Tariana language

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Native to Brazil, formerly Colombia
Region Upper and Middle Vaupés River in Amazonas
Ethnicity 1,910 in Brazil (2002), 330 in Colombia (2007)[1]
Native speakers
100 (1996)[1]
Language codes
ISO 639-3 tae
Glottolog tari1256[2]
This article contains IPA phonetic symbols. Without proper rendering support, you may see question marks, boxes, or other symbols instead of Unicode characters.

Tariana (also Tariano) is an endangered Maipurean language spoken along the Vaupés River in Amazonas, Brazil by approximately 100 people. Another approximately 1,500 people in the upper and middle Vaupés River area identify themselves as ethnic Tariana but no longer speak the language.

The Tariana and East Tucano peoples are linguistically exogamous and consider fellow speakers of their languages blood relatives. Languages, like tribal identity, are acquired through patrilineal descent and as such are kept strictly separate from one another, with minimal lexical borrowing occurring among them. Traditionally, Indians in the Vaupés region spoke between three and ten other languages, including their mother's tongue and Spanish and/or Portuguese.

Speakers of Tariana have been switching to the unrelated Tucano language (of the Tucanoan family), which became a lingua franca in the Vaupés region in the late nineteenth century. Arriving in the region in the 1920s, Salesian missionaries promoted the exclusive use of Tucano among Indians in an effort to convert them. Economic concerns have also led fathers to increasingly leave their families to work for non-Amerindian Brazilians, which has undermined the patrilineal father-child interaction through which Tariana was traditionally acquired. In 1999, efforts were made to teach Tariana as a second language in the secondary school in Iauaretê. Regular classes in Tariana have been offered at the school since 2003.[3]:6-9

Research on Tariana, including a grammar book and a Tariana-Portuguese dictionary have been written by Alexandra Aikhenvald from the La Trobe University, who is a specialist on the Arawak language family.


Tariana has a relatively large phoneme inventory compared to other Vaupés languages such as Baniwa and Tucano. It has a rare set of phonotactic restrictions that determine whether phonemes can occur initially or medially and in which types of morphemes (roots, affixes, and enclitics.) The phoneme [tʃ], for example, can occur initially in roots but not in affixes or enclitics.

Bolded letters indicate the orthography used by Alexandra Aikhenvald in her Grammar of Tariana. IPA transcription is indicated where it differs from the standard orthography.


Tariana has 6 vowels, all of which may occur nasalized, except for [ɨ], or long, except for [ɨ] and [ɵ].

Short Nasalized Long
Front Central Back Front Central Back Front Central Back
Close i ɨ u ĩ ũ i: u:
Close-mid e o [ɵ] õ [ɵ̃] e:
Open a ã a:

Phonotactic Restrictions on the Occurrence of Vowels

Phoneme Root-Initial Affix-Initial Enclitic-Initial Root-Medial Affix-Medial Enclitic-Medial Root-Final Affix- or Enclitic-Final
i + + + + + + + +
e + - - + + + + +
ɨ1 + - - - - - - +
o - - - + - + + + one enclitic
u + - - + + + + +
a + + + + + + + +
i: + - - + - - - -
e: + - - + - - - -
u: + - - + - - + -
a: + - - + - - + -
ĩ - - - + - - + -
- - - + - - + -
õ2 - - - + - - + -
ũ + - - + - - - -
ã + - - + - - + -

1ɨ occurs only in the augmentative enclitic =pɨ and in the onomatopoeic ɨhmeni "moan". It also occasionally appears as an allophone of i in the following words: marawatimarawatɨ "a type of snuff", hitísihitɨsi "tear", and -pitípitɨ "chase away, kick". Its occurrence in Tariana has been ascribed to the influence of Tucano.[3]:32-33
2õ occurs only in the following words: tõkẽ "firefly", siwirikõrena "tapiriri, Tapirira guianensis", nuitõ "daughter! (vocative)", and -tõreta "roll into a thin roll, like a cigarette". It also occurs word-initially in place names of Tucano origin (e.g. Õrõreana).[3]:33


Tariana has 24 consonants:

Bilabial Dental Alveo-palatal Palatal Velar Glottal
Stops Voiceless p t [t̺] k
Voiceless Aspirated ph [pʰ] th [t̺ʰ] kh [kʰ]
Voiced b d [d̺] (g)
Voiced Aspirated dh [d̺ʰ]
Fricative s [s̺] h
Affricate [t͡ɕ]
Nasal Plain m n [n̺] ñ [ɲ]
Aspirated mh [mʰ] nh [n̺ʰ] ñh [ɲʰ]
Flap r [ɾ̺]
Lateral l [l̺]
Semi-vowel Plain w y [j]
Aspirated wh [wʰ]

The phoneme /ɡ/ occurs only in loanwords from Portuguese (e.g. the names Graciliano, Gabriel). A tendency to insert a glottal stop /ʔ/ after word-final /a/ has been noted among younger speakers. This phenomenon has been ascribed to the influence of Tucano.

Phonotactic Restrictions on the Occurrence of Consonants

Phoneme Root-Initial Affix-Initial Enclitic-Initial Root-Medial Affix-Medial Enclitic-Medial Comments
p + + + + - -
ph + + - + + +
b + - + (+) only noun roots - - mostly in loans
t + + + + + +
th + + + + + +
d + + + + + +
dh (+) one root - (+) two enclitics - - - occurs word-initially as a result of h-metathesis
k + + + + + +
kh + + + + - -
s + + + + + +
+ - - + - -
h + + + restricted - -
m + + + + + -
mh + (+) (+) two enclitics + - - often as a result of h-metathesis
n + + + + + +
nh + - + + - - often as a result of h-metathesis
ñ + - (+) enclitic + - + one enclitic
ñh + (two roots) - - + one root - - only in three roots
r + + + + + + does not occur in word-initial position
l + - - + - -
w + + + + + +
wh + + - + - (+) one enclitic result of h-metathesis word-initially and word-medially
y + + + + + +

(+) indicates phoneme appears in a limited set of items.[3]:31-32

Syllable Structure[edit]

Syllables in Tariana follow the pattern (C₁)V(C₂), where C₂ can only be h, y, and n. Phoneme occurrence is also restricted by morphological context, with certain phonemes only occurring in certain positions (initially and medially) within certain types of morphemes (roots, affixes, and enclitics.) Vowels may be elided or reduced in rapid speech, rendering some syllables VC or CVC. For example, the word di-dusitá 'he goes back' becomes [didusta] in rapid speech, with the elision of the pre-tonic i. Similarly, the word di-pitá=kà=sità 'he bathes' becomes [dipitakaəsta], with the pre-tonic i being elided and a [ə] inserted at the clitic boundary before the s. (Note that hyphens mark affixes; equals signs mark clitics.)[3]:34-35


Tariana has both primary and secondary stress. Tariana is a pitch-accent language, with stressed syllables indicated by a higher pitch and greater intensity in pronunciation. Unstressed syllables are only differentiated from non-stressed syllables in their intensity. Long vowels are always stressed. Nasal vowels are also normally stressed. Otherwise, primary stress may fall on either the antepenultimate, the penultimate, or the final syllable. Penultimate stress in most common in monomorphemic words (e.g. dúpu "a lizard"), though antepenultimate (e.g. képira "bird") and final stress (e.g. yapuratú "long flute used at ritual offering") also exist. All roots have underlying stress. Prefixes are unstressed, while suffixes may be stressed or unstressed. Suffixes with underlying stress generally cause penultimate stress when attached to a root (e.g. máwi "hook"→mawípi "blowgun").[3]:37-39

Phonological Processes[edit]

Vowel Reduction
In rapid speech, e, i, and a are reduced to ə in pre- and post-tonic syllables. Pre-tonic reduction occurs in the third syllable counting left from the primary stress (e.g. yarumakási→yərumamkási "clothing") as well as in word-initial syllables (e.g. yakóreka→yəkóreka "door"). Vowels are also reduced in syllables preceding a secondary stress (e.g. makhà→məkhà "recent past non-visual"). Post-tonic reduction affects word-final syllables (e.g. yásene→yásenə "the Tucano").[3]:39

H-metathesis occurs if an h-initial root or suffix follows a prefix or a root, respectively. The process follows one of three patterns:

  • CV- + hVX → ChVX → CʰVX, if C is a stop, nasal, or bilabial glide.
di- '3sngnf' + -híma 'hear' → dhi-ima 'he hears'

If there are multiple CV syllables preceding the h-initial root or suffix—where the C is a stop, nasal, or bilabial glide—the h metathesizes to the leftmost of these.

ñamá 'two' + -hípa 'numeral classifier: human' → ñhamá-ipa 'two humans'
  • V₁- + hV₂X → hV₁V₂X (→hV₂X if V₁=V₂)
i- '2pl' + -hípa 'grab' → hi-ipahípa 'you pl. grab'
  • CV + VwhV → ChVwV → CʰVw, when C is a stop, nasal, or bilabial glide.
pá: 'one' + -iwhi 'classifier: thin particle-like things' → phéwi 'one thin particle-like thing'.

(Note: Vowel coalescence occurs here, with the a+i resulting in an e, but this occurs only in the case of h-metathesis and not elsewhere)[3]:46-47


Tariana is a polysynthetic language, with both head-marking and dependent-marking elements.


Nominal words may include up to sixteen structural positions, which are defined as follows (note that hyphens mark affixes while equals signs marks clitics):[3]:83

The following noun phrase includes thirteen of the sixteen possible structural positions. Brackets indicate syntactic structure.

"with this very person belonging to my bad little older sisters, too"[3]:84


Predicates in Tariana may include up to nine affixes, which are defined as follows:[3]:253-254

  • Cross-referencing prefixes or negative ma- or relative ka-
  • Root
  • Thematic syllable
  • Causative -i
  • Negative -(ka)de
  • Reciprocal -kaka
  • -ina 'almost, a little bit'
  • Topic-advancing -ni, or passive -kana, or purposive non-visual -hyu or purposive visual -karu
  • Verbal classifiers
  • Benefactive -pena

Suffixes may be followed by a number of enclitics, as follows (note that ! marks a floating clitic):

  • Intentional, 'be about to' =kasu
  • Mood (imperative, declarative, frustrative, conditional, apprehensive, interrogative fused with evidentiality and tense)
  • Aspect 'zone' I, includes habitual prescribed =hyuna 'what you do and what you ought to do, customary =kape, habitual repetitive -nipe, anterior =nhi
  • a/b ! Evidentiality and tense (e.g. =mha=na 'non-visual-remote.past')
  • Epistemic =da 'doubt', =pada 'isn't it true that'
  • Aktionsart (manner or extent of associated action, e.g. 'split open', 'step on and feel pain', 'away')
  •  ! Degree: augmentative 'indeed', diminutive, approximative, excessive
  • Aspect 'zone' II, includes prolonged/ongoing =daka 'yet, still', perfective =sita 'already accomplished', ! repetitive =pita, =ta 'once again', ! completive =niki 'totally, completely'
  • Switch reference and clause-chaining
  •  ! Emphatic enclitics a/ya, wani; evidence

The following verb construction includes eleven of the twenty possible structural positions:

"While (they) apparently did not break each other by splitting open totally in vain..."


Tariana has a system of obligatory tense-evidentiality markers, which take the form of clitics on verbs. There are four tenses: present, recent past, remote past, and future. In affirmative clauses, the non-future tenses fuse with evidentials designating visual, non-visual, inferred generic, inferred specific, and reported information. The inferred specific evidential is a recent innovation and has been ascribed to the influence of Tucano. It is a combination of the anterior aspect marker -nhi and non-present visual evidentials -ka and -na producing -nhika for recent past inferred specific and -nhina for remote past inferred specific.[3]:287-289

Tense-Evidentiality in Affirmative Clauses

Present Recent Past Remote Past
Visual -naka -ka -na
Non-Visual -mha -mahka -mhana
Inferred Generic - -sika -sina
Inferred Specific - -nihka -nhina
Reported -pida -pidaka -pidana

In interrogative clauses, the same three non-future tenses fuse with evidentials designating visual, non-visual, and inferred information. Evidentiality in interrogative clauses indicates the speaker's assumptions about the addressee's sources of information. Use of an inferred evidential, for example, implies the speaker assumes the addressee does not have direct access to evidence on the subject at hand.[3]:311-317 Note the remote past non-visual is rarely used, except as a "conventionalized conversation sustainer," an interrogative repetition of a story-teller's predicates to indicate the listeners' attention.[3]:319

Tense-Evidentiality in Interrogative Clauses

Present Recent Past Remote Past
Visual -nha -nihka -nhina
Non-Visual -tha,-mha -mha (-mhana)
Inferred - -sika -sina

There are two future tense markers in Tariana, neither of which indicates evidentiality. The definite future marker -de may only be used in the first person, while the indefinite future marker -mahde may be used for any person.[3]:320-321


Word Order[edit]

Word order in Tariana is "pragmatically based" and is generally free except for a handful of specific contexts.[3]:561

  • Complements of the positive copula alia must precede the copula.
  • Interrogative words typically occur clause-initially.
  • Clause and sentence connectors occur sentence-initially.
  • Predicates occur clause-finally in dependent clauses.
  • Subjects of imperative and apprehensive constructions follow the verb.
  • In "double S-clauses"—idiomatic clauses that "refer to emotional states and contain an inalienably possessed body part"—the body part must precede the predicate.[3]:568-571
du-kare du-wara-ka
3sgf-heart 3sgnf-diminish-REC.P.VIS
"She is worried (lit. she diminished with respect to her heart)."[3]:500

Noun Phrases[edit]

Noun phrases comprise a head, which may be a noun, adjective, demonstrative, specifier article, quantifier, or deictic, as well as one or more modifiers. Modifiers must agree with the head in animacy and in number if the head is animate. Specifier articles, demonstratives, and the quantifier kanapada 'how many, how much; this many, this much' always precede the head. All other modifiers may either precede or follow the head. In general, modifiers precede a definite or topical noun and follow an "indefinite, non-specific, or otherwise inconsequential nominal referent."[3]:476

ne ma:tʃite hema-yana di-swa-nhi-na
then bad+NCL:ANIM tapir-PEJ 3sgnf-lie-ANT-REM.P.VIS
"Then a naughty (well-known) bad tapir was lying (there)."

In this example, even though the noun 'tapir' has just been introduced, the fact that the adjective 'bad' precedes it indicates that it is well-known or topical.

Case Marking[edit]

Tariana exhibits an essentially nominative–accusative morphosyntactic alignment. Its core cases are broadly analyzed as falling into the categories of A/S 'subject' and non-A/S 'non-subject'. (Note: A stands for a transitive subject, S for a subject of an intransitive verb, Sₐ for a subject of an active intransitive verb, Sₒ for a subject of a stative intransitive verb, and Sᵢₒ for a subject of an intransitive verb with a non-canonically marked argument.) Case marking is determined by the discourse status of the noun (i.e. topical, non-topical, focused).

Grammatical Function Discourse Status Nouns Pronouns
A, Sₐ, Sₒ non-topical/topical
A, Sₐ, Sₒ focused -nhe/-ne
Non-A/Sₐ/Sₒ and also Sᵢₒ non-topical -na
topical -nuku/-naku

A noun in the A, Sₐ, Sₒ category is considered focused if it meets one of the following conditions:

  • A/Sₐ/Sₒ us a key participant in contrastive focus to another argument.
  • A/Sₐ/Sₒ is presented as a main participant in the discourse; or is a newly introduced but already know participant important for the future discourse.
  • A/Sₐ/Sₒ have to be disambiguated.[3]:141-142

A noun in the non-A/Sₐ/Sₒ is considered topical if it meets one of the following conditions:

  • The noun is (or is going to be) the topic of the narrative.
  • The noun is referential, specific, and/or definite.
  • The noun is important (but is not necessarily contrastive).[3]:145

Tariana has two oblique cases, the locational and the instrumental/comitative, although only nouns may be marked for both whereas pronouns are only marked for the instrumental/comitative.

Case Nouns Pronouns
Locational -se (none)
Instrumental/Comitative -ne -ine

Because oblique cases are inherently non-A/Sₐ/Sₒ, they may be double-marked if they serve as the topic of the sentence as well. The following example is from a hunter's narrative about improving his house, with 'house' being the topic of the narrative. Note that in this sentence, 'house' is marked both as a topical non-A/Sₐ/Sₒ and locational.

nu-ñha nu-dia nhua nu-ya-dapana-se-nuku
1sg-eat 1sg-return I 1sg-POSS-CL:HAB-LOC-TOP.NON.A/S
"I'll go back to eat (my catch) in my very house.'[3]:159

Switch Reference[edit]

Same Subject Different Subject
Prior -hyume/-yuhme 'after; because' -kayami 'after'
Simultaneous -nikhe, -kakari 'during, while' -nisawa, -kanada, -nipua, -piyana, -kariku, -kapua 'while, during'

Tariana switch reference enclitics indicate whether the action of a dependent clause is simultaneous with or prior to the action of the main clause and whether the subject of the dependent clause is the same or different from the subject of the main clause. In rapid speech, the enclitic -hyume often becomes -yuhme or even -yume. -Kayami is occasionally pronounced -kañami or -kayãmi. Note that there are several different enclitics for the simultaneous action categories. Each enclitic has various restrictions as to which other clitics and affixes it may combine with and where it may fall within a clause or sentence.[3]:516-525

[inari na-matʃika-hyume] nhemathani-pidana
mucura.rat 3pl-be bad+TH-AFTER:SS 3pl+shout-REM.P.REP
"After they transformed into mucura rats, they shouted."

Note: brackets indicate syntactic structure.[3]:516


  1. ^ a b Tariana at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015)
  2. ^ Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin; Bank, Sebastian, eds. (2016). "Tariana". Glottolog 2.7. Jena: Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History. 
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x Aikhenvald, Alexandra (2003). A Grammar of Tariana. Cambridge University Press.

External links[edit]