The Secoya language has been classified as a member of the Tucanoan linguistic family and the sub-family, Western Tucanoan, in Ecuador and Peru. The remaining sub-families are Eastern Tucanoan and Central Tucanoan, comprising at least fourteen languages spoken in the region of the Vaupés River in Colombia and Brazil. Included among the Secoya are a number of people called Angoteros. Although their language comprises only some dialectal differences of Secoya, there are no other communicative obstacles present. The Siona of the Eno River, linguistically different from the Siona of the Putumayo, say there are significant dialectal differences between their language and Secoya, but are still considered a part of them. In ethnographic publications, the Secoya go by other alternate names as well: Encabellado, Pioje (based on the Secoya term peo-ji "no"), Santa Maria, and Angutera.
The voiceless stops /p, t, k, kʷ/ are the same as Spanish, however the aspiration is more articulated in Secoya. The phoneme /t/ is pronounced with the tip of the tongue making contact with the upper teeth. The velar-labialized /kʷ/ is pronounced similarly to /k/, but with rounding of the lips. The glottal stop /ʔ/ almost disappears when strong stress on the previous syllable does not occur.
The voiceless phonemes /sʰ/ and /h/ are both articulated in the alveolar position, making them difficult to distinguish. The /s/ is pronounced a little harder and determines a dull elongation prior to an unstressed vowel. The phoneme /zʰ/ has some laryngeal stress and expresses the laryngealization on adjacent vowels.
The glides /w/ and /y/ are almost equal to the vowels /u/ and /i/ respectively, but more tightly articulated. The /w/ resembles the hu in the Spanish "huevo". When it occurs at an adjacent nasal vowel, [w] becomes nasalized. The /y/ is pronounced almost like that in Spanish, but the Secoya articulate it with slightly more friction. When it occurs contiguous to a nasal vowel, the result becomes nasalized and sounds like the Spanish ñ.
The noun in Secoya is distinguished, in most forms, through the general category and the specific unit. The basic form of a noun, without suffixes, indicates the general category (men, children, canoes, stones, eggs, etc.) without specifying a definite number of elements. To indicate the singular or plural, that is, a number of specific elements, suffix classifiers (in the case of inanimate nouns) or gender suffixes (in the case of animate nouns) are added. To indicate a definite number of inanimate objects, a plural suffix is added to a noun. When the word refers to a number of specific elements, we use the definite article in the Spanish translation. However, it can also be translated with the indefinite article.
The nouns denoting animals appear in their basic form without suffix to indicate the generic type. To indicate the singular, the suffix -e or -o is added. To form the plural noun, the specifierhua'i is added to any of the two forms.
The nouns denoting supernatural beings and celestial bodies appear in their basic form to indicate both the generic as the singular. To form the plural, add -o and hua'i. All of these beings appear as characters in the animistic legends of the Secoya.
The nouns denoting people typically lead gender suffixes with a masculine or feminine singular. To form the plural noun, the specifierhua'i is added. The nouns whose basic form is a verb or adjective gender carry the suffix -ë for singular masculine or -o for singular female. After the vowel /o/, the masculine ending becomes -u and after the vowels /e/ and /i/, becomes -i. (If both vowels are identical, the vowel is reduced to one)
The demonstrative pronoun ja "that" occurs with suffixes classifiers, local or temporary, to refer to an object, place or time.
"that object with a round or bulging form"
"that object that holds or has something in it"
"that object that has permanent roots"
The demonstrative pronoun iye "this" occurs with suffix classifiers, local and temporary, as with the separate hua'i for plural words and maca to refer to a person, place, thing. These refer to a specific previously defined nominal element. When a gender suffix is added, the form of the pronoun is uses i-.
There are times for all people and genders, distinguished in the declarative modes of involvement perspective: the present, the immediate past, the distant past and future. The immediate past is not so much of recent events, but events that the speaker considers to be important in the present. It is distinguished by the immediate past speaker who considers unimportant events in the present. That is, they are already forgotten or outdated events.
The following examples demonstrate the present and immediate past tense and use the root caje "down".
"He's down the river."
"He went down the river."
This next example demonstrates the immediate past tense when the basic form of the verb ends in [í] or [ʔí]. It uses the root sa'i "go".
"He went down the river"
This example demonstrates the distant past. This category is pointed out with the suffix -a̱'- after the basic form of the verb.
The use of the oblique case markers in Secoya is not very complex. The oblique case suffixes -na, -hã-ã, and -hã’de are used to express specific grammatical relations. The first oblique case suffix -na expresses the spatial relation of goal, -hã-ã marks objects expressing a path, and -hã’de marks accompaniment.
Unlike Andean languages (Quechua, Aymara), which mark nominative, accusative, dative, and genitive cases, Amazonian languages like Secoya are limited to locative and instrumental/comitative cases. Enclitics are used to indicate grammatical case and the following suffixes indicate the nominal items that are linked to it.
The Ecuadorian-Peruvian War in 1941 had a great impact on the life of the Secoya after it created a separation of the local groups by splitting up the region. This division resulted in the obsolescence of many customs and traditions that were once prevalent in their culture. In the early 1970s, the Texaco and Gulf oil companies converged on Ecuador when massive petroleum reserves were discovered underground. The extensive periods of oil drilling ravaged many of their settlement areas, culminating in disastrous ecological problems like water and soil contamination. Even today, the Secoya still face many problems involving geopolitical feuds, harassment by oil companies, and the colonization and assimilation of Mestizo culture. The language status of the Siona-Secoya group is threatened, with only 550 speakers in Ecuador and 680 in Peru.