Tuyuca language

Native toColombia, Brazil
Native speakers
(1,000 cited 1983–2006)[1]
  • Eastern
    • Central
      • Bara
        • Tuyuca
Language codes
ISO 639-3tue
Glottologtuyu1244  Tuyuca
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Tuyuca[2] (also Dochkafuara, Tejuca, Tuyuka, Dojkapuara, Doxká-Poárá, Doka-Poara, or Tuiuca) is an Eastern Tucanoan language (similar to Tucano). Tuyuca is spoken by the Tuyuca, an indigenous ethnic group of some 500-1000 people, who inhabit the watershed of the Papuri River, the Inambú River, and the Tiquié River, in Vaupés Department, Colombia, and Amazonas State, Brazil.


Tuyuca is a postpositional agglutinative subject–object–verb language with mandatory type II evidentiality.[3] Five evidentiality paradigms are used: visual, nonvisual, apparent, second-hand, and assumed, but second-hand evidentiality exists only in the past tense, and apparent evidentiality does not occur in the first-person present tense.[4] The language is estimated to have 50 to 140 noun classes.[5]


Tuyuca's consonants are /p t k b d ɡ s r w j h/, and its vowels are /i ɨ u e a o/, with syllable nasalization and pitch accent occurring as well.[4]


Front Central Back
High i ɨ u
Low e a o


Labial Coronal Palatal Velar
Obstruent voiceless p t s k
voiced b ~ m d ~ n dʒ ~
j ~ ɲ
ɡ ~ ŋ
Sonorant w ~ w̃ ɺ ~ r ~ r̃ h ~ h̃


The following words show some of the consonant contrasts.[6]

Bilabial contrasts
/pakó/ 'mom'
/bapá/ 'plate'
/wapá/ 'payment'
Alveolar contrasts
/botéa/ 'a fish'
/bodé/ 'dragonfly'
/bosé/ 'party'
/boré/ 'whitening'

Velar and palatal contrasts

/bɨkó/ 'ant-eater'
/bɨɡó/ 'aunt'
/hoó/ 'plantain'
/joó/ 'thread'


  • Voiceless plosives /p, t, k/ have aspirated variants that tend to occur before high vowels but not near voiceless vowels. There are a few degrees of the amount of aspiration.
  • Preglottalized variants of /b, d/ occur together at the onset.
    • Preglottalized forms of [m, w, w̃, j, j̃, ɲ, dʒ] occur in the onset and are in free variation with their plain counterparts.
  • Prenasal variants of /b, d, ɡ/ occur after nasal vowels and before oral vowels: /kĩĩbai/ [kʰĩĩmbaii̥].[7]

Nasal assimilation

  • Voiced consonants /b, d, ɡ, r, w, j/ have nasal variants at the same place of articulation before nasal vowels: [m, n, ŋ, ɳ, w̃, j̃].
    • The /j/ can also surface as ɲ before high nasal vowels.
  • The /h/ also has a nasalized variant that occurs before nasal vowels.

Nasal harmony

Segments in a word are either all nasal or all oral.

/waa/ 'to go'
/w̃ãã/ 'to illuminate' (the /w/ is nasal)

Note that voiceless segments are transparent.

/ãkã/ 'choke on a bone'
/w̃ãtĩ/ 'demon'

See further remarks regarding the oral/nasal nature of affixes in the Morphophonemics section.

Suprasegmental features

Tuyuca's two suprasegmental features are tone and nasalization.


There is a high tone (H) and a low tone (L) in Tuyuca. The phonological word has only one high tone, which may occur in any syllable of the word. The low tone has two variants: a mid-tone, which occurs in words with at least three syllables in free variation, and the low tone, which occurs in internal syllables that have [i] that is contiguous to the high tone but not preceded by a low tone.

  • The accent is the same as high tone.
  • The tone is contrastive in (C)VV syllables.
/díi/ 'blood'
/dií/ 'mud'
  • (C)VCV words, except for loanwords, have the tone on the second syllable.
/eté/ 'parakeet'
/b̃ésa/ 'table' (← Portuguese 'mesa')


Nasalization is phonemic and operates at the root level.

/sĩã/ 'to kill'
/sia/ 'to tie'

Phonetic distribution and syllabic structure

A syllable is any unit that may take tone and has a vocalic nucleus, regardless of whether or not it has a consonant before it.


  • /ɡ/ and /r/ do not occur word-initially
  • /ɡu/ and /wu/ do not occur.
  • No VV string starts with /u/.
  • Multisyllabic VVV strings occur, but not all combinations of vowels are attested. /u/ is always last in such strings.
  • (C)V may be optionally be pronounced with aspiration, with the same quality as the preceding vowel, when the syllable is both unstressed and before syllables with voiceless onsets.[8]


All affixes are in one of the two classes:

  1. Oral affixes that may undergo nasalization, like the plural morpheme -ri: /sopéri/ 'marks'[clarification needed]
  2. Affixes that are intrinsically oral or nasal and are not changed.

When a nasal CV suffix occurs and C is a continuant or a vibrant /r/, regressive nasalization is undergone by the preceding vowel.


  1. ^ Tuyuca at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015)
  2. ^ [1][dead link]
  3. ^ de Haan, Ferdinand (2012). "Evidentiality and Mirativity". In Binnick, Robert I. (ed.). Oxford Handbook of Tense and Aspect. ISBN 9780195381979. Retrieved 21 April 2018.
  4. ^ a b Barnes, Janet (July 1984). "Evidentials in the Tuyuca Verb". International Journal of American Linguistics. 50 (3): 255–271. doi:10.1086/465835. JSTOR 1265549.
  5. ^ "Difficult Languages: Tongue Twisters - In search of the world's hardest language". The Economist. 2009-12-17. Retrieved 2009-12-23.
  6. ^ Barnes, Janet; Silzer, Sheryl (1976). "Fonología del tuyuca". Sistemas fonológicos de idiomas colombianos. SIL. 3: 125.
  7. ^ Barnes, Janet; Silzer, Sheryl (1976). "Fonología del tuyuca". Sistemas fonológicos de idiomas colombianos. SIL. 3: 127.
  8. ^ Barnes, Janet; Silzer, Sheryl (1976). "Fonología del tuyuca". Sistemas fonológicos de idiomas colombianos. SIL. 3: 134.

External links

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