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 (in particular, there is no evidence for grouping it with Cariban languages into a Macro-Carib stock). 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 (Payne, forthcoming).

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. (Orthographic symbols in bold, IPA values in square brackets.)



*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 numérico del yagua."
*Rosetta Project - http://www.rosettaproject.org

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