Toba Qom language

Last updated
Native to Argentina, Paraguay, Bolivia
Ethnicity Toba
Native speakers
31,580 (2011) [1]
  • Southern
    • Toba
Official status
Recognised minority
language in
Language codes
ISO 639-3 tob
Glottolog toba1269
ELP Toba

Toba Qom is a Guaicuruan language spoken in South America by the Toba people. The language is known by a variety of names including Toba, Qom or Kom, Chaco Sur, and Toba Sur. In Argentina, it is most widely dispersed in the eastern regions of the provinces of Formosa and Chaco, where the majority of the approximately 19,810 (2000 WCD) speakers reside. The language is distinct from Toba-Pilagá and Paraguayan Toba-Maskoy. There are also 146 Toba speakers in Bolivia where it is known as Qom and in Paraguay where it is also known as Qob or Toba-Qom.


In 2010, the province of Chaco in Argentina declared Qom as one of four provincial official languages alongside Spanish and the indigenous Moqoit and Wichí. [2]


Many indigenous people from Chaco remained nomads until the nineteenth century. Their economy was based on hunting and gathering. They were organized in groups called bandas (Spanish: "bands"), made up of the union of large families. They formed larger groups called tribus (Spanish: "tribes"), based on their dialect variant, family ties and marriage. In the twentieth century, they were forced into labour and this caused them to be displaced to different areas. This is when they started adopting a sedentary lifestyle. [3] [4]

Linguistic Family

There are seven linguistic families and two independent languages among the different indigenous languages in Chaco. The Toba language belongs to the Guaycurú family, together with pilagá (Formosa province), mocoví (South of Chaco and North of Santa Fe), and others. Nowadays, there is a dispute among linguists whether these can be considered individual languages, or different dialects due to their similarities and intelligibility. However, most of the indigenous languages in Chaco are not homogeneous. There are differences as regards sounds and vocabulary. Thus, speakers notice these differences and sometimes communication can be affected inside a community. This is partly due to the influence of other languages. Even though most indigenous communities in Chaco are bilingual, since they speak their indigenous mother tongue and the official language of the country (Spanish, Portuguese or Paraguayan Guaraní), their indigenous languages can be considered endangered due to lack of transmission from generation to generation. Many indigenous people are moving more and more to urban areas and their jobs and social activities require the predominant language of the country in which they live. Speakers consider themselves as ‘Qom’ and their language as qom l'aqtaqa (Qom language). Most of the Qom population live in the provinces of Chaco and Formosa, Argentina. There are also communities in Santa, Rosario and Gran Buenos Aires. According to Klein 19781, [5] there are three different dialectal varieties within the Toba Language: no'olxaxanaq in Pampa del Indio (Chaco), lañaxashec in Machagai (Chaco), and tacshec (Formosa).

Grammar [6]


Some nouns can function as adjectives or nouns. E.g.:

Sometimes, the particle ta is added to the adjective in order to combine it with a pronoun:

Some other times, they are used indifferently, with or without the particle ta. Nouns usually do not have declinations and, therefore, both singular and plural nouns share the same endings. It is only through the verb and circumstancials in the sentence that case and number are known.

In addition, the particle quotarien means ‘why’ or ‘for what cause, reason or motive’: For God's sake — Dios quotarien

Superlative and Comparative Forms

To make the comparative form, the Qom people add the particle mano before a noun functioning as an adjective:

  • Good — Noentá; Better — Mano-noentá
  • Bad — Scauenta; Worse — Mano-noentá
  • Sick — Saygot; Sicker — Mano-saygot

For the superlative form, the particle mano is added before the adjective and the letter u goes after it:

  • Good — Noenta; Very good — Noentaú
  • The best — Mano-noentá-ú
  • The worst — Mano-scauentq-ú
  • The sickest — Mano-saygoth-desaú


In the Toba language, the following pronouns can be found:



Pronouns, just like nouns, lack declinations:

Place demonstrative pronouns are:

But to make questions, they say:


This language does not have the verb 'to be' or perfective and imperfective aspect. So, in order to make a perfective sentence, there is subject-adjective agreement:

The particle sa preceding any verb denotes negation:

The first and second person pronouns are usually omitted:

Number and person are marked by different particles preceding or postponing the verb. Each verb behaves differently. For example, the second person is sometimes realized with the particle ma, majtia, aise, maj, etc.

Tenses are reduced to the following:

This is because time is not restricted to verb tenses, but it depends on the adverb that is postponed to the verb. In order to make sentences in the Present Progressive tense, the particles tapec or tápeyá must be added after the verb (they mark the verb in the progressive form). E.g.: I eating — illic tapec or tapeyá.


Some prepositions proceed the phrase, like guasigén, which means 'up' or 'on top of.' E.g.: On top of the house — Guasigén nohie.

Some others are postponed, such as lori (outside) and laloro (inside). E.g.: Inside and outside the house — Nohíe laloro, nohie lorí


There are adverbs of manner, place and time. The Toba language lacks adverbs that derive from adjectives, such as ‘badly’ and ‘nicely’, but they explain this by using adjectives. Instead of saying ‘The boy did it nicely,’ they say ñocolca noenta (Nice boy), and instead of saying ‘The man has behaved badly,’ they say Yahole scauen (Bad man).

They have the following adverbs of place:

Time adverbs are the following:

Counting System

The Tobas have only four numbers:

They count till ten by duplicating or triplicating the numbers:



Bilabial Alveolar Palatal Velar Uvular Glottal
Nasal m n ɲ
Plosive p t t͡ʃ   d͡ʒ k   ɡ q   ɢ ʔ
Fricative s ʃ h
Flap ɾ
Lateral l ʎ
Semivowel w j


Front Central Back
Close i
Mid e o
Open a
Phonetic allophones
/i/[i], [ɪ]
/e/[e], [ɛ], [ɨ]
/eː/[eː], [ɛː]
/o/[o], [ɔ]
/a/[a], [ã], [ə]

Sample text

The following is a sample text in Toba Qom of Article 1 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights: [9]

Toba Qom:

'Enauac na naaxat shiỹaxauapi na mayipi huesochiguii qataq 'eeta'a't da l'amaqchic qataq da 'enec qataq ỹataqta ỹaỹate'n naua lataxaco qataq nua no'o'n nvilỹaxaco, qaq ỹoqo'oyi iuen da i 'oonolec ỹataqta itauan ichoxoden ca lỹa.


All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.

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  1. "Toba". Ethnologue. Retrieved 2018-06-03.
  2. Ley No. 6604 de la Provincia de Chaco, 28 de julio de 2010, B.O., (9092), Link Archived 2016-03-04 at the Wayback Machine
  3. Messineo, C. (n.d.). Lengua Toba (Qom l'aqtaqa). Vocabulario. Retrieved 2021/05/27.
  4. UNICEF y FUNPROEIB Andes. (2009). Capítulo IV: Chaco. In Atlas sociolingüístico de pueblos indígenas en América Latina.
  5. Harriet E. Manelis Klein. (1978). In Una Gramática de la Lengua Toba: Morfología Verbal y Nominal.
  6. Bárcena, A., & Alexander, L. Q. S. (1898). Toba. Talleres de Publicaciones del Museo.
  7. Censabella. 2002.
  8. 1 2 Manelis-Klein, 2001.
  9. "NA NQATAXACPI NA ỸOTTA'A'T SHIỸAXAUAPI MAYI NETALEC ANA 'ALHUA, Universal Declaration of Human Rights". Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights. 22 April 2000.