides an extensive description and analysis of the phonology, morphology, and syntax of Apinayé. Other linguists have also contributed to the descriptive grammar of the language, including Callow's 1962 paper discussing word order; Burgess and Ham's phonological analysis including topics like consonant to vowel ratio, tone, and inventories of the different sounds of the language; and Callow's 1962 analysis of nominal categories and Ham et al.’s 1979 analysis of verbal categories.[6]

Pedagogical grammars have been created for use in a bilingual classroom setting, with the intention of teaching both national culture and indigenous culture to young students.[7] Sousa et al.’s “Apinajé Intercultural Bilingual School: For an Education Beyond the Ethnic Frontier” discusses this process in depth, and examines the value of having an Apinayé pedagogical grammar in the classroom. There is an intrinsic link between language and culture, and learning the Apinayé language helps children build a stronger connection with both their indigenous culture and the national culture of Brazil.[7] It also is perhaps part of the reason that this language currently holds the status of “developing” on the EGID scale as mentioned above, as transmission of a language to children of the culture is vital to its survival.[3]

Documentation Projects

In the Acknowledgements section of “The Language of the Apinajé People of Central Brazil”, Oliveira thanks the Fundação Nacional do Índio (FUNAI) for assistance with the documentation needed for the research. Therefore, the Apinayé language has been part of a small documentation project, to provide the research necessary for this dissertation and descriptive grammar. Otherwise, documentation projects for this language are unavailable.


The most recent ethnographic study done on the Apinayé people is from 2017, where the education system is analyzed (Sousa et al.). The most prominent ethnography of the Apinayé language and people is Oliveira's thesis dissertation (2005). This was preceded by Da Matta's work (1982) which explores Apinayé customs and traditions. Curt Niumendajú was a German anthropologist and ethnologist who wrote The Apinayé (1939). The book is based on the social structure of the indigenous group, though it also includes minimal information regarding the linguistic formation of the Apinayé language.


The consonant and vowel inventory follows.


Labial Alveolar Palatal Velar Glottal
Nasal m n ɲ ŋ
ᵐb ⁿd ᶮdʒ
p t k ʔ
Fricative f s
Flap ɾ
Glide w j


This page was last updated at 2021-06-02 00:01, update this pageView original page

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