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Yagua language

The Yagua language is spoken by the Yagua people, primarily in northeastern Peru. As of 2005, it appears that a few speakers may have migrated northward across the Peruvian-Colombian border near the town of Leticia.

Genetic affiliation

The Yagua language is a member of the Peba-Yaguan language family. As of yet, there is no sound scientific evidence that the Peba-Yaguan family is related to any other family or stock of South America . There has likely been contact between the Yaguas and Bora-Witotoan peoples, perhaps particularly during the era of the rubber-trade; this may account for some structural similarities between the languages .

Sociolinguistic Situation

The most recently available estimates, dating from the 1980s, are that there are about 3,000 to 4,000 speakers of the language. At that time, a majority of Yagua individuals were bilingual in both Spanish and the Yagua language. A few distant communities were still largely monolingual, and children were learning the language, though in at least some communities there was parental pressure on children to just speak Spanish. Some ethnic Yaguas are monolingual in Spanish.


Yagua has 6 vowels and 11 consonants, as shown in the chart below.


Some vowels show a significant degree of allophonic variation, notably /u/ which can be or , and /a/, which can be or .

Vowels are both oral and nasal.


A nasal consonant preceding a nasal vowel is a simple nasal sound ; but a nasal consonant preceding an oral vowel has an oral release

All phones except for /s/, /c/, and /y/ may be palatalized. In addition, bilabial stops may be labialized.

/s/ and /c/ show significant allophonic variation, being either pre-stopped or not. Thus /s/ ranges from /s/ ~ /ts/, and /c/ ranges from /c/ ~ /s/.

The rhotic r is often retroflex and may have some laterality ; simple taps are also heard. /r/ can also be realized as /d/, especially when palatalized.

/w/ can be realized as /b/, especially when palatalized.

Within a word, there is metathesis of any morpheme-final /y/ with the onset of the following syllable

The language has either tone or a complex pitch-accent system, but this has never been adequately described.


The language is highly agglutinative, such that most words consist of multiple morphemes, and a single word may contain more than one root.


Most Yagua sentences begin with the verb, followed by the subject and object in that order (VSO). It is a "double object" language, with no known syntactic differences between the two objects of verbs like 'give', for example, or applied objects.

The language has numerous postpositions . There are over 40 noun classifiers, and essentially no "adjectives". Nouns are modified either by nouns, by classifiers, or by other suffixes.

The language is documented in various works by Paul Powlison, Esther Powlison, Doris L. Payne, and Thomas E. Payne.


Yagua has a quinary (base 5) counting system. Different numbers are used for inanimate objects/counting and animate objects (see measure word).


Payne, Doris L. 1986. Basic word order in Yagua. Handbook of Amazonian Languages 1, ed. by Desmond Derbyshire and Geoffrey Pullum. Berlin: Mouton.

Payne, Doris L. forthcoming. Source of the Yagua classifier system.

Payne, Thomas E. 1994. The Twins Stories: Participant Coding in Yagua Narrative. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Powlison, Paul and Esther Powlison. 1958. "El sistema numerico del yagua."

Rosetta Project - http://www.rosettaproject.org

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This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article Yagua language

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