Cavineña language

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Native toBolivia
RegionBeni Department
Native speakers
1,700 (2006)[1]
  • Tacanan
    • Araona–Tacana
      • Cavinena–Tacana
        • Cavineña
Official status
Official language in
Language codes
ISO 639-3cav

Cavineña is an indigenous language spoken on the Amazonian plains of northern Bolivia by over 1,000 Cavineño people. Although Cavineña is still spoken (and still learnt by some children), it is an endangered language. Guillaume (2004) states that about 1200 people speak the language, out of a population of around 1700. Nearly all Cavineña are bilingual in Spanish.

The Cavineño people live in several communities near the Beni River, which flows north from the Andes. The nearest towns are Reyes (to the south) and Riberalta (to the north).


Cavineña has the following consonants (Guillaume 2004:27). Where the practical orthography is different from IPA, it is shown between angled brackets:

Labial Alveolar Palatal Velar Labiovelar Glottal
Nasal m n ɲ ⟨ny⟩
voiceless stop p t c ⟨ty⟩ k kʷ ⟨kw⟩
voiced stop b d ɟ ⟨dy⟩
Affricate ts t͡ɕ ⟨ch⟩
voiceless fricative s ɕ ⟨sh⟩ h ⟨j⟩
Lateral ɺ ⟨r⟩ ʎ ⟨ry⟩
Approximant j ⟨y⟩ w

It has the following vowels

Front Central Back
High i ʊ ⟨u⟩
Mid e/ɛ ⟨e⟩
Low a

Examples in the morphology and syntax sections are written in the practical orthography.



Verbs do not show agreement with their arguments, but are inflected for tense, aspect, mood, negation, and aktionsart, among other categories. There are six tense/aspect/mood affixes (Guillaume 2004):

  • -ya 'imperfective' (for present, generic, habitual, and near future events)
  • -wa 'perfective' (for events that occurred earlier the same day)
  • -chine 'recent past' (for events that occurred between a day and a year ago)
  • -kware 'remote past' (for events that occurred a year or more ago)
  • -buke 'remote future' (for events far in the future)
  • e-...-u 'potential' (for events that are contingent on other events)

The following examples show the remote past and perfective affixes:

I-ke=bakwe [e-kwe e-wane=tsewe] kanajara-kware [e-kwe tujuri=ju].
'Me, I was resting with my wife in my mosquito net.'
Pakaka-wa =mi [manga=ju=ke].
fall-PERF =2SG(-FM) mango.tree=LOC=LIG
'You fell from the mango tree.'

Aktionsart suffixes include:

  • -tere/tirya 'completive'
  • -bisha 'incompletive'
  • -nuka 'repeated/reiterative'

The following examples show the completive and reiterative suffixes:

Shana-tirya-kware =tuna [piya=kwana
leave-COMP-REM.PAST =3PL(-ERG) arrow=PL
'(They ran away and) left all their arrows behind.' (Guillaume 2004:193)
Peadya tunka mara=kwana ju-atsu =tu ekwita kwa-nuka-kware babi=ra…
one ten year=APPROX be-SS =3SG(-FM) person go-REITR-REM.PAST hunt=PURP.MOT
'After about ten years or so, the man went hunting again.' (Guillaume 2004:198)

Cavineña is the first language in the Amazon for which an antipassive voice has been described.[4]


Nouns and noun phrases[edit]

Subtypes of nouns[edit]

There are three subtypes of nouns in Cavineña (Guillaume 2004:71-73).

  • e-nouns, which are a closed class of about 100 to 150 terms which must take a prefix e-. (The prefix is realised as y- before the vowel a).
  • kinship nouns, which are a small class of about 30 terms which are obligatorily inflected for their possessor.
  • independent nouns, which are an open class of a couple of thousand terms. Independent nouns do not take any e- prefix nor any possessor inflections.

Case marking[edit]

Case marking on noun phrases is shown through a set of clitic postpositions, including the following:

  • =ra 'ergative case'
  • =tsewe 'associative case' (= English 'with')
  • =ja 'dative case'
  • =ja 'genitive case'
  • =ju 'locative case'

The dative and genitive cases are homophonous.

Pronouns (independent or bound) also show these case distinctions.

The following example (Guillame 2004:526) shows several of the case markers in context:

I-ke=bakwe [e-kwe e-wane=tsewe] kanajara-kware [e-kwe tujuri=ju].
'Me, I was resting with my wife in my mosquito net.'
Pakaka-wa =mi [manga=ju=ke].
fall-PERF =2SG(-FM) mango.tree=LOC=LIG
'You fell from the mango tree.'
Ai =tu-ke =mi mare-wa?
INT =3SG-FM =2SG(-ERG) shoot-PERF
'What did you shoot?'

(Guillaume 2004:599)

Order in noun phrases[edit]

Noun phrases show the order (Relative Clause)-(Quantifier)-(Possessor)-Noun-(Adjective)-(Plural marker)-(Relative clause) (Guillaume 2004:69). The following examples show some of these orders.

E-marikaka ebari=kwana
nounprefix-cooking:pot big=plur
'big cooking pots'
dutya tunaja etawiki=kwana e-tiru=ke
all 3:plur:genitive bedding=plur res-burn-ligature
'all their bedding that had burnt'

(The clitic =ke 'ligature' appears at the end of a relative clause.)


Pronouns in Cavineña can appear in either independent or bound forms. The two kinds of pronouns are pronounced almost exactly the same, but the bound pronouns appear in second position, after the first word of the sentence. Independent pronouns tend to be contrastive, and usually appear first in the sentence.

The following pronouns are found:

Absolutive pronouns
person SG DL PL
1 i-Ø-ke ya-tse e-kwana
2 mi-Ø-ke me-tse mi-kwana
3 tu-Ø-ke ta-tse tu-na
3PROX ri-Ø-ke re-tse re-na
Ergative pronouns
person SG DL PL
1 e-Ø-ra ya-tse-ra e-kwana-ra
2 mi-Ø-ra me-tse-ra mi-kwana-ra
3 tu-Ø-ra ta-tse-ra tu-na-ra
3PROX riya-Ø-ra(?) re-tse-ra re-na-ra
Dative pronouns
person SG DL PL
1 e-Ø-kwe ya-tse-ja e-kwana-ja
2 mi-Ø-kwe me-tse-ja mi-kwana-ja
3 tu-Ø-ja ta-tse-ja tu-na-ja
3PROX re-Ø-ja re-tse-ja re-na-ja

Guillaume (2004:597) notes that the formative suffix -ke (of singular absolutive bound pronouns) and the ergative suffix -ra (in ergative bound pronouns) do not show up when absolutive or ergative pronouns occur last among the second position clitics.


Cavineña has ergative case marking on the subject of a transitive verb (Guillaume 2004:527). For sentences with a non-pronominal subject, this is shown with an ergative case clitic /=ra/:

Iba=ra=tu iye-chine takure.
jaguar=ERG=3SG(-FM) kill-RECENT.PAST chicken
'The jaguar killed the chicken.'

For a sentence with a pronominal subject, there are distinct ergative and absolutive forms of the pronouns:

I-ke=bakwe kwa-kware=dya=jutidya.
'I just went.'
E-ra=tu [e-kwe tata-chi] adeba-ya=ama.
'I do not know my father.' (Guillaume 2004:585)

Verbs do not inflect for the person of the subject or other arguments in the clause. Instead, a set of clitic pronouns occurs in the second position of the clause, as in the following examples (Guillaume 2004:595):

Tume =tuna-ja =tu-ke =Ø be-ti-wa budari.
then =3PL-DAT =3SG-FM =1SG(-ERG) bring-GO.TEMP-PERF banana
'I will go and bring bananas for them.'
Kwadisha-ya =tu-ke =e-ra =e-kwe encomienda [e-kwe ata=ja=ishu].
send-IMPERFECTIVE =3SG-FM =1SG-ERG =1SG-DAT package 1SG-GEN relatives=GEN=PURP.GNL
'I am sending a packing to my relatives.'

The clitics are ordered so that 3rd person pronouns precede 2nd person pronouns, which precede 1st person pronouns. (Some of the clitic pronouns in these examples have a formative element /-ke/ after them and some do not.)


  1. ^ Cavineña at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015)
  2. ^ "Constitution of Bolivia, Article 5. I." (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 2011-01-26.
  3. ^ Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds. (2017). "Cavinena". Glottolog 3.0. Jena, Germany: Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History.
  4. ^ Dixon, R.M.W. & Alexandra Y. Aikhenvald (eds) (1990). The Amazonian Languages. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. p. xxvii


  • Camp, Elizabeth, L. 1985. ‘Split ergativity in Cavineña’, International Journal of American Linguistics, 51.1: 38-58.
  • Camp, Elizabeth, L. and Millicent R. Liccardi. 1978. Necabahuityatira Isaraisara Huenehuene. (Aprendamos a Leer y Escribir), Cochabamba: Instituto Lingüístico de Verano. (Revised edition.)
  • Guillaume, Antoine. 2004. A grammar of Cavineña. Ph.D. thesis, La Trobe University.

External links[edit]