Karajá language

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Native to Brazil
Region Araguaia River
Ethnicity 3,600 Karajá people (2007)[1]
Native speakers
2,700 (2006)[1]
  • Ofaie
    • Karajá
Language codes
ISO 639-3 kpj
Glottolog kara1500[2]
Karajan languages.png
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Karajá, also known as Ynã, is spoken by the Karajá people in some thirty villages in central Brazil. Dialects are North Karaja, South Karaja, Xambioá, and Javaé. There are distinct male and female forms of speech; one of the principal differences is that men drop the sound /k/, which is pronounced by women.

Karaja is a verb-final language,[3] with simple noun and more complex verbal morphology that includes noun incorporation. Verbs inflect for direction as well as person, mood, object, and voice.


Karajá has nine oral vowels, /i e ɛ, ɨ ə a, u o ɔ/, and two nasal vowels, /ə̃ õ/. /a/ is nasalized word initially and when preceded by /h/ or a voiced stop: /aθi/[ãθi] 'grass', /ɔha/[ɔhã] 'armadillo'; this in turn nasalizes a preceding /b/ or /d/: /bahadu/[mãhãdu] 'group', /dadi/[nãdi] 'my mother'.[4]

Front Central Back
Close i ɨ u
Mid e, ɛ ə, ə̃ o, õ
Open a ɔ

This language has vowel harmony that matches vowels' tenseness to the vowel of the following suffix.[5]

V → [+ATR] / _ (C)-V[+ATR]

There are only twelve consonants, eight of which are coronal:[6]

Labial Dental Postalveolar Velar Glottal
Stop/Affricate Voiceless k
Voiced b d
Implosive ɗ
Fricative θ ʃ h
Lateral l
Sonorant w ɾ

Men's and women's speech

Some examples of the differences between men's and women's speech, especially the presence or lack of /k/ (including in borrowings from Portuguese), follow:[7]

Women Men Gloss
kɔɗu ɔɗu turtle
kɔlukɔ ɔluɔ labret
kaɾitʃakɾe aɾiakɾe I will walk*
bɛɾaku beɾo river
adõda aõda thinɡ
dõbĩku dõbĩu Sunday
(from Portuguese domingo)

* The /itʃa/ derives historically from *ika

The second person pronoun /kai/ is an exception to this rule, and is pronounced the same by men and women.[5]


  1. 1.0 1.1 Karajá at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015)
  2. Nordhoff, Sebastian; Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds. (2013). "Karajá". Glottolog. Leipzig: Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  3. Rodrigues (1999), pp. 187-88
  4. Rodrigues (1999), pp. 172-73
  5. 5.0 5.1 Ribeiro, Eduardo (2012). A Grammar of Karaja. Chicago, IL: Dissertation of University of Chicago.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  6. Rodgrigues (1999), pp. 176-78
  7. Rodrigues (1999), pg. 177


  • Ribeiro, Eduardo Rivail. (2002) "Direction in Karajá". In Rosa María Ortiz Ciscomani, ed., Vi encuentro internacional de lingüística en el noroeste.
  • Ribeiro, Eduard Rivail. (2000) "[ATR] vowel harmony and palatalization in Karajá". Santa Barbara Papers in Linguistics. 10: Proceedings of wail 2000. pp. 80–89.
  • Rodrigues, Aryon D. (1999) "Macro-Jê". In R. M. W. Dixon and Alexandra Y. Aikhenvald (eds.), The Amazonian Languages. Cambridge Language Surveys. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

External links