Nambikwara language

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Southern Nambikwara
Native to Mato Grosso, Brazil
Ethnicity Nambikwara
Native speakers
720 (2006)[1]
  • Nambikwara
Language codes
ISO 639-3 nab
Glottolog sout2994[2]
This article contains IPA phonetic symbols. Without proper rendering support, you may see question marks, boxes, or other symbols instead of Unicode characters.

The Nambikwara language (Southern Nambikwara or Kitãulhu, contrasting with Northern Nambikwara or Mamaindé; also spelled Nambikuára, Nhambikwara or Nambiquara) is an indigenous language of Brazil, spoken by about 1200 Nambikwara people in the Mato Grosso state. It forms a small Nambikwaran language family, which are often considered dialects of a single language despite not being mutually intelligible. They are a language isolate; Joseph Greenberg had included in his Gê–Pano–Carib phylum,[3] but this has not been followed by other linguists. Nambikwara is in vigorous use in the Nambikwara communities and in spite of having few speakers the language is not endangered. The name Nambikwara is of Tupi origin.

Most Nambikwara are monolingual but some young men speak Portuguese.[4]


Nambikwara phonology is complex: it distinguishes aspirated, glottalized and plain consonants, and also has two different phonation types of vowels, nasal vowels and three tones.


Kroeker (2001) distinguishes 19 different vowel sounds for Kitãulhu, based on six vowel qualities:[5]

Oral vowels
Front Back
Close i u
Mid ɛ o
Open a ʌ
Front Back
Front Back
ĩ ũ
Nasal creaky
Front Back
ḭ̃ ṵ̃

Apart from /ʌ/, these have creaky counterparts, /ḭ ɛ̰ a̰ o̰ ṵ/, and apart also from /o/, nasal and creaky nasal counterparts, /ĩ ɛ̃ ã ũ/, /ḭ̃ ɛ̰̃ ã̰ ṵ̃/.

Lowe (1999), on the other hand, does not recognize /ʌ/.[6] He describes /u/ as varying as [u-ʊ-ɨ-ə] in unstressed syllables, and unstressed /a/ as [ɜ].


Each syllable is marked for either falling, rising, or level tone; the three tones are marked with superscript numbers: 1, 2 and 3 respectively.


In Kroeker's analysis, Southern Nambikwara distinguishes 29 different consonant phonemes. The language contains an additional implosive alveolar stop [ɗ] which is only used by elderly people and is becoming obsolete.[7]

Consonant inventory per Kroeker (2001)
Bilabial Alveolar Palatal Velar Glottal
Central Lateral Plain Labialized
Plosives Plain p [p] t [t] k [k] kw [kʷ] x [ʔ]
Aspirated ph [pʰ] th [tʰ] kh [kʰ] kwh [kʷʰ]
Glottalized tx [tʔ] kx [kʔ]
Affricate Plain j [tʃ]
Fricatives Plain f [ɸ] s [s] h [h]
Glottalized fx [ɸʔ] sx [sʔ] hx [hʔ]
Sonorants Plain m [m] n [n] l [l] y [j] w [w]
Aspirated wh [ʍʰ]
Glottalized mx [ʔm] nx [ʔn] lx [ʔl] yx [ʔj] wx [ʔw]

Lowe (1999), however, analyzes many of these are sequences. For example, analyzing the aspirates as stop + /h/ simplifies the morphophonemic description of the language.

Consonant inventory per Lowe (1999)
Bilabial Alveolar Palatal Velar Glottal
Central Lateral
Plosives p [p] t [t] k [k] x [ʔ]
Fricatives (f [ɸ]) s [s]
Sonorants (m [m]) n [n] l [l] y [j] w [w] h [h]

(f) and (m) are in parentheses as they only occur in loanwords.

Lowe describes aspiration on the voiceless stops p, t, k, and on n, l, but not on w. Because he breaks up Kroeker's complex consonants into clusters, he posits a more complex syllable structure, with up to four initial consonants and up to a single coda consonant, which can only be t, k, x, h, n. The initial clusters can consist of any consonant at onset, but subsequent slots can only be w, h, x. A maximal CCCCVC syllable is seen in kwhxax3kax3li3su2 (sp. deer).


The plosives p, t, k are freely voiced in all positions: [p~b], [t~d], [k~ɡ]. A syllable-final n within a word when preceded by a nasal vowel assimilates to the following consonant as [m], [n], [ŋ], and when preceded by an oral vowel it is also prestopped ([ᵇm], [ᵈn], [ᶢŋ]). L is a lateral [l] before the back vowels [o], [u], and a flap [ɾ] before the non-back vowels [i], [e], [a].


The grammar of Nambikwara is polysynthetic and mostly suffixing. It uses active–stative alignment. Its basic word order is SOV. It has four word classes: verbs, nouns, adverbs and interrogative pronouns. Nambikwara has a complex system for expressing evidentiality.

Sample text[edit]

Ha3txa2 khon3kxi3jau3xa2[8]

Ha3txa2 kox3khaix1toh3na2hẽ3ra2. Nx3ha2kxai3, yã1ti3na2hẽ3ra2.

—Yxo2hxa3ti3li3a111, na1tãu3ã1, txa2se3kxa3lxa2 ã31xa3kxi2sa3na2hẽ3ra2. Ha3txa2 tĩn3ka3khai1xai2la1wa2, nxe3ha2kxai3, yã1ti3na2hẽ3ra2. Nxe3ha2kxai3, ju3txa2 yah3lo2nã3xa2 ai3ka3tai2la1wa2. Nxe3ha2kxai3, yã1ti3na2hẽ3ra2. Ju3txa2 tau3ka2 sa23nhxa3ti3na1hẽ3ra2, sũn2ta3ti31nai3ta2sa2. Ka3ja3la2 o2lha2ha2kxai3 yuh3lxi3jau3kxai3la1 i3sxã33hẽ1ra2. Nai1na1ta1, ya3lo3jãx1na1ka3tu3, Ro3ber2jah3la2 tau3ka2 sa23nhxa3ja3ha1hẽ1ra2. Nxe3ha2kxai3, hĩ1na2 tẽ1ha2 xai3la1ju3txa2 wi1khai1xn2na3ra2. Nxe3ha2kxai3 kãi2ka3li3khaix1sa3nha2wa2.

Translation (in Portuguese):[9]

Fazendo uma ponte

A ponte estava muito ruim, por isso eu me apressei. Minha esposa caiu na água enquanto estava atravessando. O pau da ponte era muito velho. As pessoas velhas sempre andaram neste lugar e por isso eu me apressei. Derrubei uma árvore ontem à tarde. Os civilizados estavam com medo e saíram, mas o Roberto me ajudou. Agora passar por lá é muito bom. Por isso estou muito alegre.

Rough English translation:

Building a bridge

The bridge was very bad, so I hurried up. My wife fell in the water while she was passing through. The planks of the bridge were too old. The old people always walked here place and so I hurried up. I felled a tree yesterday afternoon. The civilized ones were afraid and left, Roberto helped me. Now going that way is very good. So I am very happy.


  1. ^ Nambikwara at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015)
  2. ^ Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin; Bank, Sebastian, eds. (2016). "Southern Nambikuara". Glottolog 2.7. Jena: Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History. 
  3. ^ McQuown & Greenberg 1960
  4. ^ Kroeker, 2001 p.1
  5. ^ Kroeker, 2001, pp. 80 - 81
  6. ^ Ivan Lowe, 1999, "Nambiquara", in Dixon & Aikhenvald, eds, The Amazonian Languages. CUP
  7. ^ Kroeker, 2001, p.78
  8. ^ Txa21ha3txeh3nxãn3su2, pg 9-10
  9. ^ Txa21ha3txeh3nxãn3su2, pg 24.


  • Campbell, Lyle (1997). American Indian languages: the historical linguistics of Native America. Oxford: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-509427-1
  • Kroeker, Menno (2001) A Descriptive Grammar of Nambikuara, International Journal of American Linguistics, Vol. 67 No. 1. January. pp. 1–87.
  • Kroeker, Menno (1975) Thematic Linkage in Nambiquara. The thread of discourse by Joseph E. Grimes The Hague, Mouton.
  • Lowe, Ivan (1972) "On the relation of formal to sememic matrices with illustrations from Nambiquara". Foundations of Language 8, 360–390.
  • McQuown, Norman and Joseph Greenberg (1960) "In Sol Tax: Aboriginal Languages of Native America". Current Anthropology 1, 431–436.
  • Price, P. David (1976) "Southern Nambiquara Phonology", International Journal of American Linguistics, Vol. 42, No. 4, pp. 338–348
  • Telles, Stella & Leo Wetzels (2006) "The System of Evidentiality in Lakondê (Nambikwara)", in Whats in a Verb? Studies in the Verbal Morphology of the languages of the Americas Grażyna J. Rowicka & Eithne B. Carlin (Eds.). LOT: Utrecht.[1]
  • Summer Institute of Linguistics (1978) Txa21ha3txeh3nxãn3su2, Livro de leitura Nambikwara, Edição Experimental. SIL, Brasilia, DF.