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Wayuu language

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Native toVenezuela, Colombia
Ethnicity790,000 Wayuu people (2011 & 2019 censuses)[1]
Native speakers
420,000 (2008–2012)[1]
Latin script
Official status
Regulated byCentro Etnoeducativo Kamusuchiwoꞌu
Language codes
ISO 639-3guc
Extent of the Wayuu people and language
This article contains IPA phonetic symbols. Without proper rendering support, you may see question marks, boxes, or other symbols instead of Unicode characters. For an introductory guide on IPA symbols, see Help:IPA.

Wayuu (Wayuu: Wayuunaiki [waˈjuːnaiki]), or Guajiro, is a major Arawakan language spoken by 400,000 indigenous Wayuu people in northwestern Venezuela and northeastern Colombia on the Guajira Peninsula and surrounding Lake Maracaibo.

There were an estimated 300,000 speakers of Wayuunaiki in Venezuela in 2012 and another 120,000 in Colombia in 2008, approximately half the ethnic population of 400,000 in Venezuela (2011 census) and 400,000 in Colombia (2018 census).[1] Smith (1995) reports that a mixed Wayuu—Spanish language is replacing Wayuunaiki in both countries.[full citation needed] However, Campbell (1997) could find no information on this.[full citation needed]

Recent developments[edit]

To promote bilingual education among Wayuu and other Colombians, the Kamusuchiwoꞌu Ethno-educative Center (Spanish: Centro Etnoeducativo Kamusuchiwoꞌu) came up with the initiative of creating the first illustrated Wayuunaiki–Spanish, Spanish–Wayuunaiki dictionary.[2]

In December 2011, the Wayuu Taya Foundation and Microsoft presented the first ever dictionary of technology terms in Wayuunaiki,[3][4] after having developed it for three years with a team of technology professionals and linguists.


The two main dialects are Wüinpümüin and Wopumüin, spoken in the northeast and southwest of the peninsula, respectively. These dialects are mutually intelligible, as they are minimally distinct. The extinct Guanebucan language may actually have been a dialect of Wayuunaiki.[citation needed]. The main difference between Wüinpümüin and Wopümüin is that Wüinpümüin uses jia as the 3rd person feminine pronoun, and jaya for the second person plural, while Wopümüin uses shia as the 3rd person feminine, and jia as the second person plural. There are minor vocabulary differences, but the main one is only related to the pronouns, and their respective prefixes.[5]


The vowels of Wayuu are as follows:[6]

Front Central Back
Close i ⟨i⟩ ɨ ⟨ü⟩ u ⟨u⟩
Mid ɛ ⟨e⟩ ɔ ⟨o⟩
Open a ⟨a⟩

Note: ⟨e⟩ and ⟨o⟩ are more open than in English.[clarification needed] ⟨a⟩ is slightly front of central, and ⟨ü⟩ is slightly back of central. All vowels can either occur in short or long versions, since vowel length is distinctive.

Labial Alveolar Palatal Velar Glottal
Nasal m ⟨m⟩ n ⟨n⟩
Plosive p ⟨p⟩ ⟨t⟩ t͡ʃ ⟨ch⟩ k ⟨k⟩ ʔ ⟨ꞌ⟩
Fricative s ⟨s⟩ ʃ ⟨sh⟩ h ⟨j⟩
Flap ɺ ⟨l⟩
Trill r ⟨r⟩
Semivowel w ⟨w⟩ j ⟨y⟩

⟨l⟩ is a lateral flap pronounced with the tongue just behind the position for the Spanish ⟨r⟩, and with a more lateral airflow.

The length of plosive consonants (p, t, k) and nasal consonants (m, n) can be long, in which case they are written double (pp, tt, kk, mm, nn). The accent in Wayuu generally falls on the second syllable of the word, except when it begins with a geminate vowel (VV) or a consonant followed by a geminate vowel (CVV) or with a closed syllable (CVC), in which case the accent falls on the first syllable. vocal. In words with an irregular accent that do not comply with these rules, the accent is marked when writing with an accent. Nasalization occurs phonetically in Wayu, but does not have a phonemic character. It occurs in vowels next to nasal consonants or as an emphasizing feature of certain words such as aa "yes", ma'i "very" or eejuu "smell".


Nouns are expressed with a suffix that indicates the plural number (-kana) or the singular depending on whether it is masculine (-kai) or non-masculine (-kat). The classification plural, masculine singular, feminine singular affects the entire language and in particular the pronouns and conjugations of verbs.[7] All nouns that do not have a determined gender are assumed to be non-masculine.[8] Demonstrative pronouns, for example, have a root that indicates whether it is masculine singular (chi-), not masculine singular (tü-) or plural (na-), which is used in the basic form to indicate the closest presence (this, this, these) and to which a suffix is added to indicate degrees of greater distance (-ra/ --la, -sa, -a/-ia/-ya), like this:

Masculine Non-masculine Plural
Adjacent to speaker chi

this (masc.)

this (non-masculine)



Adjacent to hearer chira

that (masc.)


that (non-masc.)



Not adjacent chisa

that over there (masc.)


that over there (non-masc.)


those over there

Far chia

that far away (masc.)


that far away (non-masc.)


those far away

The personal pronouns in Wayuunaiki are [5][7][9][10]

Wayuunaiki personal pronouns
singular plural
1st person taya waya
2nd person pia jia/jaya
3rd person nia (he)

shia/jia (she)


Wayuunaiki uses personal prefixes derived from the pronouns, along with 3 extra non-pronoun derived prefixes (ka- - possessive, ma- - negative, pa- - dual (not commonly used)). There also exists a 10th personal prefix for the unspecified/indefinite, labeled as the “zero person”, a-. The vowels in the personal prefixes change depending on the first vowel and consonants of the verb, noun, or preposition it is placed on, dubbed vocalic mutation. The prefixes that correspond with the -aya ending pronouns typically follow the beginning vowel of the mentioned word classes, while the ones that correspond with the -ia ending pronouns almost always go through vocalic mutation. There are rules to what vowel is used when, but typically, -aya pronoun derived and the 4 non-pronoun derived prefixes use a, e, or o, while the remaining 3 -ia pronoun derived use ü, i, and u respectively to the previous. These prefixes are used when expressing a verb with the objective construction, or, for the pronoun-derived prefixes, when expressing someone’s ownership of something.[9]

There are 9 triads of suffixes for the singular masucline animate, singular feminine animate/general inanimate, and the general plural. These suffixes can manifest in tense, aspect, and mood suffixes for verbs, derivational words, the definite article suffixes, or in the case of triad G, the negative ma- verb prefix’s suffixes.[9]

The most common triad of suffixes in verbs is triad A (shi/sü/shii), the general time suffixes, also named as “present-past time”, where it combines the English and Spanish equivalents of the basic present and the basic past tense. Whichever equivalent is being implied depends on the context of the situation, and sometimes can be interpreted or translated as a completely different tense, the present-continuous (named “future imminent” in the studies done over Wayuunaiki), which has its own suffix triad, using triad B and combining it with -i- (-ichi, -irü, -ina).[9]


Wayuunaiki is agglutinative, with the majority of ways of expressing aspect and mood being used with suffixes, attached to the end of a verb. There are alienable and inalienable nouns, where the former requires possessive suffixes to express possession, while the latter is seen as inherently possessed by something, does not require possessive suffixes, and is usually accompanied by the pronoun derived prefixes. Words can be combined together to form new ones, with the typical 2 patterns being alienable + inalienable or inalienable + inalienable, where the 0 person (a-, e-, o-) prefix of the latter is removed and fully mixed with the former, with necessary vocalic and consonantal mutations. Another form of this is combining any noun or preposition with a verb, the verb going first, to for a new word that could either be a noun or verb. The latter form of this requires a suffix from triad F (chi, lü ~ rü, chii) to be added at the end of the new word.[9]

The verb infinitive is formed by taking the root of the verb, adding an indefinite prefix following those rules if it is an active verb, and lengthening the final vowel. If the final vowel is already doubled in the root (-aa, -ee, -ii, -oo, -uu, -üü), then it gets cut in half, and -waa is added to the end.[9] Sets of infinitives with a common root, but with different aspects and moods may be formed by adding an affix between the root and infinitive ending, such as the causative -ira, the passive -na and -uu, the imperfective -iraa, and the desiderative -ee. For example, from the root kache ("hang"), one can derive the desiderative a-kache-r-ee-waa "to want to hang". There is debate about whether said derived words should be considered verbs in their own right, or as inflections of the root verb. In most simple verbs, the root is also followed by a 'thematic suffix'.[11]

Verbs are conjugated for gender, tense, and number. There are ten tenses: the present-past, the near future, the general future, the future intentive, the past perfect, the near past, the current past, the former past, the remote past, and the frequentative past. There are also nine 'triads', general time categories, lettered A through J, which changed the gender inflection of the verb. Present-past and remote past use triads A. Immediate future, general future, and imminent future use triads B. Future intentive uses triads C. Near past, current past, and former past use triads E, and all other tenses use triads J. triads conjugations are as follows. Not that while there is no specific feminine plural, the plural suffix -irua may be added to indicate the feminine.

Gender-number suffixes
triads A B C D E F G H I J
Masc. -shi -chi -chi -(l)i -(l)i -chi -(l)i -sa(l)i -in Ø
Fem. -sü -rü -tü -rü -lü -rü -lü -salü
Plural -shii -na -na -na -lii -chii -na -salii

A phonological shift occurs in the conjugation of active verbs whose infinitives end in laa, raa, loo and roo. By shortening the vowels, their thematic suffixes remain la, ra, lo and ro, but when they undergo vowel harmony they change to lü, rü, lu and ru. By adding the suffixes –shi, -sü, -shii, ü and u disappear, and l and r become t.[12]


In general, the verb precedes the subject and the latter precedes the object or predicate (VSO type). However, word order is not restricted and there can be sentences in other word orders. Two predication schemes are presented: a bifurcated predicate-subject one and a synthetic one, predicate-centered or compact,[13] in which the sentence is composed of only one phrase with a verbal nucleus. Conjugation is done through personal prefixes, infixes and suffixes of mode, time and aspect and number-gender of the object. Negation is indicated with the prefix m-, although there is also the negative verb nnojolaa ("not to be", "not to be", "not to have"), and also "not to have" or "not to have" can be expressed with the prefix ma- followed by the respective noun.


The numerals from 1 to 10 are as follows. Numerals procede the noun.

Numerals in Wayuu and English
Wayuu English Wayuu English
wanee one aipirua six
piama two akaraishi seven
apünüin three mekiisat eight
pienchi four mekie'etsat nine
jarai five po'loo ten

Vocabulary examples[edit]

The following are examples of Wayuunaiki.[14]

  • (Anasü) watta'a maat/lü 'Good morning'
  • (Anasü) Aliika 'Good afternoon'
  • (Anasü) Aipa’a 'Good night'
  • Jamaya pia? 'How are you (singular)?'
  • Jamaya jia/jaya? 'How are you (plural)?'
  • Atpanaa 'Rabbit'
  • Alama 'Grass'
  • Amüchi 'Clay jar'
  • Anayaawatsü saa'u 'Thank you'
  • Pümayaa 'Hurry up'
  • Kasaichi pünülia? 'What is your name?'
  • Aishi ma’i pia tapüla 'I love you so much (to a man)'
  • Aisü ma'i pia tapüla 'I love you so much (to a woman)'

Wayuunaiki itself comes from wayuu 'human being/people' and the suffix -naiki, from anüiki 'speech' ('word' or 'language'), literally meaning '[the] people’s speech'.


  1. ^ a b c Wayuu at Ethnologue (25th ed., 2022) Closed access icon
  2. ^ "El Wayuunaiki impreso". Semana.com (in Spanish). Archived from the original on 22 October 2006. Retrieved 1 December 2006.
  3. ^ "Fundación Wayuu Tayá y Microsoft Venezuela presentan Diccionario de Computación en Wayuunaiki". UniversoTek (in Spanish). 5 December 2011. Archived from the original on 26 April 2012. Retrieved 7 December 2011.
  4. ^ Chang, Tatiana (27 December 2011). "Venezuela: New computing dictionary enriches Wayuu language". Infosur hoy. Archived from the original on 8 December 2012. Retrieved 5 August 2012.
  5. ^ a b Sabogal, Andres. "The Variable Expression of Transitive Subject and Possesor in Wayuunaiki (Guajiro)". Digital Repository of the University of New Mexico. Retrieved 10 August 2023.
  6. ^ Goulet J.G. y Miguel Angel Jusayu (1978) El idioma guajiro; sus fonemas, su ortografía, su morfología. Caracas: Universidad Católica Andrés Bello.
  7. ^ a b Mansen, Karis; Mansen, Richard A. (1984). Aprendamos guajiro: Gramática pedagógica de guajiro (in Spanish). Bogotá: Editorial Townsend. p. 44.
  8. ^ Holmer, Nils M. (1949). "Goajiro (Arawak) II: Nouns and Associated Morphemes". International Journal of American Linguistics. 15 (2): 110–120. ISSN 0020-7071.
  9. ^ a b c d e f Álvarez, José (2017). MANUAL DE LA LENGUA WAYUU ( KARALOUTA ATÜJAAYA SAA’U WAYUUNAIKIKUWA’IPA) (in Spanish) (1st ed.). La Guajira, Colombia: Organización Indígena de La Guajira YANAMA. Retrieved 10 August 2023.
  10. ^ "Diccionario Wayuu » Grammar". Retrieved 2024-02-22.
  11. ^ Alvarez, José (2004). "Raíces y sufijos temáticos en la morfología verbal del guajiro/wayuunaiki". Antropologia. 102: 27–98.
  12. ^ Álvarez, José (2017), Compendio de la gramática de la lengua wayuu, Organización indígena de la Guajira YANAMA, retrieved 2024-02-21
  13. ^ Ramírez González, Rudecindo (1996). "Estructuras de predicación en Wayunaike". Lenguas Aborígenes de Colombia. Memorias. 6. Bogotá (published 1999): 297–315.
  14. ^ Tutorial I - ¿Cómo saludar en Wayuunaiki? – via YouTube.

External links[edit]