Hixkaryana language

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Native to Brazil
Region Upper Nhamundá River, Amazonas
Native speakers
600 (2000)[1]
  • Parukotoan
    • Waiwai
      • Hixkaryána
Language codes
ISO 639-3 hix
Glottolog hixk1239[2]
This article contains IPA phonetic symbols. Without proper rendering support, you may see question marks, boxes, or other symbols instead of Unicode characters. For a guide to IPA symbols, see Help:IPA.

Hixkaryana /ˌhɪʃkæriˈɑːnə/[3] is one of the Cariban languages, spoken by just over 500 people on the Nhamundá River, a tributary of the Amazon River in Brazil. It may have been the first language to be described as having an object–verb–subject word order (by linguist Desmond C. Derbyshire), though determining this is "difficult".[citation needed]


Hixkaryana has the following consonant phonemes:

Labial Alveolar Postalveolar
or palatal
Velar Glottal
Nasal m n ɲ
Plosive p b t d ɟ k
Fricative ɸ s ʃ h
Tap ɾ ɽˡ
Approximant j w
  • /ɽˡ/ is a retroflex tap with a lateral release.
  • The orthography used is as follows: /tʃ ɟ/ = ⟨tx dy⟩; /ɸ ʃ/ = ⟨f x⟩; /ɲ/ = ⟨ny⟩; /ɽˡ/ = ⟨ry⟩; /j/ = ⟨y⟩.

Hixkaryana has the following vowel phonemes:

Front Back
Close ɯ, u
Close-mid e
Open-mid ɔ
Open æ

The vowels /ɯ/, /u/, /e/, /ɔ/, and /æ/ are written ⟨ɨ⟩, ⟨u⟩, ⟨e⟩, ⟨o⟩, and ⟨a⟩, respectively.


In Hixkaryana, arguments are indexed on the verb by means of person prefixes. These prefixes form an inverse-like pattern in which the argument highest in the hierarchy 2nd > 1st > 3rd is indexed on the verb. If the object of a transitive verb outranks the subject according to this hierarchy, the appropriate O-prefix is used; otherwise, an A-prefix is used.

A-prefixes O-prefixes
1A 0-/ɨ- 1O r(o)
2A m(ɨ)- 2O o(j)-/a(j)-
1+2A t(ɨ)- 1+2O k(ɨ)-
3A n(ɨ)-/j-

Intransitive verbs take prefixes mostly similar to the transitive prefixes given above, with an active–stative . The arguments' grammatical number is indexed on the verb by means of portmanteau suffixes that combine tense, aspect, mood, and number.

In most cases, the person prefixes unambiguously determine which of the arguments is the subject and which is the object. When both the subject and the object are third person, however, the person prefix is inadequate to fully determine the identity of the arguments. In these situations, therefore, word order is crucial in determining their identity. Hixkaryana may have an object–verb–subject word order. The example below, "toto yonoye kamara", cannot be given the AVO reading "the man ate the jaguar"; the OVA reading – "the jaguar ate the man" – is the only possible one.

toto yonoye kamara
toto y- ono -ye kamara
person 3SG- eat -DIST.PAST.COMPL jaguar
"The jaguar ate the man."

Indirect objects, however, follow the subject:

bɨryekomo yotahahono wosɨ tɨnyo wya
bɨryekomo y- otaha -ho -no wosɨ tɨnyo wya
boy 3SG- hit -CAUS -IMM.PAST woman her-husband by
"The woman caused her husband to hit the boy."

Moreover, word order in non-finite embedded clauses is SOV. [1] Like most other languages with objects preceding the verb, it is postpositional.


  1. ^ Hixkaryána at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015)
  2. ^ Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds. (2017). "Hixkaryana". Glottolog 3.0. Jena, Germany: Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History. 
  3. ^ Laurie Bauer, 2007, The Linguistics Student’s Handbook, Edinburgh
  • Aikhenvald, A. & Dixon, R. (Eds.) (1999). The Amazonian Languages. Oxford: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-521-57021-2. 
  • Derbyshire, D. (1979). Hixkaryana. Amsterdam: North-Holland Publishing. ISBN. 
  • Derbyshire, D. (1985). Hixkaryana and Linguistic Typology. Dallas, TX: Summer Institute of Linguistics. ISBN 0-88312-082-8. 

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