Arawakan languages

Arawakan languages
Ethnicity: Arawak peoples
From the Caribbean and Central America to every country in South America except Ecuador, Uruguay and Chile
Linguistic classification: Macro-Arawakan (uncertain)
  • Arawakan
Maipurean languages in South America (Carib Island not included): North-Maipurean (clear blue) and South maipurean (dark blue). Spots represent actual location of extant languages, and shadows show probable earlier areas.

Arawakan (Arahuacan, Maipuran Arawakan, "mainstream" Arawakan, Arawakan proper), also known as Maipurean (also Maipuran, Maipureano, Maipúre), is a language family that spans from the Caribbean and Central America to every country in South America except Ecuador, Uruguay and Chile. Maipurean may be related to other language families in a hypothetical Macro-Arawakan stock.

The name Maipure was given to the family by Filippo S. Gilij in 1782, after the Maipure language of Venezuela he used in his comparisons. It was renamed after the culturally more important Arawak language a century later. The term Arawak took over, until its use was extended in North America to the broader Macro-Arawakan proposal, and which time the name Maipurean was resurrected for the core family. See Arawakan vs Maipurean for details.



The most populous languages are in the Ta-Arawakan (Ta-Maipurean) group: Wayuu [Goajiro], with ca 300,000 speakers, and Garífuna [Black Carib], with ca 100,000 speakers. The Campa group is next; Asháninca or Campa proper has 15–18,000 speakers, and Ashéninca 18–25,000. After that probably comes Terêna, with 10,000 speakers, and Yanesha' [Amuesha] with 6–8,000.

The classification of Maipurean is difficult due to the large number of languages which are extinct and poorly documented. However, apart from transparent relationships which might constitute single languages, there are several groups of Maipurean languages which are generally accepted. Many classifications agree in bifurcating Maipurean into northern and southern branches, though perhaps not all languages fit into one or the other. The three classifications below all accept:

  • Ta-Maipurean = Caribbean Arawak / Ta-Arawak = Caribbean Maipuran,
  • Upper Amazon Maipurean = North Amazonian Arawak = Inland Maipuran,
  • Central Maipurean = Pareci–Xingu = Paresí–Waurá = Central Maipuran,
  • Piro = Purus,
  • Campa = Pre-Andean Maipurean = Pre-Andine Maipuran.

An early contrast between Ta-Arawak and Nu-Arawak, depending on the prefix for "I", is spurious; nu- is the ancestral form for the entire family, whereas ta- is an innovation of one branch of the family.

Kaufman (1994)

The following (tentative) classification is from Kaufman (1994: 57-60). Details of established branches are given in the linked articles. In addition to the family tree detailed below, there are a few languages that are "Non-Maipurean Arawakan languages or too scantily known to classify" (Kaufman 1994: 58), which include:

  • Shebaye (†)
  • Lapachu (†)
  • Morique (aka Morike) (†)

Another language is also mentioned as "Arawakan":

  • Salumã (aka Salumán, Enawené-Nawé)

Including these unclassified languages mentioned above, the Maipurean family has about 64 languages. Out of these, 29 languages are now extinct: Wainumáf, Mariaté, Anauyá, Amarizana, Jumana, Pasé, Cawishana, Garú, Marawá, Guinao, Yavitero, Maipure, Manao, Kariaí, Waraikú, Yabaána, Wiriná, Aruán, Taíno, Kalhíphona, Marawán-Karipurá, Saraveca, Custenau, Inapari, Kanamaré, Shebaye, Lapachu, and Morique.

Northern Maipurean
  • Upper Amazon branch
  • Maritime branch
    • Aruán (Aroã) (†)
    • Wapixana (aka Wapishana): Atorada (aka Atoraí), Mapidian (aka Maopidyán), Wapishana
    • Ta-Maipurean
    • Palikur
Southern Maipurean
  • Western branch
    • Amuesha (aka Amoesha, Yanesha’)
    • Chamicuro (aka Chamikuro)
  • Central branch
  • Southern Outlier branch
    • Terêna (dialects: Kinikinao, Terena, Guaná, Chané)
    • Moxos group (aka Moho)
      • Moxos (Ignaciano & Trinitario)
      • Baure
      • Paunaka (aka Pauna–Paikone)
    • Piro group
  • Campa branch (also known Pre-Andean)

Aikhenvald (1999)

Apart from minor decisions on whether a variety is a language or a dialect, changing names, and not addressing several poorly attested languages, Aikhenvald departs from Kaufman in breaking up the Southern Outlier and Western branches of Southern Maipurean and assigning Salumã and Lapachu ('Apolista') to what is left of Southern Outlier ('South Arawak'); in breaking up the Maritime branch of Northern Maipurean, though keeping Aruán and Palikur together; and in remaining agnostic about the sub-grouping of the North Amazonian branch of Northern Maipurean. The following breakdown uses Aikhenvald's nomenclature followed by Kaufman's.

North Arawak = Northern Maipurean
  • Rio Branco = Wapishanan (2) [with Mapidian as a separate language]
  • Palikur = Palikur + Aruán (3)
  • Caribbean = Ta-Maipurean (8) [incl. Shebaye]
  • North Amazonian = Upper Amazon (17 attested)
South and South-Western Arawak = Southern Maipurean
  • South Arawak = Terena + Moxos group + Salumã + Lapachu ['Apolista'] (11)
  • Pareci–Xingu = Central Maipurean (6)
  • South-Western Arawak = Piro (5)
  • Campa (6)
  • Amuesha (1)
  • Chamicuro (1)

Aikhenvald classifies Kaufman's unclassified languages apart from Morique, but leaves unclassifed 15 extinct languages which Kaufman had placed in various branches of Maipurean.


Ethnologue (2009) and Linguist List list the following extinct "unclassified Arawkan" languages which do not appear in Campbell, Kaufman, or Aikhenvald. They are presumably meant to be Maipurean, as otherwise, starting with the 2009 edition, Arawakan and Maipurean are synonyms.

  • Cumeral
  • Omejes
  • Ponares (a surname, perhaps just Piapoco or Achagua)
  • Tomedes aka Tamudes

and move Shiriana here as well. Mawayana is listed as Arawakan without being further classified.

Otherwise, the Ethnologue branching is,

  • Central Maipuran (6) [Kaufman's Salumã here]
  • Eastern Maipuran = Palikur
  • Western Maipuran (2)
  • Northern Maipuran
    • Caribbean = Ta-Maipurean (5)
    • Inland = Upper Amazon (13) [not subgrouped]
    • Yabaâna
    • Wapishanan (3)
  • Southern Maipuran
    • Bolivia–Parana (5) [= Kaufman Terena & Moxos]
    • Pre-Andine = Campa (11) [adds Nanti to Kaufman]
    • Purus = Piro (5) [adds Machinere and Mashco Piro to Kaufman]
    • Irantxe

Campbell (1997), Kaufman (1994), and Aikhenvald (1999) all leave this last language, Irantxe, unclassified, and Arruda (2003) treats it as a language isolate.

See also


  • Aikhenvald, Alexandra Y. (1999). The Arawak language family. In R. M. W. Dixon & A. Y. Aikhenvald (Eds.), The Amazonian languages. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-57021-2; ISBN 0-521-57893-0.
  • Campbell, Lyle. (1997). American Indian languages: The historical linguistics of Native America. New York: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-509427-1.
  • Derbyshire, Desmond C. (1992). Arawakan languages. In W. Bright (Ed.), International encyclopedia of linguistics (Vol. 1, pp. 102–105). New Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  • Gordon, Raymond G., Jr. (Ed.). (2005). Ethnologue: Languages of the world (15th ed.). Dallas, TX: SIL International. ISBN 1-55671-159-X. (Online version:
  • Kaufman, Terrence. (1990). Language history in South America: What we know and how to know more. In D. L. Payne (Ed.), Amazonian linguistics: Studies in lowland South American languages (pp. 13–67). Austin: University of Texas Press. ISBN 0-292-70414-3.
  • Kaufman, Terrence. (1994). The native languages of South America. In C. Mosley & R. E. Asher (Eds.), Atlas of the world's languages (pp. 46–76). London: Routledge.
  • Migliazza, Ernest C.; & Campbell, Lyle. (1988). Panorama general de las lenguas indígenas en América (pp. 223). Historia general de América (Vol. 10). Caracas: Instituto Panamericano de Geografía e Historia.
  • Payne, David. (1991). A classification of Maipuran (Arawakan) languages based on shared lexical retentions. In D. C. Derbyshire & G. K. Pullum (Eds.), Handbook of Amazonian languages (Vol. 3, pp. 355–499). Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter.
  • Solís Fonseca, Gustavo. (2003). Lenguas en la amazonía peruana. Lima: edición por demanda.
  • Zamponi, Raoul. (2003). Maipure, Munich: Lincom Europa. ISBN 3-89586-232-0.

External links

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