Warao language

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Native toVenezuela, Guyana, Suriname
Native speakers
32,800 (2005-2011)[1]
Language codes
ISO 639-3wba
Warao language.png

Warao (also known as Guarauno, Guarao, Warrau) is the native language of the Warao people. A language isolate, it is spoken by about 33,000 people primarily in northern Venezuela, Guyana and Suriname. It is notable for its unusual object–subject–verb word order.[3] The 2015 Venezuelan film Gone with the River was spoken in Warao.[4]


Warao appears to be a language isolate, unrelated to any recorded language in the region or elsewhere.[5] Terrence Kaufman (1994) included it in his hypothetical Macro-Paezan family, but the necessary supporting work was never done.[6] Julian Granberry connected many of the grammatical forms, including nominal and verbal suffixes, of Warao to the Timucua language of North Florida, also a language isolate.[7] However, he has also derived Timucua morphemes from Muskogean, Chibchan, Paezan, Arawakan, and other Amazonian languages, suggesting multi-language creolization as a possible explanation for these similarities. This notion has met with skepticism and been described by Lyle Campbell as "in no way convincing".[8]

Waroid hypothesis[edit]

Granberry also finds "Waroid" vocabulary items in Guajiro (from toponymic evidence it seems that the Warao or a related people once occupied Goajiro country) and in Taino (nuçay/nozay [nosái] "gold" in Ciboney — cf. Warao naséi símo "gold" (lit. "yellow pebble") — and duho "ceremonial stool" in Classic Taino — cf. Warao duhu "sit, stool"). Granberry & Vescelius (2004) note that toponymic evidence suggests that the pre-Taino Macorix language of Hispaniola and the Guanahatabey language of Cuba may have been Waroid languages as well.

Language contact[edit]

Jolkesky (2016) notes that there are lexical similarities with the Cariban, Arutani, Maku, and Sape language families due to contact within an earlier Guiana Highlands interaction sphere.[9]


The language had an estimated 28,100 speakers in Venezuela as of 2007. The Warao people live chiefly in the Orinoco Delta region of northeastern Venezuela, with smaller communities in southwestern Trinidad (Trinidad and Tobago), western Guyana and Suriname.[10] The language is considered endangered by UNESCO.[11]


Loukotka (1968) lists these varieties:[12]

  • Guanoco - spoken on the Laguna de Asfalto, state of Monagas (unattested)
  • Chaguan - spoken in the Orinoco Delta on the Manamo branch (unattested)
  • Mariusa - spoken in the same region on the Cocuina and Macareo branches

Mason (1950) lists:[13]

  • Waikeri (Guaiqueri)
  • Chaguan
  • Mariusa


The language's basic word order has been analyzed as object–subject–verb, a very rare word order among nominative–accusative languages such as Warao.[14]


The Warao consonant inventory is smaller, but not compared to many other South American phonologies, which are notably small. It does not contain any notable exotica.

Labial Alveolar Palatal Velar Glottal
plain labialized
Plosive p t k
Fricative s h
Nasal m n
Flap ɾ
Approximant j w

[b] and [d, l̆] are allophones of /p/ and /ɾ/. There are five oral vowels /a, ɛ, i, ɔ, u/ and five nasal vowels /ã, ẽ, ĩ, õ, ũ/. /u/ after /k/ within the beginning of words has a sound as [ɨ].[15]


Loukotka (1968) lists the following basic vocabulary items for Uarao (Warao) and Mariusa.[12]

gloss Uarao Mariusa
one isaka xisaka
two manámo manamo
three dianamu dixamo
head akua naxoto
eye kamu mu
tooth kai i
man nibora
water ho xo
fire hekono xeunu
sun xokoxi
manioc aru aru
jaguar tobe tobe
house xanóko ubanoko


  1. ^ Warao at Ethnologue (19th ed., 2016)
  2. ^ Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds. (2017). "Warao". Glottolog 3.0. Jena, Germany: Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History.
  3. ^ "Warao". www.jorojokowarao.de. Retrieved 2013-09-22.
  4. ^ "Venezuelan Film in Indigenous Warao Language an Oscar Hopeful". telesurtv. 12 September 2015. Retrieved 12 September 2015.
  5. ^ Campbell, Lyle (2012). "Classification of the indigenous languages of South America". In Grondona, Verónica; Campbell, Lyle (eds.). The Indigenous Languages of South America. The World of Linguistics. 2. Berlin: De Gruyter Mouton. pp. 59–166. ISBN 9783110255133.
  6. ^ Campbell, Lyle. (1997). American Indian languages: The historical linguistics of Native America. New York: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-509427-1.
  7. ^ Julian Granberry, A Grammar and Dictionary of the Timucua Language, pp. 15-32
  8. ^ "Full text of "American Indian Languages The Historical Linguistics Of Native America"". archive.org. Retrieved 2017-06-06.
  9. ^ Jolkesky, Marcelo Pinho de Valhery (2016). Estudo arqueo-ecolinguístico das terras tropicais sul-americanas (Ph.D. dissertation) (2 ed.). Brasília: University of Brasília.
  10. ^ "WARAO: a language of Venezuela", Ethnologue: Languages of the World, 14th Edition, 2000
  11. ^ "UNESCO Atlas of the World's Languages in danger". www.unesco.org. Retrieved 2018-03-20.
  12. ^ a b Loukotka, Čestmír (1968). Classification of South American Indian languages. Los Angeles: UCLA Latin American Center.
  13. ^ Mason, John Alden (1950). "The languages of South America". In Steward, Julian (ed.). Handbook of South American Indians. 6. Washington, D.C., Government Printing Office: Smithsonian Institution, Bureau of American Ethnology Bulletin 143. pp. 157–317.
  14. ^ Romero-Figueroa, Andrés (1985). "OSV as the basic order in Warao". Lingua. 66 (2–3): 115–134. doi:10.1016/S0024-3841(85)90281-5.
  15. ^ Osborn Jr., Henry A. (1966). Warao I: Phonology and Morphophonemics. International Journal of American Linguistics.


  • Campbell, Lyle. 1997. American Indian languages: The historical linguistics of Native America. New York: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-509427-1.
  • Granberry Julian. 1993. A Grammar and Dictionary of the Timucua Language. University of Alabama Press. ISBN 0817307044
  • Osborn Jr, Henry A. (1966). "Warao I: Phonology and Morphophonemics". International Journal of American Linguistics. 32 (2): 108–123.
  • Osborn Jr, Henry A. (1966b). "Warao II: Nouns, Relationals, and Demonstratives". International Journal of American Linguistics. 32 (3): 253–261. doi:10.1086/464910.
  • Barral, Basilio de. 1979. Diccionario Warao-Castellano, Castellano-Warao. Caracas: UCAB
  • Figeroa, Andrés Romero. 1997. A Reference Grammar of Warao. München, Newcastle: Lincom
  • Ponce, Peter. 2004. Diccionario Español - Warao. Fundación Turismo de Pedernales.
  • Vaquero, Antonio. 1965. Idioma Warao. Morfología, sintaxis, literatura. Estudios Venezolanos Indígenas. Caracas.
  • Wilbert, Johannes. 1964. Warao Oral Litrerature. Instituto Caribe de Antropología y Sociología. Fundación La Salle de Ciencias Naturales. Monograph no 9 Caracas: Editorial Sucre.
  • Wilbert, Johannes. 1969. Textos Folklóricos de los Indios Warao. Los Angeles: Latin American Center. University of California. Latin American Studies Vol. 12.

External links[edit]