Kanoê language

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RegionRondônia, Brazil
Native speakers
5 (2007)[1]
Language codes
ISO 639-3kxo
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Kanoê or Kapishana is a nearly extinct language isolate of Rondônia, Brazil. The Kapishana people now speak Portuguese or other indigenous languages from intermarriage.

The language names are also spelled Kapixana, Kapixanã, and Canoé, the last shared with Awa-Canoeiro.

The Kanoê people, although disperse in the southeastern part of the state of Rondônia, live mainly along the Guaropé River. The language is nearly extinct, with only 5 speakers in a population of about 319 Kanoê people.[3]


The first contact of the Kanoé people with the "white man" brought a lot of death through sickness. Many of the people died of pertussis, measles, and stomach problems since they didn't have the medicine needed to fight the diseases that were available to the "white man". There was also a lot of death due to conflicts with the farmers in the area.[3]

The Kanoê people can be found in two main areas, the banks of the Guaropé River and the Omorê River. The main population, living by the Guaropé River, share the land with other indigenous people and a long history of cohabitation with the "white man". Most of them are inserted into the Brazilian society and married to people belonging to other indigenous groups. Only three of them still speak the native Kanoê today.

By the Omorê River, a single family of Kanoê can be found, with much less influence from the Brazilian society. Having fled into a forest reserve, this group is considered isolated indigenous people, only allowing outside contact in 1995 after many years of attempts by the Ethno Environmental Protection Front. As of 2003, only four people remained of this Kanoê family, with two of them being monolingual Kanoê speakers. The area by the Omorê River is believed to be the original territory of the Kanoê people by Victor Dequech (1942) and Etta Becker-Donner (1955).

Current Status[edit]

For a long time Kanoê was too poorly attested to classify. Various proposals were advanced on little evidence; Price (1978) for example thought Kanoê might be one of the Nambikwaran languages. When it was finally described in some detail, by Bacelar (2004), it turned out to be a language isolate. It is believed to have been a naturally developed language, adapted to the needs of the Kanoê people.[4]

The first written study of the Kanoê language available today, dates back to 1943 when Stanislav Zach published a vocabulary of the Kanoê tribe,[5] which was later updated in 1963 by Cestmír Loukotka.

A preliminary report of the phonological features of the Kanoê language was published by Laércio Bacelar in 1992,[6] with a second report and an analysis of the phonology published in 1994.[7] Bacelar and Cleiton Pereira wrote a paper on the morphosyntax of the language in 1996.[8] And in 1998 a paper on the negation and litotes of the language was published by Bacelar and Augusto Silva Júnior.[9] Since then, Laércio Bacelar has been the main linguist investigating the language and working alongside the Kanoê people. In 2004 he published a detailed description of its phonology, grammar and syntax.[10]

A project called Etnografia e Documentação da Lingua Kanoé is underway with a lexicographic and ethnographic approach to record auditory and written data of the Kanoê language. The project is currently coordinated by Laércio Nora Bacelar, a Brazilian Linguist, and is funded by FUNAI - Museu do Índio and by UNESCO. The project also has the support of the entire Kanoê community from both the Guaropé and the Omorê rivers.



Bilabial Alveolar Palatal Velar
Stop p t k
Affricate t͡s
Fricative β x
Nasal m n ɲ
Approximant j w
Flap ɾ

/x/ is limited to a few verb forms, ‿where it occurs before /ĩ/. /ts/ is highly variable, [ts tʃ s ʃ], with the affricates being the more common, [ʃ] rare, and [tʃ ʃ] most common before /i u/. /r/ is [ɾ] between vowels, [d] after [n] and occasionally initially. /ɲ/ varies as [ȷ̃]. /n/ is [ŋ] before /k/, a pattern which occurs during metathesis. /p/ is very rarely realized as [ɓ]. /w/ /j/ are nasalized after nasal vowels.


i ĩ ɨ ɨ̃ u ũ
e o õ
æ æ̃ a ʌ̃

Vowel qualities are /i ɛ æ ɨ a u ɔ/, all oral and nasal; the nasal vowels have slightly different or variable pronunciations: [ĩ], [ɛ̃]~[ẽ], [æ̃], [ɨ̃], [ã]~[ʌ̃], [ɔ̃]~[õ], [ũ].

Oral vowels are optionally nasalized next to nasal stops, with the variation of phonemically nasal vowels. /ɛ/ varies as [ɛ]~[e] after /ts/ and next to an approximant. /ɨ/ varies as [ɨ]~[ə] after voiceless consonants. /ɔ/ varies as [ɔ]~[o] after /p, m/. Vowels may have a voiceless offglide (effectively [h]) when not followed by a voiced sound.

Vowels are long when they constitute a morpheme of their own. Stress is on the last syllable of a word. Maximally complex syllable is CGVG, where G is a glide /j w/, or, due to epenthesis in certain morphological situations or to elision, the final consonant may be /m n/. One of the more syllabically complex words is /kwivɛjkaw/ 'to shave'. Vowel sequences occur, as in /eaere/ 'chief'.


Although Kanoê is an isolate language, it is also a polysynthetic language, where the more complex words are the verbs (Payne 1997). It is also primarily an agglutinative language, and many words are formed by simple roots, juxtaposition and suffixation.[4] The gender can be expressed by suffixation or by a hyperonym, and while Kanoê does not make a distinction of number, it does make a distinction between uncountable and countable nouns, where the suffix {-te} is added[10] . The syntax order of Kanoê follows SOV = subject + object + verb.[4]

In the Kanoê language, the process of morphological reduplication is used to form frequentative verbs. For example, manamana 'kneading', or mañumañu 'chewing'. Although some names show reduplication, it can have an onomatopoeic motivation instead of a morphologic one - most names with reduplication are names for animals and birds, in which the phonetic sequence of the reduplication do seem to imitate the sounds characteristic of said animals, for example kurakura 'chicken' or tsõjtsõj 'colibri bird'.[10]


Personal Pronouns[edit]

Personal pronouns in the Kanoê language follow a monomorphic free form in the singular and bimorphic in the plural. These pronouns can occur in the subject or object position. The formation of the plural pronouns follow the formula PRO.PL → PRO.SG + COL, where PRO is the singular form of the pronoun and -COL is the plural morpheme {-te}.[10]