Tuyuca language

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Native to Colombia, Brazil
Native speakers
unknown (1,000 cited 1983–2006)[1]
  • Eastern
    • Central
      • Bara
        • Tuyuca
Language codes
ISO 639-3 Either:
tue – Tuyuca
pok – Pokangá (Bará)
Glottolog tuyu1244  (Tuyuca)[2]
This article contains IPA phonetic symbols. Without proper rendering support, you may see question marks, boxes, or other symbols instead of Unicode characters.

Tuyuca (also Dochkafuara, Tejuca, Tuyuka, Dojkapuara, Doxká-Poárá, Doka-Poara, or Tuiuca) is an Eastern Tucanoan language (similar to Tucano) spoken by the Tuyuca people. The Tuyuca are an indigenous ethnic group of some 500-1000 people who inhabit the watershed of the Papuri, Inambú and Tiquié rivers in the Colombian department of Vaupés and the Brazilian state of Amazonas.


Tuyuca is a postpositional agglutinative SOV language with mandatory type II evidentiality. Five evidentiality paradigms are used: visual, nonvisual, apparent, secondhand, and assumed, though secondhand evidentiality exists only in the past tense and apparent evidentiality does not appear in the first person present tense.[3] The language is estimated to have 50 to 140 noun classes.[4]

Phonetics & Phonology

The consonants in Tuyuca are /p t k b d ɡ s r w j h/ and the vowels are /i ɨ u e a o/, plus syllable nasalization and pitch accent.[3]


Back Central Front
High i ɨ u
Mid e o
Low a


Bilabial Alveolar Palatal Velar
Voiceless stop p t k
Voiced stop b ~ m d ~ n ɡ ~ ŋ
Fricative s
Rhotic ɺ ~ r ~ r̃
Continuant w ~ w̃ dʒ ~ j ~ ɲ h ~ h̃

Consonantal contrasts

The following words show some of the consonant contrasts.[5]

Bilabial contrasts

/pakó/ 'mom'
/bapá/ 'plate'
/wapá/ 'payment'

Alveolar contrasts

/botéa/ 'a fish'
/bodé/ 'dragonfly'
/bosé/ 'party'
/boré/ 'whitening'

Velar and palatal contrasts

/bɨkó/ 'ant-eater'
/bɨɡó/ 'aunt'
/hoó/ 'plantain'
/joó/ 'thread'

Consonantal variation

  • The voiceless plosives /p, t, k/ have aspirated variants that tend to occur before high vowels and not near voiceless vowels. There are a few degrees of the amount of aspiration.
  • Preglottalized variants of /b, d/ occur together at the onset.
    • Preglottalized forms of [m, w, w̃, j, j̃, ɲ, dʒ] occur in the onset and are in free variations with their plain counterparts.
  • Prenasal variants of /b, d, ɡ/ occur after nasal vowels and before oral vowels: /kĩĩbai/ [kʰĩĩmbaii̥].[6]

Nasal Assimilation

  • Voiced consonants /b, d, ɡ, r, w, j/ have nasal variants at the same place of articulation, [m, n, ŋ, ɳ, w̃, j̃], before nasal vowels.
    • The /j/ can also surface as ɲ before high nasal vowels.
  • The /h/ also has a nasalized variant that occurs before nasal vowels.

Nasal Harmony

Segments in a word are either all nasal or all oral.

/waa/ 'to go'
/w̃ãã/ 'to illuminate' (the /w/ is nasal)

Note that voiceless segments are transparent.

/ãkã/ 'choke on a bone'
/w̃ãtĩ/ 'demon'

See further remarks regarding the oral/nasal nature of affixes in the Morphophonemics section.

Suprasegmental features

The two suprasegmental features in this language are tone and nasalization.


There is a high tone (H) and a low tone (L) in Tuyuca. The phonological word has one and only one high tone which may occur in any syllable of the word. The low tone has two variants: a mid-tone that occurs in words that have at least three syllables in free variation with the low tone in internal syllables that have an [i] vowel contiguous to the H-tone and not preceded by a low-tone.

  • Accent is the same as high tone.
  • Tone is contrastive in (C)VV syllables
/díi/ 'blood'
/dií/ 'mud'
  • Words of type (C)VCV have tone on the second syllable (but not in loanwords)
/eté/ 'parakeet'
/b̃ésa/ 'table' ( ← Portuguese 'mesa')


Nasalization is phonemic and operates on the root level:

/sĩã/ 'to kill'
/sia/ 'to tie'

Phonetic distribution and syllabic structure

A syllable is considered any unit that may take tone and consists of a vocalic nucleus with or without a consonant before it.


  • /ɡ/ and /r/ never occur word-initially
  • The strings /ɡu/ and /wu/ are absent.
  • A VV string can be made up of any two vowels, either of which may occur first, except for /u/, which always occurs last.
  • Multi-syllabic VVV strings occur, but not all combinations of vowels are attested. /u/ is always last in such strings.
  • (C)V may be optionally realized with aspiration (having the same quality as the preceding vowel) when the syllable is unstressed and precedes syllables with voiceless onsets.[7]


All affixes fall into one of two classes:

  1. Oral affixes which may undergo nasalization, like the plural morpheme -ri: /sopéri/ 'marks'[clarification needed]
  2. Affixes that are intrinsically oral or nasal and cannot be changed.

When a nasal CV suffix occurs where C is a continuant or a vibrant /r/, the nasalization spreads regressively to the preceding vowel.


  1. Tuyuca at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015)
    Pokangá (Bará) at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015)
  2. Nordhoff, Sebastian; Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds. (2013). "Tuyuca". Glottolog. Leipzig: Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  3. 3.0 3.1 Janet Barnes (1984). "Evidentials in the Tuyuca verb." International Journal of American Linguistics 50, pp. 255–71.
  4. "Difficult Languages: Tongue Twisters - In search of the world's hardest language". The Economist. 2009-12-17. Retrieved 2009-12-23.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  5. Barnes, Janet; Silzer, Sheryl (1976). "Fonología del tuyuca". Sistemas fonológicos de idiomas colombianos. SIL. 3: 125.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  6. Barnes, Janet; Silzer, Sheryl (1976). "Fonología del tuyuca". Sistemas fonológicos de idiomas colombianos. SIL. 3: 127.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  7. Barnes, Janet; Silzer, Sheryl (1976). "Fonología del tuyuca". Sistemas fonológicos de idiomas colombianos. SIL. 3: 134.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>

External links