Arawak language

Native toFrench Guiana, Guyana, Suriname, Venezuela
EthnicityLokono (Arawak)
Native speakers
(2,510 cited 1990–2011)[1]
Latin script
Language codes
ISO 639-2arw
ISO 639-3arw

Arawak (Arowak/Aruák), also known as Lokono (Lokono Dian, literally 'people's talk' by its speakers), is an Arawakan language spoken by the Lokono (Arawak) people of South America in eastern Venezuela, Guyana, Suriname, and French Guiana.[2] It is the eponymous language of the Arawakan language family.

Lokono is an active–stative language.[3]


Arawakan languages in South America and the Caribbean

Lokono is a critically endangered language.[4] The Lokono language is most commonly spoken in South America. Some specific countries where this language is spoken include Guyana, Suriname, French Guiana, and Venezuela.[5] The percentage of living fluent speakers with active knowledge of the language is estimated to be 5% of the ethnic population.[6] There are small communities of semi-speakers who have varying degrees of comprehension and fluency in Lokono that keep the language alive.[7] It is estimated that there are around 2,500 remaining speakers (including fluent and semi-fluent speakers).[8] The decline in the use of Lokono as a language of communication is due to its lack of transmission from older speakers to the next generation. The language is not being passed to young children, as they are taught to speak the official languages of their countries. The oldest generation of speakers are around the age of 70 years of age of older.[4]


The Lokono language is part of the larger Arawakan language family spoken by indigenous people in South and Central America along with the Caribbean.[9] It spans four countries of Central America — Belize, Honduras, Guatemala, Nicaragua — and eight of South America — Bolivia, Guyana, French Guiana, Surinam, Venezuela, Colombia, Peru, Brazil (and also formerly Argentina and Paraguay). With about 40 extant languages, it is the largest language family in Latin America.[10]


Arawak is a tribal name in reference to the main crop food, the cassava root. It is commonly known as Manioc. The cassava root is a popular staple to millions in South America, Asia and Africa.[11] It is a woody shrub grown in tropical or subtropical regions. The speakers of the Arawak language also identify themselves as, Lokono, which translates to "the people". The Arawak language within itself is known as, Lokono Dian, "the people's speech".[12]

Alternative Names

Alternative names of the same language include Arawák, Arahuaco, Aruak, Arowak, Arawac, Araguaco, Aruaqui, Arwuak, Arrowukas, Arahuacos, Locono, and Luccumi.[13]

Geographic distribution

Lokono is an Arawakan language most commonly found to be spoken in eastern Venezuela, Guyana, Suriname and French Guiana. It was also formerly spoken on Caribbean islands such as Barbados and other neighboring countries. There are approximately 2,500 native speakers today. The following are regions where Arawak has been found spoken by native speakers.[14]




Bilabial Alveolar Retroflex Palatal Velar Glottal
Stop voiceless t k
voiced b d
Fricative ɸ s h
Nasal m n
Approximant w l j
Trill r
Flap ɽ

William Pet observes an additional /p/ in loanwords.[16]

Character Used Additional Usage IPA symbol Arawak Pronunciation
b b Like b in boy.
ch č t͡ʃ Like ch in chair.
d d ~ d͡ʒ Like d in day. Before i the Arawak pronunciation sounds like the j in jeep.
f ɸ This sound does not exist in English. It is pronounced by narrowing your lips and blowing through them, as if you were playing a flute.
h h Like h in hay.
j y j Like y in yes.
k c, qu k Like the soft k sound in English ski.
kh c, qu, k kh Like the hard k sound in English key.
l l Like l in light.
lh r,r ɽ No exact equivalent in American English. This is a retroflex r, pronounced with the tongue touching the back of the palate. It is found in Indian-English. Some American English speakers also pronounce this sound in the middle of the word "hurting."
m m Like m in moon.
n n Like n in night.
p p Like the soft p in spin.
, ɾ Like the r in Spanish pero, somewhat like the tt in American English butter.
s z, c s Like the s in sun.
t t ~ t͡ʃ Like the soft t in star. Before i the Arawak pronunciation sounds like the ch in cheek.
th t th ~ t͡ʃʰ Like the hard t in tar. Before i the Arawak pronunciation sounds like the ch in cheek.
w hu w Like w in way.
' ʔ A pause sound, like the one in the middle of the word "uh-oh."


Front Central Back
Close i ɨ
Mid e o
Open a

Pet notes that phonetic realization of /o/ varies between [o] and [u].[16]

Character Used Additional Usage IPA Symbol Arawak Pronunciation
a a Like the a in father.
aa Like a only held longer.
e e Like the e sound in Spanish, similar to the a in gate.
ee e·, e: Like e only held longer.
i i Like the i in police.
ii i·, i: Like i only held longer.
o o ~ u Like o in note or u in flute.
oo o·, o: Like o only held longer.
y u, i ɨ Like the u in upon, only pronounced higher in the mouth.
yy y:, uu, ii ɨː Like y only held longer.


The personal pronouns are shown below. The forms on the left are free forms, which can stand alone. The forms on the right are bound forms (prefixes), which must be attached to the front of a verb, a noun, or a postposition.[17]

singular plural
1st person de, da- we, wa-
2nd person bi, by- hi, hy-
3rd person li, ly- (he)

tho, thy- (she)

ne, na-

Cross-referencing affixes

All verbs are sectioned into transitive, active transitive and stative intransitive.[15]

Prefixes (A/Sa) and Suffixes (O/So) of Cross-Reference Affixes
prefixes suffixes
Person sg pl sg pl
1 nu- or ta- wa- -na, -te -wa
2 (p)i- (h)i- -pi -hi
3(non formal) ri-, i na- ri, -i -na
3(formal) thu-, ru- na- -thu,-ru, -u -na
'impersonal' pa- - - -

A= Sa=cross referencing prefix

O=So= cross referencing suffix



In the Arawak language, there are two distinct genders of masculine and feminine. They are used in cross-referencing affixes, in demonstratives, in nominalization and in personal pronouns. Typical pronominal genders, for example, are feminine and non-feminine. The markers go back to Arawak third-person singular cross-referencing: feminine -(r)u, masculine -(r)i[13]


Arawak Languages do distinguish singular and plural, however plural is optional unless the referent is a person. Markers used are *-na/-ni (animate/human plural) and *-pe (inanimate/animate non-human plural)[13]


Arawak nouns are fragmented into inalienably and alienably possessed. Inalienably crossed nouns include things such as body parts, terms for kinship and common nouns like food selections. Deverbal nominalization belong to that grouping. Both forms of possession are marked with prefixes (A/Sa) . Inalienably possessed nouns have what is known as an "unpossessed" form (also known as 'absolute') marked with the suffix *-tfi or *-hV. Alienably possessed nouns take one of the suffixes *-ne/ni, *-te, *-re, *i/e, or *-na. All suffixes used as nominalizers.[18]


Arawak languages have a negative prefix ma- and attributive-relative prefix ka-. An example of the use is ka-witi-w (a woman with good eyes) and ma-witti-w (a woman with bad eyes aka. blind) .

Writing System

The Arawak language system has an alphabetical system similar to the Roman Alphabet with some minor changes and new additions to letters. The letters in brackets under each alphabetical letter is the IPA symbol for each letter.[19]

Writing System & Language of Arawak(Lokono) Language


English Eastern Arawak (French Guiana) Western Arawak (Venezuela, Guyana, and Suriname)
One Ábą Aba
Two Bian Biama
Three Kabun Kabyn
Four Biti Bithi
Man Wadili Wadili
Woman Hiaro Hiaro
Dog Péero Péero
Sun Hadali Hadali
Moon Kati Kathi
Water Uini Vuniabu



  1. ^ Arawak at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015)
  2. ^ Pet 2011, p. 2
  3. ^ Aikhenvald, "Arawak", in Dixon & Aikhenvald, eds., The Amazonian Languages, 1999.
  4. ^ a b "Lokono". Endangered Languages Project.
  5. ^ Aikhenvald, Alexandra Y. (2006). "7. Areal Diffusion, Genetic Inheritance and Problems of Subgrouping: A north Arawak Case Study". In Aikhenvald, Alexandra Y.; Dixon, R. M. W. (eds.). Areal Diffusion and Genetic Inheritance: Problems in Comparative Linguistics. Oxford University Press. ISBN 9780199283088.
  6. ^ Edwards, W.; Gibson, K. (1979). "An Ethnohistory of Amerindians in Guyana". Ethnohistory. 26 (2): 161. doi:10.2307/481091. JSTOR 481091.
  7. ^ Harbert, Wayne; Pet, Willem (1988). "Movement and Adjunct Morphology in Arawak and Other Languages". International Journal of American Linguistics. 54 (4): 416–435. doi:10.1086/466095. S2CID 144291701.
  8. ^ Aikhenvald, Alexandrs (2013). "Arawak Languages". Linguistics. Aronoff, Mark, (Ed.) Linguistics: Oxford Bibliographies. Oxford Bibliographies Online. Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/OBO/9780199772810-0119. ISBN 9780199772810 – via Oxford Bibliographies.
  9. ^ De Carvalho, Fernando O. (2016). "The diachrony of person-number marking in the Lokono-Wayuunaiki subgroup of the Arawak family: reconstruction, sound change and analogy". Language Sciences. 55: 1–15. doi:10.1016/j.langsci.2016.02.001.
  10. ^ "Arawak languages". Research@JCU. Retrieved 2018-07-10.
  11. ^ Aikhenvald, Alexandra Y. (1995). "Person marking and discourse in North Arawak languages". Studia Linguistica. 49 (2): 152–195. doi:10.1111/j.1467-9582.1995.tb00469.x.
  12. ^ A Brief Introduction to Some Aspects of the Culture and Language of the Guyana Arawak (Lokono) Tribe. Amerindian Languages Project, University of Guyana. 1980.
  13. ^ a b c Hill, Johnathon (2010-10-01). Comparative Arawakan Histories : Rethinking Language Family and Culture Area in Amazonia. ISBN 9780252091506.
  14. ^ "Arawak on Ethnologue". Ethnologue.
  15. ^ a b Pet 2011
  16. ^ a b Pet, William (1988). Lokono dian: the Arawak language of Surinam: a sketch of its grammatical structure and lexicon (PhD thesis). Cornell University.
  17. ^ Pet 2011, p. 12
  18. ^ Rybka, Konrad (2015). "State-of-the-Art in the Development of the Lokono Language". Language Documentation & Conservation. 9: 110–133. hdl:10125/24635.
  19. ^ "Arawak". Ethnologue: Languages of the World.
  20. ^ Trevino, David (2016). "Arawak". Salem Press Encyclopedia – via ebescohost.

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