Cofán language

The Cofán language (also Kofan or Kofane; autonym: A'ingae) is the language of the Cofán people, an indigenous group native to the province of Sucumbíos in northeast Ecuador and southern Colombia (Nariño Department; Orito, San Miguel and Valle del Guamuez in Putumayo Department).[2]

Native toEcuador, Colombia
RegionOriente or Ecuadorian Amazon
EthnicityCofán people
Native speakers
2,400 (2001–2008)[1]
Official status
Official language in
Ecuador: indigenous languages official in own territories
Language codes
ISO 639-3con

While Cofán is an endangered language, it is classified as a developing language with 1400 to 2400 speakers.[3] There are two types of Cofán: Aguarico (spoken in Ecuador) and San Miguel (primarily spoken in Colombia).[3] Approximately 60% of Cofán speakers in Ecuador are literate in their own language.[4]

Use of Cofán in Ecuador is connected to the language in land property rights documents and in the bilingual access to the language in schools. In Colombia, Cofán is more endangered because of war, displacement, and intermarriage.[3]


Cofán is a language isolate. Some scholars claim Cofán is not classified into a language family. The language does exhibit some lexical similarities to Chibchan, a geographically neighboring language. However, evidence of the lexical influence Chibchan has on Cofán does not prove any genetic relationship between the two languages.[5]

Jolkesky (2016) also notes that there are lexical similarities with Paez.[6]



There are ten vowels in Cofán: five oral vowels and their nasal counterparts.[7]

  Front Central Back
Close /i/, /ĩ/ /ɨ/, /ɨ̃/
Mid /e/, /ẽ/ /o/, /õ/
Open /a/, /ã/


As noted by Raphael Fischer and Kees Hengeveld, Cofán has a moderately large consonant inventory. A notable feature is the three-way voicing distinction for stops and affricates.[7][8]

Bilabial Labiodental Alveolar Post-alveolar Palatal Velar Glottal
Stop Voiceless p t k ʔ
Prenasalized ᵐb ⁿd ᵑɡ
Fricative f s ʃ ɣ~ɰ h
Affricate Voiceless ts
Aspirated tsʰ tʃʰ
Prenasalized ⁿdz ⁿdʒ
Nasal m n ɲ
Approximant ʋ j
Flap ɾ


Word order in Cofán is mostly free and flexible and is influenced by pragmatic factors. Subordinate clauses, however, have a strong preference for being predicate-final.[8]

Paragraphs are a distinct and important structure in Cofán grammar. There are fifteen different paragraph types used in Cofán narrative discourse. The narrative paragraph and simultaneous paragraph “form the backbone of narrative discourse.” The coordinate descriptive paragraph and deictic paragraph are used to portray character or participant identity development and to outline situations. Reason, contrast, and antithetical paragraphs are used to foster relationships and tension between speakers and events. Amplification paragraphs, contraction paragraphs, negated antonym paragraphs and cyclic paragraphs are used in “paraphrasing” particular information. Lastly, comment paragraphs and quote and dialogue paragraphs are used to add detail to a narrative.[9]


A written system of the Cofán alphabet has been devised by M. B. Borman. Some are simple letters, while others are compound. Nasalization on vowels is orthographically represented by placing ⟨n⟩ after the vowel. (For example, /ã/ is written ⟨an⟩.) Prenasalization on stops and affricates is orthographically represented either by placing ⟨m⟩ before bilabials (for example, ⟨mb⟩ for /ᵐb/) or by placing ⟨n⟩ elsewhere (for example, ⟨nd⟩ for /ⁿd/ and ⟨ng⟩ for /ⁿg/).[10][8]

Borman IPA
a a
b b
c k
chh tʃʰ
d d
e e
f f
g g~ɣ~ɰ
i i
j h
m m
n m
ñ ɲ
o o
p p
q k
r ɾ
s s
sh ʃ
t t
ts ts
tss tsʰ
u ɨ
v ʋ
y j
z z

Counting systemEdit

Cofán’s number system is a base-five system. Cofán speakers use Spanish numerals to count.[11]


Loukotka (1968) and the basic vocabulary items of 1-7 and 9-10.[12] Number 4 and 11-19 are from Moon Handbooks: Ecuador and the Galápagos Islands.[13]

gloss Cofán
head súbe
foot tsetenbínbe
man sándiʔe
water nahé; tsa'coer
fire sínge
sun kuébe
moon kúse kuébe
river na'en
bird chiríri
fish abúi
caiman vatoova
harpy eagle cornsipeendo
jaguar taysy
tapir coovy
how are you? meenga'kay
yes hayo
no may'en
thank you chietzafpopoem
goodbye chieegaychu

Further readingEdit

  • Baldauf, R. B., Kaplan, R. B., King, K. A., & Haboud, M. (2007). Language planning and policy in Latin America: Language Planning and Policy in Ecuador (Vol. 1). Clevedon: Multilingual Matters.
  • Borman, M. B. (1962). "Cofan phonemes". In Elson, Benjamin; Peeke, Catherine (eds.). Studies in Ecuadorian Indian languages: I. SIL International Publications in Linguistics. pp. 45–59. Retrieved March 10, 2017.
  • Borman, M. B. (1976). Vocabulario cofán: Cofán-castellano, castellano-cofán. (Serie de vocabularios indígenas Mariano Silva y Aceves, 19). Quito: Summer Institute of Linguistics.
  • Borman, M. B. (1977). "Cofan paragraph structure and function". SIL International Publications in Linguistics. 52 (3): 289–338. Retrieved March 10, 2017.
  • Borman, M. B. (1990). Cofan cosmology and history as revealed in their legends: The Cofan Alphabet. Quito, Ecuador: Instituto Linguistico de Verano.[10]
  • Cofán. (n.d.). Retrieved March 10, 2017, from[14]
  • Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin; Bank, Sebastian, eds. (2016). "Cofán". Glottolog 2.7. Jena: Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History.
  • Gijn, E. V., Haude, K., & Muysken, P. (2011). Subordination in native South-American languages. Amsterdam: John Benjamins Pub. Co.[3]
  • Klein, H. E., & Stark, L. R. (2011). South American Indian languages: retrospect and prospect. Austin: University of Texas Press.
  • Lewis, M. Paul; Simons, Gary F.; Fennig, Charles D., eds. (2015). Ethnologue: Languages of Ecuador (PDF) (Report) (18th ed.). pp. 11–21. Retrieved March 10, 2017.


  1. ^ Cofán at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015)
  2. ^ Fischer, R. W. (2007). "Clause linkage in Cofán (A'ingae), a language of the Ecuadorian-Colombian border region". Language endangerment and endangered languages: linguistic and anthropological studies with special emphasis on the languages and cultures of the Andean-Amazonian border area. Indigenous Languages of Latin America (ILLA). 5. Leiden: CNWS Publications. pp. 381–399. hdl:11245/1.277948.
  3. ^ a b c d Gijn, Rik van; Haude, Katharina; Muysken, Pieter (2011-04-29). Subordination in Native South American Languages. John Benjamins Publishing. ISBN 9789027287090.
  4. ^ "Cofán". Ethnologue. Retrieved 2017-08-23.
  5. ^ Klein, Harriet E. Manelis; Stark, Louisa R. (2011-07-20). South American Indian Languages: Retrospect and Prospect. University of Texas Press. ISBN 9780292737327.
  6. ^ Jolkesky, Marcelo Pinho de Valhery (2016). Estudo arqueo-ecolinguístico das terras tropicais sul-americanas (Ph.D. dissertation) (2 ed.). Brasília: University of Brasília.
  7. ^ a b Borman, M.B. (Summer 1962). "Studies in Ecuadorian Indian Languages". Summer Institute of Linguistics of the University of Oklahoma. 7: 45–59.
  8. ^ a b c Fischer, Raphael; Hengeveld, Kees. "Cofán (A'ingae)". Amazonian Languages: An International Handbook. Berlin: de Gruyter Mouton.
  9. ^ Borman, M.B. (1977). "Discourse Grammar: Studies in Indigenous Languages of Colombia, Panama, and Ecuador". Summer Institute of Linguistics. 52:3: 290–338.
  10. ^ a b Borman, M. B. (1990-01-01). Cofan cosmology and history as revealed in their legends. Instituto Linguistico de Verano.
  11. ^ "Cofan". Retrieved 2017-05-01.
  12. ^ Loukotka, Čestmír (1968). Classification of South American Indian languages. Los Angeles: UCLA Latin American Center.
  13. ^ Smith, Julian; Brown, Jean (2009) [1998]. Blakley, Annie M. (ed.). Ecuador and the Galápagos Islands. Moon Handbooks (4th ed.). Berkeley, CA: Avalon Travel. p. 178. ISBN 978-1-59880-134-7. ISSN 1095-886X.
  14. ^ "Cofán". Ethnologue. Retrieved 2017-03-10.

External linksEdit