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Old Tupi or classical Tupi is an extinct Tupian language which was spoken by the native Tupi people of Brazil, mostly those who inhabited coastal regions in South and Southeast Brazil. It belongs to the Tupi–Guarani language family, and has a written history spanning the 16th, 17th, and early 18th centuries. In the early colonial period, Tupi was used as a lingua franca throughout Brazil by Europeans and Amerindians, and had literary usage, but it was later suppressed almost to extinction, leaving only one modern descendant with an appreciable number of speakers, Nheengatu.
|Era||(survives as Nheengatu)|
The names Old Tupi or classical Tupi are used for the language in English and by modern scholars (it is referred to as tupi antigo in Portuguese), but native speakers called it variously ñeengatú "the good language", ñeendyba "common language", abáñeenga "human language", in Old Tupi, or língua geral "general language", língua geral amazônica "Amazonian general language", língua brasílica "Brazilian language", in Portuguese.
Old Tupi was first spoken by the Tupinambá people, who lived under cultural and social conditions very unlike those found in Europe. It is quite different from Indo-European languages in phonology, morphology, and grammar, but it was adopted by many Luso-Brazilians born in Brazil as a lingua franca known as Língua Geral.
It belonged to the Tupi–Guarani language family, which stood out among other South American languages for the vast territory it covered. Until the 16th century, these languages were found throughout nearly the entirety of the Brazilian coast, from Pará to Santa Catarina, and the River Plate basin. Today, Tupi languages are still heard in Brazil (states of Maranhão, Pará, Amapá, Amazonas, Mato Grosso, Mato Grosso do Sul, Goiás, São Paulo, Paraná, Santa Catarina, Rio Grande do Sul, Rio de Janeiro, and Espírito Santo), as well as in French Guiana, Venezuela, Colombia, Peru, Bolivia, Paraguay, and Argentina.
It is a common mistake to speak of the "Tupi–Guarani language": Tupi, Guarani and a number of other minor or major languages all belong to the Tupian language family, in the same sense that English, Romanian, and Sanskrit belong to the Indo-European language family. One of the main differences between the two languages was the replacement of Tupi /s/ by the glottal fricative /h/ in Guarani.
The first accounts of the Old Tupi language date back from the early 16th century, but the first written documents containing actual information about it were produced from 1575 onwards – when Jesuits André Thévet and José de Anchieta began to translate Catholic prayers and biblical stories into the language. Another foreigner, Jean de Lery, wrote the first (and possibly only) Tupi "phrasebook", in which he transcribed entire dialogues. Lery's work is the best available record of how Tupi was actually spoken.
In the first two or three centuries of Brazilian history, nearly all colonists coming to Brazil would learn the tupinambá variant of Tupi, as a means of communication with both the Indians and with other early colonists who had adopted the language.
The Jesuits, however, not only learned to speak tupinambá, but also encouraged the Indians to keep it. As a part of their missionary work, they translated some literature into it and also produced some original work written directly in Tupi. José de Anchieta reportedly wrote more than 4,000 lines of poetry in tupinambá (which he called lingua Brasilica) and the first Tupi grammar. Luís Figueira was another important figure of this time, who wrote the second Tupi grammar, published in 1621. In the second half of the 18th century, the works of Anchieta and Figueira were republished and Father Bettendorf wrote a new and more complete catechism. By that time, the language had made its way into the clergy and was the de facto national language of Brazil – though it was probably seldom written, as the Roman Catholic Church held a near monopoly of literacy.
When the Portuguese Prime Minister Marquis of Pombal expelled the Jesuits from Brazil in 1759, the language started to wane fast, as few Brazilians were literate in it. Besides, a new rush of Portuguese immigration had been taking place since the early 18th century, due to the discovery of gold, diamonds, and gems in the interior of Brazil; these new colonists spoke only their mother tongue. Old Tupi survived as a spoken language (used by Europeans and Indian populations alike) only in isolated inland areas, far from the major urban centres. Its use by a few non-Indian speakers in those isolated areas would last for over a century still.
When the Portuguese first arrived on the shores of modern-day Brazil, most of the tribes they encountered spoke very closely related dialects. The Portuguese (and particularly the Jesuit priests who accompanied them) set out to proselytise the natives. To do so most effectively, doing so in the natives' own languages was convenient, so the first Europeans to study Tupi were those priests.
The priests modeled their analysis of the new language after the one with which they had already experience: Latin, which they had studied in the seminary. In fact, the first grammar of Tupi – written by the Jesuit priest José de Anchieta in 1595 – is structured much like a contemporary Latin grammar. While this structure is not optimal, it certainly served its purpose of allowing its intended readership (Catholic priests familiar with Latin grammars) to get enough of a basic grasp of the language to be able to communicate with and evangelise the natives. Also, the grammar sometimes regularised or glossed over some regional differences in the expectation that the student, once "in the field", would learn these finer points of the particular dialect through use with his flock.
Significant works were a Jesuit catechism of 1618, with a second edition of 1686; another grammar written in 1687 by another Jesuit priest, Luís Figueira; an anonymous dictionary of 1795 (again published by the Jesuits); a dictionary published by Antônio Gonçalves Dias, a well-known 19th century Brazilian poet and scholar, in 1858; and a chrestomathy published by Dr Ernesto Ferreira França in 1859.
Considering the breadth of its use both in time and space, this language is particularly poorly documented in writing, particularly the dialect of São Paulo spoken in the South.
The phonology of tupinambá has some interesting and unusual features. For instance, it does not have the lateral approximant /l/ or the multiple vibrant rhotic consonant /r/. It also has a rather small inventory of consonants and a large number of pure vowels (12).
This led to a Portuguese pun about this language, that Brazilians não têm fé, nem lei, nem rei (have neither faith, nor law, nor king) as the words fé (faith), lei (law) and rei (king) could not be pronounced by a native Tupi speaker (they would say pé, re'i and re'i).
|Close||/i/, /ĩ/||/ɨ/, /ɨ̃/||/u/, /ũ/|
|Mid||/ɛ/, /ɛ̃/||/ɔ/, /ɔ̃/|
The nasal vowels are fully vocalic, without any trace of a trailing [m] or [n]. They are pronounced with the mouth open and the palate relaxed, not blocking the air from resounding through the nostrils. These approximations, however, must be taken with caution, as no actual recording exists, and Tupi had at least seven known dialects.
|Nasals||m /m/||n /n/||ñ /ɲ/||ng /ŋ/|
|Plosive||prenasalized||mb /ᵐb/||nd /ⁿd/||ng /ᵑɡ/|
|voiceless||p /p/||t /t/||k /k/||(/ʔ/)^|
|Fricatives||b /β/||s /s/†||x /ʃ/||g /ɣ/||h /h/|
|Semivowels||û /w/||î /j/||ŷ /ɰ/‡|
- ^ The glottal stop is found only between a sequence of two consecutive vowels and at the beginning of vowel-initial words (aba, y, ara, etc.). When it is indicated in writing, it is generally written as an apostrophe.
- † Some authors remark that the actual pronunciation of /s/ was retroflex /ʂ/. Also, most sources describe some dialects having /s/ and /h/ in free variation.
- ‡ The actual pronunciation of ŷ is the corresponding semivowel for /ɨ/. It may not have existed in all dialects.
According to Nataniel Santos Gomes, however, the phonetic inventory of Tupi was simpler:
- p, t, k, ‘ (/ʔ/)
- b (/β/)
- s, x (/ʃ/)
- m, n, ñ (/ɲ/)
- û (/w/), î (/j/)
- r (/ɾ/)
- i, y (/ɨ/), u, ĩ, ỹ, ũ
- e, o, õ, ẽ
- a, ã
This scheme does not regard Ŷ as a separate semivowel, does not consider the existence of G (/ɣ/), and does not differentiate between the two types of NG (/ŋ/ and /ⁿɡ/), probably because it does not regard MB (/ⁿb/), ND (/ⁿd/) and NG (/ⁿɡ/) as independent phonemes, but mere combinations of P, T, and K with nasalization.
Santos Gomes also remarks that the stop consonants shifted easily to nasal stops, which is attested by the fitful spelling of words like umbu (umu, ubu, umbu, upu, umpu) in the works of the early missionaries and by the surviving dialects.
According to most sources, Tupi semivowels were more consonantal than their IPA counterparts. The Î, for instance, was rather fricative, thus resembling a very slight [ʑ], and Û had a distinct similarity with the voiced stop [ɡʷ], thus being sometimes written gu. As a consequence of that character, Tupi loanwords in Brazilian Portuguese often have j for Î and gu for Û.
It would have been almost impossible to reconstruct the phonology of Tupi if it did not have a wide geographic distribution. The surviving Amazonian Nhengatu and the close Guarani correlates (Mbyá, Nhandéva, Kaiowá and Paraguayan Guarani) provide material that linguistic research can still use for an approximate reconstruction of the language.
Scientific reconstruction of Tupi suggests that Anchieta either simplified or overlooked the phonetics of the actual language when he was devising his grammar and his dictionary.
The writing system employed by Anchieta is still the basis for most modern scholars. It is easily typed with regular Portuguese or French typewriters and computer keyboards (but not with character sets such as ISO-8859-1, which cannot produce ẽ, ĩ, ũ, ŷ and ỹ).
Its key features are:
- The tilde indicating nasalisation: a → ã.
- The circumflex accent indicating a semivowel: i → î.
- The acute accent indicating the stressed syllable: abá.
- The use of the letter x for the voiceless palatal fricative /ʃ/, a spelling convention common in the languages of the Iberian Peninsula but unusual elsewhere.
- The use of the digraphs yg (for Ŷ), gu (for /w/), ss (to make intervocalic S unvoiced), and of j to represent the semivowel /j/.
- Hyphens are not used to separate the components of compounds except in the dictionary or for didactical purposes.
Most Tupi words are roots with one or two syllables, usually with double or triple meanings that are explored extensively for metaphorical purposes:
- a = round / head / seed
- kaa = forest / bush / plant
- oby = green / blue; considered a single colour in many languages.
- y = water / liquid / spring / lake, puddle / river, brook
The most common words tend to be monosyllables:
- a = head / round
- ã = shadow / ghost
- po = hand
- sy = mother / source
- u = food
- y = water, river
Disyllabic words belong to two major groups, depending on which syllable is stressed:
- If the stress falls on the penult, the last syllable ends with an unstressed vowel (traditionally written with the letter a). Such words usually drop the last vowel (or sometimes even the entire last syllable) to form compounds or drop the vowel and undergo a consonant mutation (nasalisation): ñeenga (speech) + katú (good) = ñeen-ngatú (the good language).
- If the stress falls on the last syllable, the syllable is unchanged: itá (rock, stone) + úna (black) = itaúna.
Polysyllabic (non-compound) words are less common but are still frequent and follow the same scheme:
- paranã (the sea) + mirĩ (little) = paranãmirĩ (salty lagoon)
- pindóba (palm tree) + ûasú (big) = pindobusú.
Nasal mutation of the initial consonant is always present, regardless of stress. Polysyllabic words are never stressed on the first syllable.
Compound nouns are formed in three ways:
- Simple agglutination:
- arasy = ara + sy (day + mother) = mother of day: the sun
- yîara = y + îara (water + lord/lady) = lady of the lake (a mythological figure).
- Blending with either apocope or aphesis:
- Pindorama = pindoba + rama (palm tree + future aspect) = where there will be palm trees (this was the name by which some of the coast tribes called their homeland).
- Takûarusu = takûara + ûasú (bamboo + big) = big bamboo tree. Portuguese: Taquaruçu (a variant of bamboo).
- Complex blending, with both apocope and aphesis:
- Taubaté = taba + ybaté (village + high) = the name of a Brazilian town, Taubaté, which was originally the name of a village on the top of a mountain.
- Itákûakesétyba = takûara + kesé + tyba (bamboo + knife + collective mark): where knives are made out of bamboo wood (the name of a Brazilian town: Itaquaquecetuba).
Later, after colonisation, the process was used to name things that the Indians originally did not have:
- îande + Îara (our + Lord) = a title held by Christ in Catholic worship.
- Tupã + sy (God + mother) = the mother of God (Mary).
Some writers have even extended it further, creating Tupi neologisms for the modern life, in the same vein as New Latin. Mário de Andrade, for instance, coined sagüim-açu (saûĩ + [g]ûasú) for "elevator", from sagüim, the name of a small tree-climbing monkey.
Tupi was an agglutinative language with moderate degree of fusional features (nasal mutation of stop consonants in compounding, the use of some prefixes and suffixes), although Tupi is not a polysynthetic language.
Tupi parts of speech did not follow the same conventions of Indo-European languages:
- Verbs are "conjugated" for person (by means of prepositioning subject or object pronouns) but not for tense or mood (the very notion of mood is absent). All verbs are in the present tense.
- Nouns are "declined" for tense (by means of suffixing the aspect marker) but not for gender or number.
- There is a distinction of nouns in two classes: "higher" (for things related to human beings or spirits) and "lower" (for things related to animals or inanimate beings). The usual manifestation of the distinction was the use of the prefixes t- for high-class nouns and s- for low-class ones, so that tesá meant "human eye", and sesá meant "the eye of an animal". Some authors argue that it is a type of gender inflection.
- Adjectives cannot be used in the place of nouns, neither as the subject nor as the object nucleus (in fact, they cannot be used alone).
Tupi had a split-intransitive grammatical alignment. Verbs were preceded by pronouns, which could be subject or object forms. Subject pronouns like a- "I" expressed the person was in control, while object pronouns like xe- "me" signified the person was not. The two types could be used alone or combined in transitive clauses, and they then functioned like subject and object in English:
- A-bebé = I-fly, "I can fly", "I flew".
- Xe pysyka = me catch, "Someone has caught me" or "I'm caught".
- A-î-pysyk = I-him-catch, "I have caught him".
Although Tupi verbs were not inflected, a number of pronominal variations existed to form a rather complex set of aspects regarding who did what to whom. That, together with the temporal inflection of the noun and the presence of tense markers like koára "today," made up a fully functional verbal system.
Word order played a key role in the formation of meaning:
- taba abá-im (village + man + tiny) = tiny man from the village
- taba-im abá = man from the small village
Tupi had no means to inflect words for gender, so used adjectives instead. Some of these were:
- apyŷaba = man, male
- kuñã = woman, female
- kunumĩ = boy, young male
- kuñãtãĩ = girl, young female
- mena = male animal
- kuñã = female animal
The notion of gender was expressed, once again, together with the notion of age and that of "humanity" or "animality".
The notion of plural was also expressed by adjectives or numerals:
- abá = man; abá-etá = many men
Unlike Indo-European languages, nouns were not implicitly masculine except for those provided with natural gender: abá "man" and kuñã[tã] "woman/girl"; for instance.
Without proper verbal inflection, all Tupi sentences were in the present or in the past. When needed, tense is indicated by adverbs like ko ara, "this day".
Adjectives and nouns, however, had temporal inflection:
- abáûera "he who was once a man"
- abárama "he who shall be a man someday"
That was often used as a semantic derivation process:
- akanga "head"
- akangûera "skull" (of a skeleton)
- abá "man"
- abárama "teenager"
With respect to syntax, Tupi was mostly SOV, but word order tended to be free, as the presence of pronouns made it easy to tell the subject from the object. Nevertheless, native Tupi sentences tended to be quite short, as the Indians were not used to complex rhetorical or literary uses.
Most of the available data about Old Tupi are based on the tupinambá dialect, spoken in what is now the Brazilian state of São Paulo, but there were other dialects as well.
According to Edward Sapir's categories, Old Tupi could be characterized as follows:
- With respect to the concepts expressed: complex, of pure relation, that is, it expresses material and relational content by means of affixes and word order, respectively.
- With respect to the manner in which such concepts are expressed: a) fusional-agglutinative, b) symbolic or of internal inflection (using reduplication of syllables, functionally differentiated).
- With respect to the degree of cohesion of the semantic elements of the sentence: synthetic.
- îubá = yellow, golden
- (s)oby = blue, green
- pirang = red
- ting = white
- (s)un = black
- (t)atá = fire
- itá = rock, stone, metal,
- y = water, river
- yby = earth, ground
- ybytu = air, wind
- abá = man (as opposed to woman), Indian or Native-American (as opposed to European), human being (as opposed to the animal world)
- aîuba = Frenchman (literally "yellow heads")
- maíra = Frenchman (the name of a mythological figure that the Indians associated with the Frenchmen)
- karaíba = foreigner, white man (literally means "spirit of a dead person"). Means also prophet.
- kunhã = woman
- kuñãtã'ĩ = girl
- kuñãmuku = young woman
- kunumĩ = boy
- kunumĩgûasu = young man
- morubixaba = chief
- peró = Portuguese (neologism, from "Pero", old variant of "Pedro" = "Peter", a very common Portuguese name)
- sy = mother
- tapy'yîa = slave (also the term for non-Tupi speaking Indians)
- akanga = head
- îuru = mouth
- îyba = arm
- nambi = ear
- pó = hand
- py = foot
- py'a = heart
- (t)esá = eye
- (t)etimã = leg
- tĩ = nose
- (t)obá = face
- aîuru = parrot, lory, lorykeet
- arara = macaw, parrot
- îagûara = jaguar
- ka'apiûara = capybara
- mboîa = snake, cobra
- pirá = fish
- so'ó = game (animal)
- tapi'ira = tapir
- ka'api = grass, ivy (from which the word capybara comes)
- ka'a = plant, wood, forest
- kuri = pine
- (s)oba = leaf
- yba = fruit
- ybá = plant
- ybyrá = tree, (piece of) wood
- ybotyra = flower
- oka = house
- taba = village
- beraba = brilliant, gleamy, shiny
- katu = good
- mirĩ, 'í = little
- panema = barren, contaminated, unhealthy, unlucky
- poranga = beautiful
- pûera, ûera = bad, old, dead
- (s)etá = many, much
- ûasu, usu = big
Oré r-ub, ybak-y-pe t-ekó-ar, I moeté-pyr-amo nde r-era t'o-îkó. T'o-ur nde Reino! Tó-ñe-moñang nde r-emi-motara yby-pe. Ybak-y-pe i ñe-moñanga îabé! Oré r-emi-'u, 'ara-îabi'õ-nduara, e-î-me'eng kori orébe. Nde ñyrõ oré angaîpaba r-esé orébe, oré r-erekó-memûã-sara supé oré ñyrõ îabé. Oré mo'ar-ukar umen îepe tentação pupé, oré pysyrõ-te îepé mba'e-a'iba suí.
Notice that two Portuguese words, Reino (Kingdom) and tentação (temptation) have been borrowed, as such concepts would be rather difficult to express with pure Tupi words.
Presence of Tupi in BrazilEdit
As the basis for the língua geral, spoken throughout the country by white and Indian settlers alike until the early 18th century, and still heard in isolated pockets until the early 20th century, Tupi left a strong mark on the Portuguese language of Brazil, being by far its most distinctive source of modification.[dubious ]
Tupi has given Brazilian Portuguese:
- A few thousand words (some of them hybrids or corrupted) for animals, plants, fruit and cultural entities.
- Multiple names of locations, including states (e.g. Paraná, Pará, Paraíba)
Some municipalities which have Tupi names:
- Iguaçu ('y ûasú): great river
- Ipanema ('y panema): bad, fishless water
- Itanhangá (itá + añãgá): devil's rock
- Itaquaquecetuba (takûakesétyba, from itá + takûara + kesé + tyba): where bamboo knives are made
- Itaúna ("itá + una"): black rock
- Jaguariúna (îagûara + 'í + una): small black jaguar
- Pacaembu (paka + embu): valley of the pacas.
- Paraíba (pará + aíba): bad to navigation or "bad river"
- Paranaíba (paranãíba, from paranã + aíba): dangerous sea
- Paraná-mirim (paranã + mirĩ): salty lagoon (literally: "small sea")
- Pindorama (from pindó, "palm tree", and (r)etama, country): palm country (this was the name that the tupiniquins gave to the place where they lived).
- Piracaia ("pirá" + "caia"): fried fish
- Piraí (pirá + y): "fish water"
- Umuarama (ũbuarama, from ũbu + arama): where the cacti will grow
Among the many Tupi loanwords in Portuguese, the following are noteworthy for their widespread use:
- abacaxi (pineapple, literally: "fruit with thorns")
- jacaré (caiman)
- minhoca (earth worm)
- mirim (small or juvenile) as in "escoteiro-mirim" ("Boy Scout")
- perereca (a type of small frog, also slang for vulva), literally: "hopper"
- peteca (a type of badminton game played with bare hands) literally: "slap"
- piranha (a carnivorous fish, also slang for immoral women) literally: "toothed fish"
- pipoca (popcorn) literally "explosion of skin"
- piroca (originally meaning "bald", now a slang term for penis)
- pororoca (a tidal phenomenon in the Amazon firth) literally: "confusion"
- siri (crab)
- sucuri (anaconda)
- urubu (the Brazilian vulture)
- urutu (a kind of poisonous snake)
- uruçu (the common name for Melipona scutellaris)
It is interesting, however, that two of the most distinctive Brazilian animals, the jaguar and the tapir, are best known in Brazilian Portuguese by non-Tupi names, onça and anta, despite being named in English with Tupi loanwords.
A significant number of Brazilians have Tupi names as well:
- Araci (female): ara sy, "mother of the day"
- Bartira, Potira (female): Ybotyra, "flower"
- Iara (female): 'y îara, lady of the lake
- Jaci (both): îasy, the moon
- Janaína (female): îandá una, a type of black bird
- Ubirajara (male): ybyrá îara, "lord of the trees/lance"
- Ubiratã (male): ybyrá-atã, "hard wood"
Some names of distinct Indian ancestry have obscure etymology because the tupinambá, like the Europeans, cherished traditional names which sometimes had become archaic. Some of such names are Moacir (reportedly meaning "son of pain") and Moema.
Old Tupi literature was composed mainly of religious and grammatical texts developed by Jesuit missionaries working among the colonial Brazilian people. The greatest poet to express in written Tupi language, and its first grammarian was José de Anchieta, who wrote over eighty poems and plays, compiled at his Lírica Portuguesa e Tupi. Later Brazilian authors, writing in Portuguese, employed Tupi in the speech of some of their characters.
Tupi is also remembered as distinctive trait of nationalism in Brazil. In the 1930s, Brazilian Integralism used it as the source of most of its catchphrases (like Anaûé (meaning "you are my brother", the old Tupi salutation which was adopted as the Brazilian version of the German Sieg Heil, or the Roman "Ave") and terminology.
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- SAMPAIO, Teodoro. O Tupi na Geografia Nacional. São Paulo: Editora Nacional, 1987. 360 p.
- Francisco da Silveira Bueno (1998). Vocabulário tupi-guarani, português. ISBN 978-85-86632-03-7.
- Tibiriçá, Luís Caldas (2001). Dicionário tupi-português com esboço de gramática de Tupi Antigo. ISBN 978-85-7119-025-2.
|For a list of words relating to Tupi language, see the Old Tupi language category of words in Wiktionary, the free dictionary.|
-  The art of the grammar of the Tupi language, by Father Luis Figueira
- Tupi Swadesh-vocabulary list (from Wiktionary's Swadesh-list appendix)
- "Abá nhe'enga oîebyr – Tradução: a língua dos índios está de volta", by Suzel Tunes essay in Portuguese.
- A Course of Old Tupi (in Portuguese)
- Ancient Tupi Home Page
- Tupi–Portuguese dictionary (with non-standard Tupi spelling)
- Sources on Tupinambá at the Curt Nimuendaju Digital Library