Maká language

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Native toParaguay
RegionPresidente Hayes Department, Asunción
Native speakers
1,500 (2000)[1]
  • Maká
Language codes
ISO 639-3mca
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Maká is a Matacoan language spoken in Paraguay by the Maká people. Its 1,500 speakers live primarily in Presidente Hayes Department near the Río Negro, as well as in and around Asunción.


Labial Dental Alveolar Palatal/Velar Uvular Glottal
Nasal m n
Plosive plain p t ts k q ʔ
ejective tsʼ
Fricative f ɬ s x χ h
Approximant w l j

Velar consonants alternate with palatal consonants before /e/ and sometimes before /a/. Examples include /keɬejkup/ ~ [ceɬejkup] "autumn" and /exeʔ/ ~ [eçeʔ] "stork". The palatal approximant /j/ alternates with the palatal fricative /ç/ before /i/, as in /inanjiʔ/ ~ [inançiʔ].[3]

Front Back
High i u
Mid e o
Low a

Syllables in Maká may be of types V, VC, CV, CCV, and CCVC. When a consonant cluster appears at the beginning of a syllable, the second consonant must be /x/, /h/, /w/, or /y/.




Maká has two genders—masculine and feminine. The demonstratives reflect the gender of a noun (Gerzenstein 1995:153:

Masculine nouns Feminine nouns
na’ sehe’ ne' naxkax
dem:masc land dem:fem tree
‘this land’ 'this tree'
na' nunax ne' nunax
dem:masc dog dem:fem dog
‘this (male) dog' ‘this (female) dog'

In the plural the gender distinction is neutralized, and the plural demonstrative is the same as the feminine singular:

ne’ sehe-l these land-pl ‘these lands’

ne’ naxkak-wi these tree-pl ‘these trees’


Maká nouns inflect for plurality. There are several distinct plural endings: -l, -wi, Vts, and -Vy. All plants take the -wi plural, but otherwise the choice seems to be unpredictable (Gerzenstein 1995:150):

singular plural gloss
sehe sehe-l land(s)
naxkax naxkax-wi tree(s)
tenuk tenuk-its cat(s)


Maká does not have any overt case marking on nouns. Consider the following sentence, where neither the subject nor object shows any case (Gerzenstein 1995:139):

Ne’ efu Ø-tux ka’ sehets.
dem:f woman A3-eat indef:m fish
‘The woman eats fish.’

Agreement with the possessor[edit]

Nouns agree with their possessor in person (Gerzenstein 1995:148):

y-exi’ Ø-exi’ ł-exi’ in-exi’
1s-mouth 2-mouth 3-mouth 1plur:incl-mouth
‘my mouth’ 'your mouth' 'his/her/their mouth' 'our (inclusive) mouth'


Agreement with subject and object[edit]

Verbs agree with their subject and object in a rather complex system. Gerzenstein (1995) identifies five conjugation classes for intransitive verbs. The following two examples show intransitive verbs from conjugation classes 1 and 3.

tremble (conjugation class 3) dance (conjugation class 1)
1 tsi-kawelik 'I tremble' hoy-otoy 'I dance'
2 łan-kawelik 'you tremble' ł-otoy 'you dance'
3 yi-kawelik 'he/she trembles' t-otoy 'he/she dances'
1pl inclusive xiyi-kawelik 'we (inclusive) tremble' xit-otoy 'we (inclusive) dance'

Transitive verbs belong to a different conjugation class, Conjugation 6. The following forms show a transitive verb with a 3rd person object:

love (conjugation class 6)
hi-su'un 'I love (him/her)'
łi-su'un 'you love (him/her)'
yi-su'un 'he/she loves (him/her)'
xite-su'un 'we (inclusive) love (him/her)'

If the object of the transitive verb is 1st or 2nd person, then certain combinations of subject and object are shown by a portmanteau morpheme.

love (conjugation class 6) subject/object combination
k'e-su'un 'I love you' 1SUBJ›2OBJ
tsi-su'un 'he/she loves me' 3SUBJ›1OBJ
ne-su'un 'he/she loves you' 3SUBJ›2OBJ

Other combinations involve an object agreement marker which may either precede or follow the subject marker (Gerzenstein 1995:94-101):

'you bite me'
'he/she saves us (inclusive)'


Verbs in Maká have a series of suffixes called 'postpositions' in Gerzenstein (1995), which have the effect of introducing new oblique objects into the sentence.

The following examples show the applicative suffixes -ex 'instrumental ('with')' and -m 'benefactive ('for')'

Ne’ efu ni-xele-ex ke’ ute na’ nunax.
dem:f woman A3-throw-with indef:masc rock dem:m dog
‘The woman threw a rock at the dog.’
H-osxey-i-m na’ sehets na’ k’utsaX
A1-grill-P3-for dem:m fish dem:m old:man
‘I grill fish for the old man.’


Noun phrases[edit]

In noun phrases, the possessor precedes the possessed noun (Gerzenstein 1995:155):

e-li-ts łe-xiła’
2-child-pl 3-head
'your children’s head'

Noun phrases show the order (Demonstrative) (Numeral) (Adjective) N (Gerzenstein 1995:154):

Ne’ efu t-aqhay-ets ne’ ikwetxuł fo’ tiptip-its
dem:fem woman S3-buy-toward dem:plur four white horse=pl
’The woman bought four white horses.’



The basic word order for a transitive clause in Maká is subject–verb–object, as seen in the following example (Gerzenstein 1995:138)

Ne’ efu ni-xele-ex ke’ ute na’ nunax.
dem:f woman A3-throw-with indef:masc rock dem:m dog
‘The woman threw a rock at the dog.’

For intransitive clauses, the basic order is verb-subject (Gerzenstein 1995:106):

Wapi ne' efu.
rest dem:f woman
'The woman rests'


In yes-no questions, the usual subject–verb–object order changes to verb-subject-object following an initial particle /me/ (Gerzenstein 1995:136):

Me y-eqfemet-en na' k’utsaX na' xukhew?
q A3-injure-caus dem:m old:man dem:m man
‘Did the old man injure the man?’

Sentences with wh-questions show a sentence-initial question word. Maká has a very small inventory of question words, with only three members: łek 'who, what', pan 'which, where, how many', and inhats'ek 'why'. The following example shows an interrogative sentence with an initial question word (Gerzenstein 1995:178:

Łek pa' tux na' xukhew?
what dem:m eat dem:m old:man
‘What did the old man eat?’

External links[edit]

Works cited[edit]

  1. ^ Maká at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015)
  2. ^ Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds. (2017). "Maca". Glottolog 3.0. Jena, Germany: Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History.
  3. ^ Gerzenstein, Ana (1995). Lengua Maká. Estudio descriptivo. Archivo de Lenguas Indoamericanas (in Spanish). Buenos Aires: Universidad de Buenos Aires. ISBN 950-29-0176-2.