Nheengatu beyond national frontiers

Nheengatu beyond national frontiers
Some brazilian people had moved to Colombia and Venezuela in a moment which these two countries was passing by a better economic wave. So, indigenous people, specially from Içana River, went to cities near to São Gabriel da Cachoeira: San Filipe (COL) and San Carlos del Rio Negro (VEN).  
These brazilian populations brought with them the língua geral amazônica, named as yeral. Since in spanish we say general, its claer the loan from portuguese. These baniwas and barés which came, also brought their protestant religion, different to other brazilian speakers of yeral, which had lived at urban centre of São Gabriel da Cachoeira. They are catholic and has an yeral kuximawara, with linguistics aspects closed to Ancient Tupi.
It always hard to count how many yeral speakers are abroad Brazil. But its important to consider these populations in political discussions about nheengatu language. This political dimension of language its more strong in brazilian spaces such as FOIRN (Federação das Organizações Indígenas do Rio Negro). But include Venezuelan and Colombian speakers of nheengatu in this strong space will enhance nheengatu as a language whithout national boundaries. This is what Tikuna, Kampa (Ashaninka), Baniwa and some Guarani peoples had made when to think about their writing and another language policies. As we already have known, indigenous people lives and navigates by Upper Rio Negro before the arrival of national boundaries.
Below, this video sponsored by Youtube, also by WorldCat, show to us how some Venezuelan nheengatu speakers lives:

Love text in nheengatu

By Antônio Neto

Hi dears,

this next nheengatu text was made by a student who falling in love and resolve writing a text by an indigenous language. Note that “pituna” (night) “iasi” (moon) and “kaxiuera” (waterfall) its an important figure in poetics of Upper Rio Negro languages.  The sentences was translated above, to portuguese.


Iasi uuerá ana pukusaua pisaié.
(lua brilhou durante noite alta)
Kuemaité iepé apigaua kariua usému ana iepé putira “potiguara” suí.
(bem cedo um homem branco se originou de uma flor potiguara)
Kuá putira umurári kaxiuera suaki.
(essa flor tem seu habitat nas proximidades da cachoeira)
Nhaã apigaua kariua uriku mukui iuuá puku. I putiá i auaeté.
(aquele homem branco possui dois braços compridos, seu peito é valente)
uriku mukui setimã puku, i akanga upitá iuí apekatu
(Ele possui duas pernas compridas, sua cabeça fica distante da terra)
Kurasi umupuranga i suá puranga retana
(sol embeleza seu rosto muito belo)
Kuá apigaua ukuau nhee siía nheenga-itá see,
(esse homem sabe dizer muitas palavras doces)
Nhaãsé i iuru ira suiuara!
(porque sua boca é feita de mel)
umusuri se piá!!

(ele alegra meu coração)    

Werekena: a peculiar case

Among Baniwa, Baré, Mura and Werekena peoples, all of them are Nheengatu speakers. The last one, though, has a peculiar case, cause it’s the population which mostly speaks only nheengatu. The history of Werekena people, also mentioned as Warekena, goes back to Arawakan languages formation, from Caribbean and Central America to South America, especially at Venezuelan and Brazilian amazonic regions. English, Spanish and Portuguese borrowed a lot of words from Arawakan language Taíno, for example: barbecue, canoe, potato, savannah, etc.
Werekena use of Nheengatu its a example of the new status of this general language, after the hegemony of portuguese in Brazilian Amazônia, since late of nineteenth century. Since the growth of urbanization in amazonic cities of Brazil, some speakers of Nheengatu had migrate to inside, cause there is no more the same ways of traditional commerce in those centers.

Otherwise Baniwa speakers, that also use nheengatum, there are a few dozens speakers of Werekena, his native language, cause most of them has become to use the language disseminated by carmelite missionaries. Although there are some efforts towards its revitalization made by indigenous communities, ISA and FOIRN , Werekena its a endangered language. However, Werekena use of Nheengatu says about the popular question about Brazilian General Language: “Anyway, this is Nheengatu an indigenous language?” According to Werekena people, the correct answer is yes, thereby these indigenous groups prefer the general language related to missionaries than use Portuguese. Furthermore, this is the nheengatu population that has fewer speakers of Portuguese. So, the repressive status of nheengatu, related to death of brazilian native languages, is changing by some indigenous points of view.

Brazilian Languages PART V – The controversial structure of nheengatu

Brazilian Languages PART V – The controversial structure of nheengatu

Its common consider that in a contact context borrower languages tends to disappear, absorving almost all  aspects of a certain most spoken language. Ecological criteria like this is very important, but in general dismiss social aspects such as normativity. Although the stigma associated with minority languages is so strong, there may be some efforts in the opposite way. Linguists and anthropologists, with the support of speakers has the power to maintain minority languages, producing campaigns, books and demonstrations in defense of their own culture.

Linguists, specifically, can produce not only cientific descriptions, but also pedagocial grammars which contains words fallen into disuse that earns a recall. In the same way that Língua Brasílica was estabilished by jesuits, committed researchers and institutes can propose language policies. There are some writing sources of nheengatu: Lendas em Nheengatu e em Português (1987), Vocabulários de língua-geral (1929) and Poranduba Amazonense (1890), with a lexicon not too influenced by portuguese than contemporary spoken. Its worth noting that this ancient lexicon is understood by contemporary speakers, because for most of them, ancient words sounds like the language of their parents and forefathers.

So, even syntatic order of nheengatu be the same of portuguese namely SVO since of its inception, the comlex Ancient Tupi system of postpositions are maintained. Moreover, there are some borrowings of other indigenous languages such as dead baré, which is almost never mentioned by most of people who said nheengatu is not a indigenous language or its a poor language.One should not forget about multilinguism of Rio Negro.

The following is one of many evidences about the majority of Ancient Tupi elements in nheengatu structure:

Ancient Tupi Pronouns
oré (exclusive)
oré (exclusive)

Nheengatu pronouns


Although the elimination of exclusive personal pronouns, Nheengatu also has two classes of pronouns, hasn´t any portuguese pronoun! Quite the contrary, plural 3rd person pronoun aintá is, most likely, an analogy with Ancient Tupi quantifier etá.

In  forefather language: abá-etá – many indigenous

So, why not planning nheengatu most similar to Ancient Tupi?

Youtube sponsored an interesitng lecture serie of Joseph Lo Bianco about language policies and minority languages:

Brazilian Languages – PART IV – Nheengatu

Brazilian Languages – PART IV –  Nheengatu

by Antônio Neto

Resulted from genetic relation of Ancient Tupi and colonialists imposes of  a portuguese-tupi general language, nheengatu is a interesting language, which challenges any linguistic theory. Likewise sanskrit, general languages of South America blends linguistic and religious institutions, because nheengatu is the catholic language of Amazonia at present day, as sanskrit was the brahmanic language.
Since religious institutions tends to be more conservative and linguistic institutions tends to be more dinamic, nheengatu had some aspect of a artificial language, maintained under jesuits interests. However, languages of Rio Negro transpassing geographical barriers, with a notewhorty multilinguism among people from some regions of Colombia, Venezuela and northern Brazil. Because the extensive use of boats as a principal transport, its very common nheengatu speakers also communicate with portuguese, spanish and other indigenous languages like baniwa and curipaco, whereas tukano is considered for him a hard language to learn.

The strong of portuguese monolinguism was consolidated with expulsion of jesuits by Marques de Pombal (1757), which brought a big harm to brazilian languages living. So, the number of nheengatu speakers and prestige of general language had decreased. After a history of resistence, claiming for their own space, sometimes supported by catholics of Teologia da Libertação, amazonic indigenous founded FOIRN (Federação das Organizações Indígenas do Rio Negro). Nowadays, each indigenous population has its own way to dealing with strangers, but all of them is protected by FOIRN.

The following links talks about nheengatu musics, São Gabriel da Cachoeira (the most indigenous city of Brazil, which more than 90% of its population has some indigenous ethnicity) and FOIRN:




Brazilian Languages – PART III – Structure of Tupi Languages

Structure of Tupi Lanaguages

by Antônio Neto

Among a lot of aspect to be pointed out, it’s interesting detail  the nature of preffixes and pronouns in Tupi languages, which expresses some cognitive dimensions in this languages and kinship-hypothesis. This language family comprises a great number of SouthAmerica languages, such as Ancient Tupi, Gurani, Nheengatu, Araweté, Tapirapé, etc. Perhaps, Tupi its the most famous brazilian language familiy duo the relation with missionaries and general languages.

Ancient Tupi and Guarani has pluriform preffixes, that can be used according to grammatical categorie, as the following  Ancient tupi examples:

Ka’ioby îmonhang kuei oka. (Kaioby had made these house.)
Xe roka i puku. (My house is high.)

Nde roka i puku. (Your house is high.)
Kó Ka’ioby roka. Soka i puku.(This is Kaioby’s house. His House is high.)

The preffixes R-, S-, means a possessive and anaphorical relations, respectively. The distinction between lexicon and grammar or between morphology and syntax doesn´t matter. Semantics have been most effective to explain language structure.

Now, compare these two examples:

Ka’ioby îmonhang kuei oka. (Kaioby had made these house.) = visible
Ka’ioby îmonhang akuei oka. (Kaioby had made these house.) = not visible

The visible/not visible distinction in demonstrative pronouns brings a complex spatial categorization that is not common in european languages. This is widespread among indigenous languages of America and some regions of Austronesian. Curiously, this is a pattern also found in Basque a controversial language with respect to kinship. Since Basque probably is older than indo-european languages, perhaps there is some genetic relation with some indigenous language. Although etnocentrism bannes important debates about linguistics and archeology, it is ancient populations whose could migrate. 

Related links:


Brazilian Languages PART II – Ancient Tupi and Tupinambá

Brazilian Languages PART II – Ancient Tupi and Tupinambá

For those researchers interesting only in language structure, tupinambá is the language spoken by native people of brazilian coast. However, people looking for relations between brazilian language and the social and cultural process of colonization in Brazil, Ancient Tupi must be its study.

Aryon Rodrigues, author of Língua brasileiras establish a paradigmatic classification of indigenous languages , focused at its differences of sounds and morphemes. Unlike Rodrigues, Eduardo Navarro, which his magum opus is Método moderno de Tupi Antigo, consider the diglossic dimension of people of brazilian coast and this aspect arouse the curiosity of jesuits. Namely, jesuits had the intetion to optimize catechesis with a native language.

A lot of document inform about the widespread of Ancient Tupi from the coast to São Paulo and even amazonic region. Although toponimic dimension had handled by portuguese ideologies, fauna and flora (specially in botany) are named with tupi names so far this date. Moreover, some concepts of caipira’s culture has etymological relation with Língua Geral Paulista and Nheengatu is a language that passed over Brazil’s geographical barriers. Its also spoken in Colombia and Venezuela.

Links of two mentioned books:



A child music about brazilian languages, sponsored by Youtube: