Tucanoan Languages

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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Tucanoan Languages


a family of American Indian languages spoken by tribes inhabiting three regions of South America: (1) in the Uaupés, Tiquié, Apáporis, Miriti Paraná, and Ja-purá river basins in southeastern Colombia and northwestern Brazil; (2) in northeastern Peru (Loreto Department), northeastern Ecuador (Napo and Pastaza provinces), and southern Colombia (Caquetáa Department and neighboring regions); (3) at the source of the Manacacias River (Meta Department in central Colombia).

According to the preliminary classification of the Spanish scholar A. Tovar Llórente, the Tucanoan language family is subdivided into a number of branches. In the first of the areas mentioned above, the Tucanoan languages are represented by the Tucano-Tuyuka languages (Tucano, Tuyuka, Bara, Piratapuyo, Karapana [Carapaná], and others), the Desana languages (Desana and Coretu), the Kubeo (Cubeo) language, and the Buha-gana and Yahuna languages. The Choquesiona languages (Siona, Coto, Icaguahe, and several extinct languages) and the Piojé-Siona languages are found in the second area, and the Tama language in the third zone.

The Tucanoan languages have been poorly described. Judging from a description of the Siona language, grammatical meanings are expressed by agglutinated suffixes, animate and inanimate nouns have a clear morphological opposition, and masculine and feminine gender categories exist. In the Uaupés and Tiquié river basins, each of the Tucano-Tuyuka and Desana languages (and also the local Arawakan and Cariban languages) is assigned to a separate exogamous marriage class and serves as a distinctive feature of this class. Tucano is used as a lingua franca in the northwestern part of the Amazon basin.


Elson, B. F. Studies in Ecuadorian Indian Languages, 1. Norman, Okla., 1962.
Giacone, A. Gramática, dicionários e fraseología da lingua Dahceié ou Tucano. Belém, 1965.
Jackson, J. “Language Identity of the Colombian Vaupés Indians.” In Explorations in the Ethnography of Speaking. Cambridge, Mass., 1974.
The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
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This author explicitly mentions "possible substrate influence" when discussing the following EQ-specific complex-predicate constructions: (a) verb of saying + future V form to express desire/intention (Shuar); (b) verb of doing + V to express 'going to' (Barbacoan, Chibchan, Paezan and Tucanoan; for the EQ variety under scrutiny, the relevant contact language is probably the isolate Waorani); (c) -chun in subjunctive/purposive DS forms (Tsafiki); and (d) use of yalli 'exceed' in comparisons (perhaps from Barbacoan).
A discussion of language and language family names points out that where a specific language name is also used to refer to the family, most linguists use the -an suffix to distinguish the two, giving as an example Tucano versus Tucanoan. More the pity that she did not apply this to the Cariban family so that we could avoid ambiguous and/or rather incorrect phrases such as "the Carib-speaking Makushi." The factual errors or oversights reflect Aikhenvald's lesser familiarity with the northern Amazonian area, specifically the Guianan and Circum-Caribbean areas.
A case in point is the SR system of Guanano (Tucanoan), which contrasts implicit and explicit chains, only the latter being morphologically marked--a pattern found in Eastern Tucanoan languages.
There are a few language families that have SwAt-marked temporal clauses for many or all of their members, like Quechuan, Aymaran, Tucanoan, Tupian, Panoan, Tacanan (Antoine Guillaume, p.c.), Barbacoan, Jivaroan.
The Tucanoan SwAt systems are probably the best examples in South America of chaining constructions.
Desano (Miller 1999), a Tucanoan language spoken in Colombia, goes one step further.
It is beyond the scope of this paper to give a full account of the voice and noun classification systems of SwAt-marking languages in South America, but to get an idea of these correlations in South American languages, I have looked at some overview papers on four language families of which most or all languages have some SwAt-marking system in temporal clauses: Quechuan, Tupian, Panoan, and Tucanoan. It is obvious that this requires further research.
For instance, we can compare must and inferential evidentials from the Eastern Tucanoan language Tuyuca (Barnes 1984).
The only thing non-specialists in Tucanoan languages have to go on is the English translation and additional explanation provided in Barnes (1984).
Consider the following examples from Retuara (Tucanoan; a Columbian language) cited by Cristofaro (2003: 68, 69), where a nominalization marked by the -ri- "deverbalizer" functions as infinitive: