Ticuna language

Last updated
Native to Brazil, Colombia, Peru
RegionWest Amazonas. Also spoken in Colombia, Peru.
Ethnicity Ticuna people
Native speakers
63,000[ citation needed ] (2021)
Language codes
ISO 639-3 tca
Glottolog ticu1245
ELP Tikuna
Distribution of speakers of the Ticuna language
Coordinates: 3°15′S68°35′W / 3.250°S 68.583°W / -3.250; -68.583

Ticuna, Tikuna, Tucuna or Tukuna is a language spoken by approximately 50,000 people in the Amazon Basin, including the countries of Brazil, Peru, and Colombia. It is the native language of the Ticuna people and is considered "stable" by ethnologue. [1] Ticuna is generally classified as a language isolate, but may be related to the extinct Yuri language (see Tïcuna-Yuri) and there has been some research indicating similarities between Ticuna and Carabayo. [2] [3] It is a tonal language, and therefore the meaning of words with the same phonemes can vary greatly simply by changing the tone used to pronounce them.


Tïcuna is also known as Magta, Maguta, Tucuna/Tukuna, and Tukna.

Sociolinguistic situation


Ticuna is the Indigenous language most widely spoken in Brazil. [4]

Despite being home to more than 50% of the Ticunas, Brazil has only recently started to invest in native language education. Brazilian Ticunas now have a written literature and an education provided by the Brazilian National Foundation for the Indian (FUNAI) and the Ministry of Education. Textbooks in Ticuna are used by native teachers trained in both Portuguese and Ticuna to teach the language to the children. A large-scale project has been recording traditional narrations and writing them down to provide the literate Ticunas with some literature to practice with.

Ticuna education is not a privilege, but part of a wider project carried on by the Brazilian government to provide all significant minorities with education in their own language.

In 2012, the Brazilian government launched an educational campaign for the prevention of AIDS and violence against women, the first such campaign in Brazil ever conducted in an indigenous language. [5]


Ticunas in Peru have had native language education at least since the 1960s. They use a writing system that was, apparently, the base for the development of the Brazilian one. However, much of the literature available to Peruvian Ticunas comprise standard textbooks.


Colombian Ticunas are taught in Spanish, when they have access to school at all. Since the establishment of Ticuna schools in Brazil some have ventured to attend them [ citation needed ].

Christian Ministries

A number of Christian ministries have reached the Ticuna people. These ministries have translated the bible into the native Ticuna language and even have a weekday radio show that is broadcast in Ticuna, Portuguese, and Spanish by the Latin American Ministries (LAM). [6]


Besides its use at the Ticuna schools, the language has a dozen books published every year, both in Brazil and Peru. Those books employ a specially devised phonetic writing system using conventions similar to those found in Portuguese (except for K instead of C and the letter Ñ instead of NH) instead of the more complex scientific notation found, for instance, at the Language Museum.

In school Ticuna is taught formally. Children in schools typically in areas of Catholic Missionaries are also taught either Portuguese or Spanish as well. [7]

Linguistic structure

Ticuna is a fairly isolating language morphologically, meaning that most words consist of just one morpheme. However, Ticuna words usually have more than one syllable, unlike isolating languages such as Vietnamese. Ticuna is an unusually tonal language for South America, with over 10 mostly contour tones. Tones are only indicated orthographically, with diacritics, when confusion is likely. The six vowels may be nasal or laryngealized; consonants may also be glottalized. Glottal stop is spelled x, and the sixth vowel ü. Typologically, Ticuna word order is subject–verb–object (SVO), though unusually this can vary within the language.

Research has indicated isolated tonal languages with complex tones are more likely to occur in regions of higher humidity and higher mean average temperature because it is believed the vocal folds can produce less consistent tones in colder, drier air. Ticuna was one of the languages of focus in this study due to its prevalence—and complexity—of tones. [8]


Some have tentatively associated the Ticuna language within the proposals of the macro-arawakano or with macro-tukano stocks, although these classifications are highly speculative given the lack of evidence. A more recent hypothesis has linked Yuri-Ticuna with the Saliban and Hoti languages in the Duho stock. [9] However, the linguistic consensus is that Ticuna may actually be a language isolate in its present-day situation, since Yuri is extinct.



Vowels qualities are /aeiɨuo/. Vowels may be nasalized and/or show creaky voice, under which tones are lowered. [10] There are diphthongs /ai̯/ and /au̯/ that carry a single tone, contrasting with vowel sequences /ai/ and /au/ that carry two tones.

Front Central Back
Close plain i ĩ ɨ ɨ̃ u ũ
creaky ḭ̃ ɨ̰ ɨ̰̃ ṵ̃
Mid plain e o õ
creaky ḛ̃ õ̰
Open plain a ã
creaky ã̰

Ticuna has one of the largest tone inventories in the world with 8–12 phonemic tones depending on the dialect.[ citation needed ]


The consonants of Ticuna consist of the following phonemes: [10]

Bilabial Dental Palatal Velar Glottal
voiceless p t ( ɟ ) k ʔ
voiced b d g
Nasal m n ɲ ŋ
Liquid ɾ
Glide w j

Natively, Ticuna has no lateral or uvular consonants, [10] although /l/ is found in some Spanish loanwords.

The affricate /dʒ/ (spelled "y") may be pronounced as /ɟ/, [11] and also /j/, but only before the vowel /a/. A central /ɨ/ vowel sound may also be pronounced as a back [ɯ] sound. Other sounds, /fsxl/ are found in Spanish loans.


Ticuna displays nominative/accusative alignment, with person, number, noun class, and clause type indexed on the verb via proclitics. Transitive and unergative verbs tend to favor an Subject-(Object)-Verb word order, while unaccusative verbs show a preference for Verb-Subject word order. [4]

Common words [12]

Ticuna WordMeaning
Wüxi mixepüxFive
Naixmixwa rü wüxiSix
Naixmixwa rü taxreSeven
Naixmixwa rü tomaxixpüEight
Naixmixwa rü ãgümücüNine

The counting words in Ticuna imply a base five system of counting as the word for five is the combination of "one five". Six through nine all contain the same beginning "naixmixwa rü" and then append the values for one through four respectively (such that six is "naixmixwa rü" and "wüxi" meaning one). [12]

Examples of spoken language

An example of spoken Ticuna can be found here. [13]

Phrase [14] Meaning
Nuxmaxē pa corixgeneral greeting spoken to a man ("sir")
Nuxmaxē pa chiuraxgeneral greeting spoken to a woman ("madam")
Nuxmaxē pa yimaxgeneral greeting spoken to a man ("fellow")
Nuxmaxē pa woxrecügeneral greeting spoken to a woman ("girl")
Nuxmaxē pa pacüxgeneral greeting spoken to a young woman ("miss")
Nuxmaxē pa chomücüxgeneral greeting spoken to a friend
Nuxmaxgeneral greeting spoken to a stranger
Ngexta cuxū?Where are you going? (spoken to one person)
Ngexta pexī?Where are you going? (spoken to a group)
Ngexta ne cuxū?Where are you coming from? (spoken to one person)
Ngexta ne pexī?Where are you coming from? (spoken to a group)

Vocabulary (Loukotka 1968)

Loukotka (1968) lists the following basic vocabulary items. [15]


Related Research Articles

Tone is the use of pitch in language to distinguish lexical or grammatical meaning—that is, to distinguish or to inflect words. All oral languages use pitch to express emotional and other para-linguistic information and to convey emphasis, contrast and other such features in what is called intonation, but not all languages use tones to distinguish words or their inflections, analogously to consonants and vowels. Languages that have this feature are called tonal languages; the distinctive tone patterns of such a language are sometimes called tonemes, by analogy with phoneme. Tonal languages are common in East and Southeast Asia, Africa, the Americas and the Pacific.

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Thai, or Central Thai, is a Tai language of the Kra–Dai language family spoken by the Central Thai people, Mon in Central Thailand and the vast majority of Thai Chinese enclaves throughout the country. It is the sole official language of Thailand.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Languages of Africa</span>

The number of languages natively spoken in Africa is variously estimated at between 1,250 and 2,100, and by some counts at over 3,000. Nigeria alone has over 500 languages, one of the greatest concentrations of linguistic diversity in the world. The languages of Africa belong to many distinct language families, among which the largest are:

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Indigenous languages of the Americas</span>

The Indigenous languages of the Americas are the languages that were used by the Indigenous peoples of the Americas before the arrival of non-Indigenous peoples. Over a thousand of these languages are still used today, while many more are now extinct. The Indigenous languages of the Americas are not all related to each other, instead they are classified into a hundred or so language families, as well as a number of extinct languages that are unclassified due to the lack of information on them.

Kusaal is a Gur language spoken primarily in northern eastern Ghana, and Burkina Faso. It is spoken by about 121,000 people and takes its name from the Kusaal people, or Kusasi. There is a distinctive dialect division between Agole, to the East of the Volta River, and Toende, to the West. Agole has more speakers. The 6-district capital; Bawku West with Zebilla as capital and the rest; Binduri, Bawku, Tempane, Garu and Pusiga districts mostly Agole dialect speakers. The complete Bible translation is in the Agole dialect.

Máku, also spelled Mako, and in the language itself Jukude, is an unclassified language and likely language isolate once spoken on the Brazil–Venezuela border in Roraima along the upper Uraricoera and lower Auari rivers, west of Boa Vista, by the Jukudeitse. 300 years ago, the Jukude territory was between the Padamo and Cunucunuma rivers to the southwest.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Bora language</span> Indigenous language spoken in Amazon Basin

Bora is an indigenous language of South America spoken in the western region of Amazon rainforest. Bora is a tonal language which, other than the Ticuna language, is a unique trait in the region.

Iau or Turu is a Lakes Plain language of West Papua, Indonesia, spoken by about 2,100 people, native speakers of this language are the Turu people (Iau). Most speakers are monolingual, and their number is growing. Other peoples in the western Lakes Plain area speak basic Iau. Iau is heavily tonal, with 11 tones on nouns and 19 simple and compound tones on verbs.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Murui Huitoto language</span> Witotoan language of Peru and Colombia

Murui Huitoto is an indigenous American Huitoto language of the Witotoan family. Murui is spoken by about 1,100 Murui people along the banks of the Putumayo, Cara-Paraná and Igara-Paraná rivers in Colombia. In Peru it is spoken in the North alongside the Ampiyacu and Napo rivers by some 1,000 people. Some Murui speakers live also outside their territories, for instance the vicinity of Leticia, Amazonas, Colombia.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Andoque language</span> Language of Colombia

Andoque is a language spoken by a few hundred Andoque people in Colombia, and is in decline. There were 10,000 speakers in 1908, down to 370 a century later, of which at most 50 are monolingual. The remaining speakers live in four residential areas in the region of the Anduche River, downstream from Araracuara, Solano, Caquetá, Colombia; the language is no longer spoken in Peru. Most speakers shifted to Spanish.

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Ticuna–Yuri is a small family, perhaps even a dialect continuum, consisting of at least two, and perhaps three, known languages of South America: the major western Amazonian language Ticuna, the poorly attested and extinct Yurí, and the scarcely known language of the largely uncontacted Carabayo. Kaufman also adds Munichi to the family.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Urarina language</span> Isolated language spoken in Peru

Urarina is an language isolate spoken in Peru, specifically in the Loreto Region of Northwest Peru, by the Urarina people. There are around 3,000 speakers in Urarinas District. It uses a Latin script. It is also known as Itucali, Simacu or Shimacu.

Yurí (Jurí) is, or was, a language previously spoken near a stretch of the Caquetá River in the Brazilian Amazon, extending slightly into Colombia. It was spoken on the Puré River of Colombia, and the Içá River and Japurá River of Brazil.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Fulniô language</span> Indigenous language of Brazil

Fulniô, or Yatê, is a language isolate of Brazil, and the only indigenous language remaining in the northeastern part of that country. The two dialects, Fulniô and Yatê, are very close. The Fulniô dialect is used primarily during a three-month religious retreat. Today, the language is spoken in Águas Belas, Pernambuco.

The Carabayo (Caraballo) language is spoken by the Carabayo people, also known as Yuri and Aroje, an uncontacted Amazonian people of Colombia living in at least three long houses, one of several suspected uncontacted peoples living along the Rio Puré in the southeastern corner of the country. They are known as the Aroje to the Bora people. Maku and Macusa are pejorative Arawak terms applied to many local languages, not anything specific to Carabayo. The name "Carabayo" is taken from a mock name, "Bernardo Caraballo", given to a Carabayo man during his captivity in the Capuchin mission at La Pedrera in 1969. It has been reported that their self-designation is Yacumo.

The Carabayo are an uncontacted people of Colombia living in at least three long houses, known as malokas, along the Rio Puré in the southeastern corner of the country. They live in the Amazonas Department of Colombian Amazon rainforest, near the border with Brazil. They share the protected National Park with the Passé and Jumana people.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Ticuna</span> Indigenous people of Brazil

The Ticuna are an indigenous people of Brazil (36,000), Colombia (6,000), and Peru (7,000). They are the most numerous tribe in the Brazilian Amazon.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Linguistic areas of the Americas</span>

The indigenous languages of the Americas form various linguistic areas or Sprachbunds that share various common (areal) traits.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Indigenous languages of South America</span> Pre-Columbian languages of subcontinent

The indigenous languages of South America are those whose origin dates back to the pre-Columbian era. The subcontinent has great linguistic diversity, but, as the number of speakers of indigenous languages is diminishing, it is estimated that it could become one of the least linguistically diverse regions of the planet.


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  3. Seifart, Frank; Echeverri, Juan Alvaro (2014-04-16). "Evidence for the Identification of Carabayo, the Language of an Uncontacted People of the Colombian Amazon, as Belonging to the Tikuna-Yurí Linguistic Family". PLOS ONE. 9 (4): e94814. Bibcode:2014PLoSO...994814S. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0094814 . ISSN   1932-6203. PMC   3989239 . PMID   24739948.
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  9. Jolkesky, Marcelo (2016), "Estudo arqueo-ecolinguístico das terras tropicais sul-americanas.", Title in English: An Archaeo-Ecolinguistic Study of the South American Tropics. The Downloadable Version (1.2) is the 2nd Update of My Original PHD Dissertation (Original Version: February 2016; 2nd Update Publication Date: October 2017), Brasilia: UnB. PhD Dissertation.
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  14. "Greetings in more than 3000 languages".
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