Karitiâna language

Karitiana, otherwise known as Caritiana or Yjxa, is a Tupian language spoken in the State of Rondônia, Brazil, by 210 out of 320 Karitiana people, or 400 according to Cláudio Karitiana, in the Karitiana reserve 95 kilometres south of Porto Velho. The language belongs to the Arikém language family from the Tupi stock. It is the only surviving language in the family after the other two members, Kabixiâna and Arikém, became extinct.[3]

Native speakers
210 (2006)[1]
Language codes
ISO 639-3ktn
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Although the first Western contacts with the Karitiana people are believed to have begun in the 17th century, the first recorded contact dates to 1907 when a survey conducted by Cândio Rondon indicated that they were already working for Bolivian rubber tappers. Systematic contact between the Karitiana people and Caucasians, nevertheless began in the 1950s with the intervention of ISA and Roman Catholic Salesian missionaries. As a result of the missionaries' visit, a list of words and phrases were compiled, allowing Professor Aryon Rodrigues, who was working at the University of Campinas at the time, to classify the language as a member of the Arikém Family by comparing the language to existing materials on the Arikém language.[3]

Many of the Karitiana people are bilingual in Karitiana and Portuguese, and despite the population growth in recent years and the language's high level of transmission,[4] the language is listed as vulnerable by UNESCO due to the low number of speakers and the proximity to the city of Porto Velho.[5] A literacy project in the 1990s resulted in 24 students being made literate, and written documentation of the culture, as well as audio recordings were created. As of 2005, indigenous teachers have been holding lessons in the villages. However, the literacy project ended in 1997 due to a lack of permanent funding.[6]

Literature on KaritianaEdit

Some of the earliest works on the language date to the 1970s by missionary David Landin, who spent time in the Karitiana village between 1972 and 1977, through a partnership between FUNAI (Fundação Nacional do Índio) and SIL International (Summer Institute of Linguistics) (Landin, 2005). He has mainly studied syntax (1984), but has also compiled lexicon that has resulted in the creation of a Karitiana dictionary (2005). Another early researcher is Gloria Kindell, also from the SIL, who has analyzed phonological and syntactic aspects of Karitiana (1981).

The first substantial grammar of Karitiana, however, was published by Luciana Storto (1999),[7] describing topics on the phonology, morphology and syntax, and since then she has published a number of papers on Karitana syntax (2003, 2008, 2012, 2013, 2014). Subsequently, a number of studies on the language has continued to be published, covering a wide array of topics. Ana Müller, for example has published papers on Karitiana semantics (2006, 2009, 2010, 2012). Ivan Rocha da Silva has produced a variety of works on Karitiana syntax (Rocha 2014), including two extensive descriptions on syntactical topics (2011, 2016). Ethnographically, Felipe Ferreira Vander Velden has documented a number of social aspects of the Karitiana people, specifically researching about the relations between indigenous peoples and animals. He has published a book about domestic animals among the Kartitiana (2012).



Front Central Back
High i ĩ ɨ ɨ̃
Mid e ẽ o õ
Low a ã

Karitiana vowels can be distinguished by the features [high], [back], and [round], and can be short, long, oral or nasal.[7]


Bilabial Coronal Palatal Velar Glottal
Plosive p t k
Nasal m n ɲ ŋ
Fricative s h
Rhotic ɾ
Approximant j w

Karitiana also presents [͡tʃ] and [ʔ], but according to Luciana Storto (1999),[7] the occurrence of the glottal stop is predictable, and [͡tʃ] is extremely rare, though it occurs in Karitiana's personal pronouns. The nasals /m n ɲ/ are prestopped [ᵇm ᵈn ᶡɲ] if they are preceded by an oral vowel, and poststopped [mᵇ nᵈ ɲᶡ] if they are followed by one. The velar nasal /ŋ/ is denasalized to [ɡ] before oral vowels in unstressed syllables, poststopped to [ŋᶢ] before oral vowels in stressed syllables, and prestopped [ᶢŋ] after oral vowels.

/h r j w/ are nasalized [h̃ r̃ w̃ ȷ̃] when surrounded by nasal vowels.


In his PhD thesis, Caleb Everett (2006)[8] listed six word classes for Karitiana. In general, Karitiana follows the general trend in Tupi languages of presenting little dependent-marking or nominal morphology, though it has a robust system of agglutinative verbal affixes. Valence-related verbal prefixes occur closer to the verb root than other prefixes, and according to Everett, the most crucial valency distinction in Karitiana is the distinction between semantically monovalent and polyvalent verbs as this plays an important role in verbal inflections and clausal constructions, such as the formation of imperative, interrogative and negative clauses, as well as in the establishment of grammatical relations. Karitiana presents a binary future/non-future tense suffix system and a number of aspect suffixes. It also presents desiderative inflection, an optional evidentiality suffix, a verb-focus system among other constructions. Karitiana presents a nominalizer suffix that is attached to verbs in order to derive nouns. In general, nouns serving as core arguments for a verb are left unmarked for case, but non-core arguments can receive allative and oblique case markers.


Only epicene pronouns exist in Karitiana. This means that no distinction is made between male vs. female (as "he" or "she" in English).[9] There are free pronouns and pronominal prefixes, the latter of which serves to cross-reference the absolutive nominal of a given clause, and also functions as possessors when attached to nouns. It is also worth to mention that the third person pronoun i is the only free pronoun that can be used to express possession.

Free pronouns Pronominal prefixes
Singular Plural Singular Plural
Inclusive Exclusive Inclusive Exclusive
1 ɨ̃ ɨːtʃa ɨta ɨ- ɨj- ɨta-
2 ãn aːtʃa a- aj-
3 i -- ø- --

Examples of free pronouns and pronominal prefixes:


My arm


Our cellphone


Your wife


i soːjt
3S.GEN wife
His wife

Karitiana has at least six demonstrative pronouns. 'Ka' refers to manner, 'ho' is proximal, 'onɨ̃' is distal, 'ɲã' refers to things that are close and seated, 'hɨp' refers to things that are close and supine, and 'hoːɾi' refers to things that are out of sight.


mõɾ̃ãmõn ka
What is this? (something in hand)


mõɾ̃ãmõn ho
What is that? (something close)


mõɾ̃ãmõn onɨ̃
What is that (over there)


hoɾi naka-atɨka-t pikom ep okɨp
DEM.ONSEEN NSAP-be.t-NFUT wooly.monkey tree.on
There is a woolly monkey in some tree over there (Not sure which tree.)


Karitiana expresses causation by the prefix 'm-' or the periphrastic 'tɨpõŋ' (Rocha, 2014), inferring that one participant is causing another to act in a certain manner.[8] The prefix 'm-' is used to add an argument to intransitive verbs, and 'tɨpõŋ' is used to add a third argument to a transitive verb, and the former agent receives the oblique suffix '-tɨ'.[4]


ɨ̃n i-pɨtʔɨ-t
I ate


ɨ̃n na-m-pɨtɨ-t i-tɨ
I fed him'/'I gave him food


ɨ̃n a-taka-mĩː-t tɨpõŋ i-tɨ
1S 2S.ABS-SAP-hit-NFUT cause(?) 3-OBL
I made you hit him


The suffix '-pa' can be attached to non-finite verbs, in general, resulting in a noun that is related to the given verb.[8] The meaning of the resulting noun is quite flexible and it varies according to the context. For example:

taɾɨka + -pa taɾɨkipa
walk NOM 'thing related to walking/going'

In certain contexts 'taɾɨkipa' can be used to refer to canoe, car, airplane, as well as a friend's house that one frequently visits, or make-up and nice clothing, as these are associated, for some Karitiana, to going out in the city.

Verbs associated with '-pa' can also be preceded by a noun in order to reduce the scope of the '-pa' nominal:

mɨhõɾõn + -pa mɨhõɾõnpa
clean NOM 'thing related to cleaning'
mɨhõɾõn + -pa mɨhõɾõnpa
clean NOM 'thing related to cleaning'
osop + mɨhõɾõn + -pa osop mɨhõɾõnpa
hair clean + NOM 'thing related to cleaning'

In some cases, ’-pa' can also be attached to nouns to derive other nouns. For instance, when attached to nouns representing animals, the result is the animal's habitat or a trail used by it.


Case and agreementEdit

Karitiana displays an ergative pattern of agreement, where the subject agrees with the intransitive verb, and the object agrees with the transitive verb,[7] as is shown in examples 1a to 1f. This pattern surfaces in all matrix clauses and is evident from person agreement morphology on verbs[10], and is true for both declarative and non-declarative sentences. An exception is the object focus construction, where the transitive verb eccentrically agrees with the ergative argument[7] as shown in examples 2a and 2b. This construction does not involve intransitivization, and the eccentric agreement is a product of object focus morphology.


Yn a-ta-oky-j an
1s 2s-decl-kill/hurt-irr 2s
I will hurt you


An y-ta-oky-t yn
2s 1s-decl-kill/hurt-nfut 1s
You will hurt me


Yjxa ø-na-ahee-t iso
1p 3-decl-blow-nfut fire
We-incl. blew fire


Y-ta-opiso-t yn
1s-decl-listen-nfut 1s
I listened


A-ta-opiso-t an
2s-decl-listen-nfut 2s
You listened


Aj-taka-tar-i ajxa
2p-decl-leave-irr 2p
You-pl will leave


ø-Naka-hỹrỹja-t i/taso
3-decl-sing-nfut 2s/man
He/the man sang


'Ep aj-ti-pasagngã-t ajxa
trees trees 2pl-OFC-count-nfut 2pl
Trees, you-pl are counting


Sepa y-ti-m-'a ty-j̃a-t
basket lps-OFC-caus.-do imperfve.sitting-nfut
A basket, I am weaving

According to Everett (2006),[8] many phenomena in Karitiana follow a nominative pattern generally due to the pragmatic status of arguments. The author argues that the grammatical relations of Karitiana suggest a system where syntactic phenomena often tend to display nominative-accusative patterns, and morphological phenomena tend to display ergative-absolutive patterns.



Noun phrases (NPs) in Karitiana surface as bare nouns, without any functional operator, such as inflection to mark number or definiteness.[11] Bare nouns can refer to one or more entities, definite or indefinite, and these are determined by the context in which they occur.


Maria akam’at gooj
Maria naka-m-’a-t gooj
Maria decl-caus-make-nfut canoe
Maria built the/a/some canoe(s)


Taso naka’yt boroja
taso naka-’y-t boroja
man decl-eat-nfut snake
A/the/some man/men ate a/the/some snake(s)

Karitiana does not require numeral classifiers, thus numerals receive the oblique suffix -t and are directly linked to common nouns. The numeral system consists of units from 1 to 5, and larger numbers are expressed with a combination of these units.[11]


Yn naka’yt myhint pikom
yn naka-’y-t myhin-t pikom
1s decl-eat-nfut one-obl monkey
I ate one monkey


Yn naka’yt sypomp pikom
yn naka-’y-t sypom+t pikom
1s decl-eat-nfut two-obl monkey
I ate two monkeys

Karitiana makes a lexical distinction between mass and count nouns. Count nouns can be counted directly, while mass nouns require a system of measurement.


*Myhint ouro naakat i’orot
myhin-t ouro na-aka-t i-’ot-<o>t
three gold decl-aux-nfut part-fall-redupl-nfut
Three golds fell


Myhint kilot ouro naakat i’orot
myhin-t kilo-t ouro na-aka-t i-’ot-<o>t
three kilogram-obl gold decl-aux-nfut part-fall-redupl-nfut
One kilogram of gold fell


*J̃onso nakaot sypomp ese
j̃onso naka-ot-Ø sypom+t ese
woman decl-bring-nfut two-obl water
The woman brought two waters


*J̃onso nakaot sypomp bytypip ese
j̃onso naka-ot-Ø sypom+t byt-ypip ese
woman decl-bring-nfut two-obl bowl-in water
The woman brought two bowls of waters

Quantifying expressions can behave like adverbs or nouns. The word si’ĩrimat is used to mean nobody or never, and the word kandat is used to express quantification of nouns and verbs.[11]


Isemboko padni si’ĩrimat eremby
i-semboko padni si’ĩrimat eremby
3-get.wet neg ever hammock
Hammocks never get wet


Iaokooto padni si’ĩrimat y’it
i-a-okooto padni si’ĩrimat y-‘it
3-pass-bite neg ever 1s-son
Nobody bit my son


Kandat nakahori dibm taso
kandat naka-hot-i dibm taso
a.lot decl-go-fut tomorrow man
Many men will go tomorrow


Pyrykiidn j̃onso pytim’adn kandat tyym
pyry-kiid-n j̃onso pytim’adn kandat tyym
assert-exist-nfut woman a.lot sub
There are many women that work a lot

Universal quantification is conveyed by the expression (ta)akatyym, where -ta is a third person anaphora, aka is the verb to be, and tyym is the subordinate particle. This expression roughly means those who are. Anaphoric ta is used when the quantifying expression is not adjacent to the noun it modifies, and is not necessary when it is adjacent to the noun.[11]


Taakatyym naponpon João sojxaaty kyn
ta-aka-tyym na-pon-pon-Ø João sojxaaty kyn
a3anaph-be-sub decl-shoot-redupl-nfut João wild.boar at
João shot at every wild boar (literally: João shot at wild boar that be)


Taakatyym naponpon taso sojxaaty kyn
ta-aka-tyym na-pon-pon-Ø taso sojxaaty kyn
a3anaph-be-sub decl-shoot-redupl-nfut taso wild.boar at
All the men shot at the boar (literally: Men that be shot at wild boar)


Sojxaaty akatyym naponpon João
sojxaaty aka-tyym na-pon-pon-Ø João
wild.boar be-sub decl-shot-redupl-nfut João
João shot at all the wild boars’ (literally: João shot at the wild boars that are)


  1. ^ Karitiâna at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015)
  2. ^ Endangered Languages Project data for Karitiana.
  3. ^ a b Landin, David J. “An Outline of the Syntactic Structure of Karitiâna Sentences”. MA Thesis. University College London, 1984
  4. ^ a b Rocha, Ivan (April 2014). "Processos de causativização na língua Karitiana". Boletim do Museu Paraense Emílio Goeldi. Ciências Humanas. 9 (1): 183–197. doi:10.1590/S1981-81222014000100012. ISSN 1981-8122.
  5. ^ "UNESCO Atlas of the World's Languages in danger". www.unesco.org. Retrieved 2018-12-08.
  6. ^ "Karitiana - Indigenous Peoples in Brazil". pib.socioambiental.org. Retrieved 2018-12-08.
  7. ^ a b c d e Storto, Luciana (1999). Aspects of a Karitiana grammar (phd thesis). Massachusetts Institute of Technology. hdl:1721.1/9702.
  8. ^ a b c d Everett, Caleb (2007). Patterns in Karitiana: Articulation, perception, and grammar (Thesis thesis). hdl:1911/20600.
  9. ^ Everett, Careb (2011). "Gender, pronouns and thought: The ligature between epicene pronouns and a more neutral gender perception". Gender and Language. 5 (1): 133–152. doi:10.1558/genl.v5i1.133.
  10. ^ Storto, Luciana (2005). "Caso e Concordância nas Línguas Tupi" (PDF). Revista Estudos Lingüísticos. XXXIV: 59–72.
  11. ^ a b c d Müller, A.; Storto, Luciana; Coutinho-Silva, T. (2006). "Number And The Mass-Count Distinction In Karitiana" (PDF). UBCWPL 19: Proceedings of the Eleventh Workshop on Structure and Constituency in Languages of the Americas: 122–135. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2018-12-09. Retrieved 2020-02-13.
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