Information about the Yagua

There are approximately 3,000 to 4,000 Yagua people in northeastern Peru. Modernly they live near the Amazon, Napo, and Yavari Rivers and their tributaries. Ethnographic descriptions of the Yagua are found in Fejos (1943) and P. Powlison (1985). The history and migrations of the Yagua are described in Chaumeil (1983). As of 2005, apparently some Yagua have migrated northward to Colombia, near the town of Leticia.

The Yagua language is a member of the Peba-Yaguan language family. The language is documented in various works by Paul Powlison, Esther Powlison, Doris L. Payne, and Thomas E. Payne.

  • Chaumeil, J. P. 1983. Historia y migraciones de los yagua. Lima: Peru.
  • Fejos, Paul. 1943. Ethnology of the Yagua. Viking.
  • Powlison, Paul. 1985. Yagua Mythology: Epic Tendencies in a New World Mythology. Dallas:
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 1980's, 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.


Within a word, there is metathesis of any morpheme-final /y/ with the onset of the following syllable. Vowels are both oral and nasal. A nasal consonant preceding a nasal vowel is a simple nasal sound ( [m], [n]); but a nasal consonant preceding an oral vowel has an oral release ([mb], [nd]). The language has either tone or a complex pitch-accent system, but this has never been adequately described.


The language is highly agglutinative, such that most words consist of multiple morphemes, and a single word may contain more than one root.


Most Yagua sentences begin with the verb, followed by the subject and object in that order (VSO). It is a "double object" language, with no known syntactic differences between the two objects of verbs like 'give', for example, or applied objects.

The language has numerous postpositions (and no prepositions, which is generally unexpected for VSO languages). There are over 40 noun classifiers, and essentially no "adjectives". Nouns are modified either by nouns, by classifiers, or by other suffixes.

The language is documented in various works by Paul Powlison, Esther Powlison, Doris L. Payne, and Thomas E. Payne.

  • 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."
Retrieved from "http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yagua_language"

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