Ye'kuana language

Native toVenezuela
Native speakers
6,000 (2000 – 2001 census)[1]
  • Guianan Carib
    • Maquiritari
  • Wayumara
Language codes
ISO 639-3mch
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.

Ye'kuana (Ye'kuana: [jeʔkwana]), also known as Maquiritari, Dekwana, Ye'kwana, Ye'cuana, Yekuana, Cunuana, Kunuhana, De'cuana, De’kwana Carib, Pawana, Maquiritai, Maquiritare, Maiongong, or Soto is the language of the Ye'kuana people of Venezuela and Brazil. It is a Cariban language. It is spoken by approximately 5,900 people (c. 2001) around the border of northwestern Brazilian state of Roraima and Venezuela – the majority (about 5,500) in Venezuela. At the time of the 2001 Venezuelan census, there were at 6,523 Ye’kuana living in Venezuela.[2] Given the unequal distribution of the Ye’kuana across two South American countries, Ethnologue lists two different vitality ratings for Ye’kuana: in Venezuela it is listed as Vigorous (6a), while in Brazil it is classified Moribund (8a) on the Graded Intergenerational Disruption Scale (GIDS).[3]


In Brazil, the Ye’kuana are believed to have settled on the lands they now occupy more than a century ago, coming from the larger population centres in Venezuela. Traditional mythology and oral history, however, tells that the lands around the Auari and Uraricoera rivers have long been travelled by the Ye’kuana.[4]

During the 18th century, there was a lot of missionary activity in Ye'kuana territory, during which they were forced into constructing forts for the Spanish, and coerced into converting to Catholicism.[5] A rebellion was organised against the Spanish in 1776. The 20th century brought a new wave of exploitation in the form of the colonists looking to capitalise on the discovery of rubber. Whole villages were forced into labour, driven in chain gangs to the rubber camps. Later, another wave of missionaries arrived around the early 1960s. The Brazilian Ye'kuana decided not to live in the missions established on that side of the border, because the missionaries’ attention in Brazil was focused on the Sanumá and not on them. They were also more reluctant to convert, having seen their Venezuelan cousins convert and become (from the Brazilian Ye'kuana perspective) culturally weaker as a result, giving up key elements of their traditional ways of life. On the Venezuelan side of the border, this wave of missionaries brought the establishment of health services, schools, and access to local markets, also creating several relatively large communities centred around the missions.[5]

In 1980, a married Canadian missionary couple came to live among the Ye’kuana for a while, but they did not like their way of life, and there were disagreements between them and the Ye’kuana, and they left. After this, the Brazilian Ye’kuana decided that they did not want religion, but they did want a school, seeing the benefits that that infrastructure had provided indigenous communities in Venezuela. They got one, after negotiating with the leader of the Evangelical Mission of Amazônas. So began a process of becoming sedentary, wherein the Ye’kuana all moved closer together, and established semi-regular schedules (including that certain times of day for children were set aside for school). This establishment of solid permanent contact also led to more far-reaching mobilisation and contact with other indigenous communities and the state of Roraima. The Ye’kuana became known as skilled canoe makers and manioc scrapers, all while remaining fairly removed from the intense river traffic and influx of outsiders that had harmed many other indigenous communities.[5]


The Ye’kuana language is situated typologically in the Cariban family, which is subdivided into seven subfamilies and one uncategorised language. Ye’kuana is a member of the Guianan Carib subfamily, along with ten other languages. The Guianan languages are located, for the most part, around the Guiana Shield. Ye’kuana and Wayumara form a smaller category within the Guianan subfamily, the Maquiritari-Wayumara subfamily.


The first documentations of Ye’kuana in the nineteenth century consist of several wordlists by Schomburgk,[6][7][8] followed by several comparative[9] and ethnographic[10] works. The early twentieth century saw more wordlists,[11][12] moving away from works more generally about the Cariban languages[13][14] to more specifically focusing on Ye’kuana.[15] Escoriaza (1959[16] and 1960)[17] provided a grammatical sketch. The 1960s and 70s mostly saw work on the ethnography of the Ye’kuana, including their mythology,[18] political structure,[19] and village formation.[20] Schuster 1976[21] published a wordlist within his ethnography, but otherwise there was not much linguistic study in that time period. Heinen (1983–1984)[22] published a grammar sketch couched in his mostly ethnographic study; Guss (1986)[23] includes some texts in the language in his publication on oral tradition; and Hall (1988)[24] published two volumes on morphosyntax and discourse analysis. Later, Hall (1991)[25] looked at transitivity in verbs, amid many more ethnographic studies, and Chavier (1999)[26] studied some further aspects of the morphology. A dictionary was published on CD-ROM,[27] and most recently, Natália Cáceres’ MA thesis is a brief overview of the sociolinguistic profile of the Ye'kuana,[28] while her doctoral dissertation presents a more complete descriptive grammar.[2] Coutinho (2013) has also explored the number system of Ye'kuana, from a typological perspective.[29]


Bilabial Alveolar Postalveolar Palatal Velar Glottal
Plosive t k ʔ
Fricative s ʃ ç h
Tap/Flap ɾ̠
Nasal m n ɲ
Approximant w j

Adapted from Cáceres (2011)[2]

Front Central Back
Close i iː ɨ ɨː u uː
Mid e eː ə əː o oː
Open a aː

Adapted from Cáceres (2011)[2]

/ɨ/ is written <ü> in orthography, and /ə/ is written <ö>, long vowels are indicated by doubling the letter.


Ye’kuana's morphology is comparable to that of other Cariban languages.[2]:107 Ye'kuana makes use of the following major grammatical aspects: past and non-past. The 'past' aspect is subdivided into recent and distant (the much more used of the two) as well as perfective and imperfective.[2]:213–221 The 'non-past' is used for present, near future, and general truths.[2]:222–225 As well, probable and definite future aspects are morphologically distinct, there is a distinct imperfective suffix, and the iterative, durative (past), inchoative, terminative aspects are all marked, the latter three being marked periphrastically, rather than with a suffix like the others.[2]:226–253


Person Singular Plural
First person ewü
Second person amödö önwanno
Third person tüwü tünwanno
First + Second person küwü künwanno
First + Third person nña

The first person plural is represented by three forms in Ye'kuana: a dual inclusive form küwü, a dual exclusive form nña, and a plural inclusive form künwanno. There is no plural exclusive form.

Ewü wüta sü'na jadö'danñe
ewü w-ütö(mö)-a sü'na jadö-'da-nñe
1SG 1S-go-NPST dog with-NEG-PL
I'm going there without the dogs.
Aaa, amödö ajadööne küna'ja'to
aaa amödö a-jadö-:ne kün-a'ja-akö=to
Ah, you were with them (lit. They were with you).
Emajainñe tüwü
Ø-ema-jai-:ne tüwü
He is able to kill/throw (during a fight).
Amödö owoijie mödöje nña yaawö
amödö o-woije mödöje nña yaawö
2SG 2-willingness thus 1+3 therefore
Because of you we are like this (= we have adopted your customs).
Ñennöjaimmaja önwanno yawö
i-mennö-jai=mmaja önwanno yaawö
3O-write-ABIL=also 2PL therefore
You can also write [because you have gone to school].
Juwaije tünwanno
juwai=je tünwanno
witch=ATRB 3PL
They were witches.
Ööjimmö künwanno
öö-jimmö-Ø künwanno
RECP-family-POS 1PL
We are from the same family (lit. we are family of one another).

Derivational morphology

There is an extensive and productive derivation system, including nominalising, verbalising, and adverbialising suffixes.[30] The system of nominalisation allows for adverbs to be converted, for instance judume ‘black’ becomes judum-ato ‘that which is black’, eetö ‘here’ becomes eeto-no ‘that which is here’, etc.; it also has many varieties of verbal nominalisation: intransitivisation, participlisation, agentivisation (önöö ‘eat (meat)’ becomes t-önöö-nei ‘eater of meat’), deverbal nominalisation of action, instrumental (a’deuwü ‘talk’ gives w-a’deuwü-tojo ‘telephone’), and nominalisation of a participle. In terms of verbalisation, there is the benefactive ‘give N to someone, bring N to something’, such as a’deu ‘language, word’ becoming a’deu-tö ‘read, repeat’; its reverse, the privative (womü ‘clothes’ -> i-womü-ka ‘undress someone); a general verbalisation suffix -ma; -nö which can be used to make transitive verbs; -ta which can be used to make intransitive verbs such as vomit and speak; and the occasional suffixes -dö, -wü, and -’ñö. Finally, the adverbialising suffixes include: nominal possessive, participial, abilitive, a form that indicates the destination of a movement, one indicating aptitude, indicating newness of action, potential, and deverbal negative.



The probable future aspect is indicated with the suffix -tai, composed of the future marker -ta and the irrealis marker -i. It does not occur frequently in the elicited data in Cáceres (2011),[2] and it indicates an event for which a probability of its taking place exists, without certainty. The certain future is likewise rarely marked in spontaneous speech.[2] Examples of the probable future given in the grammar include phrases that translate to “you will learn the Ye'kuana language” and “tomorrow it will become red”, contrasted with the certain future examples: “another day I will come and I will see you” (where the second verb is the one marked).

Valency marking

The language presents several strategies for changing the valency of a verb, primarily a detransitiviser prefix and several causativiser suffixes.


The base form detransitiviser is postulated to have the form öt-, and has eight allomorphs: öt-, ö-, ö’-, ot-, o’-, o-, at-, and a-. Transitive verb roots beginning (at the surface level) with e take the detransitive prefix öt-:

eeka öt-ööka
'to bite' 'to bite oneself'
eicha öt-öicha
'to paint' 'to paint oneself'

Transitive roots beginning with o, or with e where the second vowel is [+round] take ot-:

ooneja ot-ooneja
'to measure 'to fight'
enku'to ot-onku'to
'to lie' 'to be mistaken'

Transitive roots beginning with a take at-:

a'dojo at-a'dojo
'to drop' 'to fall'
aiyo at-aiyo
'to break' 'to break oneself (fracture)'

For the most part, the patterning of the allomorphs is phonologically-based, however, some roots have slight differences in meaning depending on the allomorph they receive:

adö a-adö at-adö
'to carry' 'to be carried' 'to follow'
ajöi a-ajöi at-ajöi
'to take' 'to attach oneself' ???
ene ö-öne öt-öne
'to see' 'to be seen, look like' 'to see oneself'


All classes of verb in Ye’kuana can receive a causative suffix, but each of the two types of intransitive verbs (termed UP and UA) has their own suffix that they take. Intransitive verbs of type UP can take the suffixes -nüjü (with allomorphs -mjü and -nü’) and -nöjü (with allomorphs -mjü and -nö’), and the result is a transitive verb:

Intransitive English Transitive English
ünükü 'sleep' nün-nöjü 'make sleep'
seedeta 'dry' sedena-mjü 'make dry'
edenna 'stop' edenna-mjü 'finalise something'

Transitive verbs and intransitive verbs of type UA can take the causative suffix -jo. In the case of transitive verbs, another argument is added to the valency of the verb, while intransitives maintain their initial valency. This suffix is used relatively rarely with intransitive verbs, and of all the examples given below begin with /e/, so it is theorised that these verbs take this suffix because they are derived from transitives, however this theory has not been proven.[2]

Base form English Causative English
e'wa'tö 'to help oneself' e'wa'to-jo 'to be helped'
eja'ka 'to leave' ja'ka-jo 'to be expelled'
eta'jü 'to calm down' eta'jü-jo 'to calm oneself down'
e'ji 'to wash oneself' e'ji-jo 'to be washed'


All unmarked nouns in Ye’kuana can be understood semantically as singular or “general” in number, while some nouns can receive explicit plural marking that distinguishes them from the singular/general-numbered nouns.[29] Ye’kuana generally uses the suffix =komo to mark the nominal plural. Cáceres (2011) treats this suffix as a generic plural, while other authors such as Coutinho (2013) subscribe to the analysis given to other Cariban languages that they distinguish in number between the ‘all’ (i.e. collective) and ‘less-than-the-total’ (i.e. non-collective), and therefore treats this morpheme as a collective morpheme. After high-front vowel [i] and approximant [j], the palatalised variant =chomo is also seen. This suffix is used likewise for animate nouns and inanimate nouns:

ye'kwana ye'kwana=komo
'ye'kuana' 'several ye'kuanas'
yanwaa yanwaa=komo
'man' 'several men'
öji öji=chomo
'medicine' 'several medicines'
nma nma=komo
'house' 'several houses'

However, there are some restrictions on the distribution of this morpheme, for instance that names of animals cannot take it:

süna *süna=komo
mado *mado=komo
kaduwai *kaduwai=chomo

In the Caura dialect studied by Cáceres (2011), a few other nouns exist that some speakers consider ungrammatical with the plural suffix, but others do not:

uu (*)uu=komo
kankudu (*)kankudu=komo

However, in the Auaris dialect, as examined by Coutinho (2013), the plural forms of these nouns and others were all accepted:

uu uu=komo
'manioc' 'several maniocs'
kankudu kankudu=komo
'calabash' 'several calabashes'
natö natö=komo
'yam' 'several yams'
tukuudi tukuudi=chomo
'jug' 'several jugs'

Even in the Auaris dialect, certain nouns denoting fruit do not accept the plural marker:

*faduudu=komo 'several bananas'
*sokwa=komo 'several sokwas'
*ashiichadu 'several canes'


  1. ^ Maquiritari at Ethnologue (19th ed., 2016)
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k Cáceres, Natalia (2011). Grammaire fonctionelle-typologique du Ye'kwana [Functional-Typological Grammar of Ye'kwana] (PDF) (PhD dissertation) (in French). Lumière University Lyon 2.
  3. ^ Lewis, Paul; Simons, Gary F.; Fennig, Charles D. (2016). "Ethnologue: Languages of the World, Nineteenth edition". SIL International.
  4. ^ Moreira-Lauriola, Elaine (September 2003). "Ye'kwana". Povos Indígenas no Brasil. Retrieved 1 October 2017.
  5. ^ a b c Moreira-Lauriola, Elaine (September 2003). "History of Contact". Povos Indígenas no Brasil. Retrieved 1 October 2017.
  6. ^ Schomburgk, Robert H. (1848). "Remarks to accompany a comparative vocabulary of eighteen languages and dialects of Indian Tribes inhabiting Guiana". Simmond's Colonial Magazine. No. 15. pp. 46–64.
  7. ^ Schomburgk, Robert H. (June 1849). "Remarks to accompany a comparative vocabulary of eighteen languages and dialects of Indian Tribes inhabiting Guiana". Notices and Abstracts of Communications to the British Association for the Advancement of Science, at the Oxford Meeting. No. 18. pp. 96–99.
  8. ^ Schomburgk, Robert H. (1850). "A vocabulary of the Maiongkong language". Proceedings of the Philological Society. No. IV. pp. 217–223.
  9. ^ Latham, Robert Gordon (1862). Elements of comparative philology. London: Walton and Maberly.
  10. ^ Chaffanjon, Jean (1889). L'Orénoque et le Caura: Relation des voyages exécutés en 1886 et 1887 [The Orinoco and the Caura: Account of Voyages Undertaken in 1886 and 1887] (in French). Paris: Librairie Hachette.
  11. ^ Oramas, Luis (1912–1913). "Contribución al estudio de los dialectos Puinabe y Maquiritare" [Contribution to the studio of the Maqiritare and Puinabe dialects]. Gaceta de los Museos Nacionales. No. I. pp. 20–27.
  12. ^ Rondon, Cándido M. S.; De Faria, João Barbosa (1948). "Glossário geral das tribos silvícolas de Mato Grosso e outras da Amazônia e do Norte do Brasil: Tomo I". Publicação 76 do Conselho nacional de proteção dos Indios. Rio de Janeiro: Comissão Rondon. p. 5.
  13. ^ Koch-Grünberg, Theodor (1923). "Vom Roraima zum Orinoco". Ethnographie. III.
  14. ^ Nimuendajú, Curt (1955). "Reconhecimento dos rios Içána, Ayarí, e Uaupés, março a julho de 1927: Apontamentos linguísticos". Journal de la Société des Américanistes. 44: 149–178. doi:10.3406/jsa.1955.2598.
  15. ^ Civrieux, Marc de (1959). "Datos antropológicos de los indios Kunuhana". Antropológica. 8: 85–146.
  16. ^ Escoriaza, Damian de (1959). "Datos lingüisticos de la lengua Makiritare". Antropológica. 6: 7–46.
  17. ^ Escoriaza, Damian de (1959). "Algunos datos lingüisticos mas sobre la lengua Makiritare". Antropológica. 10: 61–70.
  18. ^ Civrieux, Marc de (1968). "Mitología Maquiritare". Revista de Cultura de la Universidad de Oriente. 3: 30–33.
  19. ^ Arvelo-Jiménez, Nelly (1971). Political relations in a tribal society: A study of the Ye'cuana Indians of Venezuela (PhD dissertation thesis). Cornell University.
  20. ^ Arvelo-Jiménez, Nelly (1977). "A study of the process of village formation in Ye'cuana society". In Basso, Ellen B. (ed.). Carib-speaking Indians: culture, society, and language. Tucson: University of Arizona Press. pp. 106–113.
  21. ^ Schuster, Meinhard (1976). Dekuana: Beiträge zur Ethnologie der Makiritare (Ergebnisse der Frobenius-Expedition 1954/55 nach Südost-Venezuela, III) (in German). Munich: Klaus Renner.
  22. ^ Heinen, H. Dieter (1983–1984). "Traditional social structure and change among the Ye'kuana Indians of the Upper Erebato, Venezuela". Antropológica. 59: 263–297.
  23. ^ Guss, David M. (1986). "Keeping it oral: a yekuana ethnology". American Ethnologist. 13 (3): 413–429. doi:10.1525/ae.1986.13.3.02a00010.
  24. ^ Hall, Katherine Lee (1988). The morphosyntax of discourse in De'kwana Carib: Volumes I and II (PhD dissertation thesis). University of Washington.
  25. ^ Hall, Katherine (1991). Degrees of transitivity in De'kuana (Carib) verb forms. Tupi-Carib Symposium, 47th ICA. New Orleans.
  26. ^ Chavier, M. (1999). Aspectos de la morfología del Yekwana (MA thesis thesis). Maracaibo: Universidad del Zulia.
  27. ^ Hall, Katherine (2000). "De'cuana". In Key, Mary Ritchie (ed.). South American Indian Languages (CD-ROM). Intercontinental Dictionary Series. 1. Irvine: University of California.
  28. ^ Cáceres, Natalia (2007). Introduction à la langue des Ye'kwana: Profil sociolinguistique et esquisse phonologique (MA thesis thesis). Université Lumière Lyon 2.
  29. ^ a b Coutinho Costa, Isabella (2013). O Número Em Ye'kuana: Uma Perspectiva Tipológica [Number in Ye'kwana: A Typological Perspective] (PDF) (in Portuguese).
  30. ^ All forms are given in forms so as to make morphology obvious, occasionally the forms given are not the surface forms

External links

This page was last updated at 2021-05-08 16:43, update this pageView original page

All information on this site, including but not limited to text, pictures, etc., are reproduced on Wikipedia (wikipedia.org), following the . Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License


If the math, chemistry, physics and other formulas on this page are not displayed correctly, please useFirefox or Safari