Cubeo language

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Native to Brazil, Colombia
Ethnicity Cubeo
Native speakers
6,300 (2009)[1]
  • Central
    • Cubeo
Language codes
ISO 639-3 cub
Glottolog cube1242[2]
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Cubeo (Cuveo) is the language spoken by the Cubeo people in the Vaupés department, Cuduyari and Querarí rivers and tributaries in Colombia, and in Brazil and Venezuela.[1] It is a member of the central branch of the Tucanoan language family. Cubeo has borrowed a number of words from the Nadahup languages and its grammar has apparently been influenced by Arawak languages. The language has been variously described as having an SOV[1] or an OVS[3] word order, the latter quite rare.

Phonetics and Phonology[edit]


There are 6 oral vowels and six nasal ones. (See /ɨ/ if you are not familiar with this letter.)

Front Central Back
High i ĩ ɨ ɨ̃ u ũ
Low ɛ ɛ̃ a ã o õ


Labial Alveolar Palatal Velar
Stop voiced b d
voiceless p t k
Continuant w r j x

Unusually, Cubeo has a velar fricative /x/ but not strident fricatives. When older Cubeos use Spanish loans with /s/, they pronounce it as /tʃ/ before vowels. The /s/ deletes in word-final position in loans as in [xeˈtʃu] < Sp. Jesús [xeˈsus] 'Jesus' (c.f. Venezuelan Spanish [xeˈsu]).[4]


The stressed syllable is the first syllable with high tone in the phonological word (usually the second syllable of the word). Stress (and by extension, the position of the first high-tone syllable) is contrastive.[5]


Most morphemes belong to one of three categories:

  1. Nasal (many roots, as well as suffixes like -xã 'associative')
  2. Oral (many roots, as well as suffixes like -pe 'similarity', -du 'frustrative')
  3. Unmarked (only suffixes, e.g. -RE 'in/direct object')

No roots are unmarked with respect to this nasal/oral division, however some roots are partially oral and nasal, /bãˈkaxa-/ [mãˈkaxa-] 'to defecate'.[6]

Suffixes that begin with consonants without nasal allophones may be only nasal or oral (not unmarked) although suffixes that begin with consonants that have nasal allophones (/b, d, j, w, x, r/) may belong to any of the three classes above. It is impossible to predict the class to which a nasalizable consonant-initial suffix may belong.

There are some suffixes that are partially oral and partially nasal, like -kebã 'suppose'.[7] There are no cases in modern Cubeo in which -kebã is divided into separate oral and nasal suffixes.

Nasal assimilation[edit]

Nasality spreads rightward from the nasal vowel, nasalizing all oral vowels within a word provided they are not nasal and that all intervening consonants are nasalizable (/b, d, j, w, x, r/)

'She recently studied.'

Unlike the previous example, in the next one nasality spreads from the initial vowel to the following one, but is blocked from the third syllable by a non-nasalizable /k/:

'She recently went.'

Nasal spreading is blocked by underlyingly oral suffixes or vowels that are underlyingly oral in a nasal/oral morpheme.


  1. ^ a b c Cubeo at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015)
  2. ^ Nordhoff, Sebastian; Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds. (2013). "Cubeo". Glottolog. Leipzig: Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology. 
  3. ^ WALS summary
  4. ^ Morse & Maxwell 1999, p. 3
  5. ^ Morse & Maxwell 1999, p. 6
  6. ^ Morse & Maxwell 1999, p. 9
  7. ^ Morse & Maxwell 1999, pp. 7, 43


  • Morse, Nancy L.; Maxwell, Michael B. (1999). Gramática del cubeo (PDF) (in Spanish). Trans. Bernardo Montes. Bogotá: Editorial Alberto Lleras Camargo. ISBN 978-958-9281-29-1. Retrieved February 26, 2012. 

External links[edit]