Itonama language

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Native toBolivia
RegionBeni Department
Ethnicity2,900 (2006)[1]
Native speakers
5 (2007)[1]
Language codes
ISO 639-3ito
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Itonama is a moribund language isolate spoken by the Itonama people in the Amazonian lowlands of north-eastern Bolivia. Greenberg’s (1987) classification of Itonama as Paezan, a sub-branch of Macro-Chibchan, remains unsupported and Itonama continues to be considered an isolate or unclassified language.

It was spoken on the Itonomas River and Lake[3] in Beni Department.

Language contact[edit]

Jolkesky (2016) notes that there are lexical similarities with the Nambikwaran languages due to contact.[4]



Front Central Back
High i ɨ u
Mid e o
Low a

Diphthongs: /ai au/.


Bilabial Alveolar Postalveolar Palatal Velar Glottal
Stop Plain p t k ʔ
Voiced b d
Affricate Plain
Ejective tʃʼ
Fricative s h
Nasal m n
Lateral l
Flap ɾ
Semivowel w j

The postalveolar affricates /tʃ tʃʼ/ have alveolar allophones [ts tsʼ]. Variation occurs between speakers, and even within the speech of a single person.

The semivowel /w/ is realized as a bilabial fricative [β] when preceded and followed by identical vowels.


Itonama is a polysynthetic, head-marking, verb-initial language with an accusative alignment system along with an inverse subsystem in independent clauses, and straightforward accusative alignment in dependent clauses.

Nominal morphology lacks case declension and adpositions and so is simpler than verbal morphology (which has body-part and location incorporation, directionals, evidentials, verbal classifiers, among others).[5]


Loukotka (1968) lists the following basic vocabulary items for Itonama.[3]

gloss Itonama
one chash-káni
two chash-chupa
tooth huomóte
tongue páchosníla
hand mapára
woman ubíka
water huanúhue
fire ubári
moon chakakáshka
maize udáme
jaguar ótgu
house úku

See also[edit]

Further reading[edit]

  • Camp, E. L.; Liccardi, M. R. (1967). Itonama, castellano e inglés. (Vocabularios Bolivianos, 6.) Riberalta: Summer Institute of Linguistics.


  1. ^ a b Itonama at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015)
  2. ^ Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds. (2017). "Itonama". Glottolog 3.0. Jena, Germany: Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History.
  3. ^ a b Loukotka, Čestmír (1968). Classification of South American Indian languages. Los Angeles: UCLA Latin American Center.
  4. ^ Jolkesky, Marcelo Pinho de Valhery (2016). Estudo arqueo-ecolinguístico das terras tropicais sul-americanas (Ph.D. dissertation) (2 ed.). Brasília: University of Brasília.
  5. ^ Crevels, M. Who did what to whom in Magdalena. p. 3. Cite has empty unknown parameter: |coauthors= (help)

External links[edit]