Towards an analysis of tonal patterns in Amawaka, a Panoan language of Peru and Brazil

Zúñiga, Fernando (15 August 2014). Towards an analysis of tonal patterns in Amawaka, a Panoan language of Peru and Brazil (Unpublished). In: Zúñiga, Fernando (ed.) Workshop on Word Stress and Accent. Leiden University Centre for Linguistics. 15.-17.08.2014.

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Amawaka ([ɑmɨ̃ˈwɐkɑ]) is a highly endangered and underdocumented tonal language of the Headwaters (Fleck 2011) subgroup of the Panoan family in the Southwest Amazon Basin, spoken by approximately 200 people. Undocumented phonetic and phonological phenomena of Amawaka include its tonal structure, both in terms of surface realizations and the patterns underlying these realizations. Original audiovisual data from the author’s fieldwork in various Amawaka communities at the Peru-Brazil border will illuminate the as-yet obscure tonal systematicity of the language.
Unlike other elements, monosyllabic bimoraic phonological nominal words with long vowels display variation in their surface realization. All the words with the open back unrounded /ɑ/, like /ˈkɑ̀:/ (a traditional Amazonian dish), /ˈnɑ̀:/ “mestizo” etc. [with the exception of /ˈtɑ:/ “reed”, which surfaces with either a H or L tone] bear a low tone in isolation. This realization contrasts with all the encountered nominal monosyllables with vowels from the close and close-mid front and central spectrum /i, ɘ, ɨ, ɨ̃/, which clearly surface as high tone words in isolation, for example /ˈmɨ̃́:/ (a clay-lick for animals), /ˈwí:/ “Anopheles, spp. mosquito”.
Monosyllables with close-mid back rounded /o/ have a less restrictive pitch that varies among speakers from low to high realizations, and sometimes even across the speech tokens from an individual speaker, e.g. /wó:/ or /wō:/ “hair”, /ɧō:/ or /ɧò:/ (a type of tarantula).
Phrasal tonal phonology is more complex, when these three kinds of monosyllables appear in larger noun phrases. Some retain the same surface tones as their isolation form, while others seem to vary freely in their surface realization, e.g. /ˈtɘ́:.nɑ̀:/ or /ˈtɘ́:.nɑ́:/ ‘one mestizo’. Yet other monosyllables, e.g. /mɑ̀:/, exhibit a falling tone when preceded by a H syllable, suggesting probably latent tone sandhi phenomena, e.g /ˈtɘ́:.mɑ̂:/ (one clay-lick for parrots). In disyllabic, trisyllabic and quadrisyllabic nouns, tonal and stress patterns generally seem to be more consistent and tend to be retained both in isolation and in larger intonational phrases. Disyllabic nouns, for instance, surface as L-H or L-L when a glottal stop is in coda position. The association of L with a glottal stop is a feature that occurs in other Panoan languages as well, like Capanahua (Loos 1969), and more generally it is an areal feature, found in other parts of Amazonia (Hyman 2010). So, tone has significant interactions with the glottal stop and glottalization, which generally co-occurs with L.
The data above suggest that the underlying tonal system of Amawaka is much more complex than the privative one-tone analysis (/H/ vs. Ø, i.e. lack of tone) that was proposed by Russell and Russell (1959). Evidence from field data suggests either an equipollent (Hyman 2010) two-tone opposition between /H/ and /L/, or a hybrid system, with both equipollent and privative features; that is, /H/ vs. /L/ vs. either Ø or /M/. This first systematic description of Amawaka tone, in conjunction with ongoing research, is poised to address broader questions concerning interrelationships between surface/underlying tone and other suprasegmental features, such as nasality, metrical stress, and intonation.


Fleck, David W. 2011. Panoan languages and linguistics. In Javier Ruedas and David
W. Fleck (Eds.), Panoan Histories and Interethnic Identities, To appear.
Hyman, Larry. 2010. Amazonia and the typology of tone systems. Presented at the
conference Amazonicas III: The structure of the Amazonian languages. Bogotá.
Loos, Eugene E. 1969. The phonology of Capanahua and its grammatical basis.
Norman: SIL and U. Oklahoma.
Russell, Robert & Dolores. 1959. Syntactotonemics in Amahuaca (Pano). Série
Lingüistica Especial, 128-167. Publicaçoes do Museu Nacional, Rio de Janeiro,

Item Type:

Conference or Workshop Item (Poster)


06 Faculty of Humanities > Department of Linguistics and Literary Studies > Institute of Linguistics

UniBE Contributor:

Zúñiga, Fernando


400 Language > 410 Linguistics
400 Language > 490 Other languages




Charitini Karadamou

Date Deposited:

09 Dec 2015 08:58

Last Modified:

03 Aug 2021 12:32




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