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Native toRondônia region
Extinctextremely endangered
Language family
  • Akunsu
Language codes
ISO 639-3

Akunt'su (Akunsu, Akuntsu or Akuntsú) is an indigenous language spoken by only last five monolinguals survivors who live in two small malocas set close to one another in the forests of the Omerê river, an affluent of the left bank of the Corumbiara in the southeast of Rondônia state (Crevels 2011). Like the other forest reserves of Rondônia, the territory is seriously under threat from crop farming and cattle ranching. Akuntsú is among the languages considered most highly endangered in Brazil (Moore 2006). They are not able to pass their native language on to another generation (2015). 

Overview of History[edit]

The Rubber Boom and Initial Contact[edit]

The rubber boom occurred in the late 1800s brought many Europeans and Brazilian people from other states to Rondônia, seeking to work on the extraction and commercialization of the rubber (Aragon 2014). Akuntsu, as one of the smallest ethnic group in Brazil, experienced a devastating massacre back in the mid-80s when first encountering the whites, who have intended to expel them from their land (Valadɑ̃ 1996). The encounter ended with the death of approximately 15 people. Indigenous groups in general, have suffered from illness and intensive abuse from the outsiders, which further deteriorates the population of Akuntsu speakers.

The Few Remaining[edit]

Since the first documentation in 1995, the Akuntsu people had lost one youngster due to a nocturnal storm, therefore leaving the community with only 6 speakers. According to statistics in 2018, only 4 remained today. Due to the previous encounters with non-indegenous people, the Akuntsu are cautious of attacks even with people that they have met several times (Valadɑ̃ 1996). The chief, in particular, will not approach anyone without blowing a horn, an ancient shamanic ritual to expel any negative entity. Fear is stamped on each of them by the bullets from the past. Since the first contact, the neighboring Kanoe people have remained mutual relation with National Indian Foundation (FUNAI) (Aragon 2014). By learning a few Portuguese words combined with hand gestures, the Akuntsu people followed the footsteps of their neighbors who are able to communicate with FUNAI in a request for agricultural tools (Aragon 2014). The outside world first made contact with the survivors of the Akuntsu people back in 1995 through the department of isolated Indians (Gabas, Jr., Nilson, 2005). Prior to the initial contact, neighboring Tupari tribes have labeled Akuntsu as “terrible” and “dangerous”, which they have never made contact. In Kanoe language, the name Akuntsu stands for “other Indians” (Caspar 1958). This was briefly mentioned in the book by Frans Caspar. Just like in Caspar’s writings and as Akuntsu’s name suggests, no other individuals have the courage to make contact with them and their culture were completely unknown to Tupari people (Caspar 1958).

Language Family[edit]

Akuntsu is a member of the Tupari subfamily of Tupían (Cabral and Aragon, 2004). The term Tupían “stock” (family) was first used by Rodrigues (1955) to refer to a linguistic family which included the Tupí-Guaraní subfamily and other smaller and lesser-known subfamilies. Besides Akuntsú, six other languages (based on the table proposed in Rodrigues and Cabral (2012)) are classified as members of the Tuparían subfamily: Tuparí, Makuráp, Mekéns (Sakɨrabiat), Wajoró (Ajurú), Kepikiriwat (extinct) and Waratégaya (Amniapé, also extinct). In 1986, Rodrigues revised the Tupían stock, including nine subfamilies: Awetí, Mawé, Jurúna, Mundurukú, Arikém, Tuparí, Mondé, Ramaráma, and Puruborá. The Tupían family was recently revised and divided into two main branches: Western and Eastern (Cabral and Rodrigues 2001, Dietrich 2010a, Rodrigues and Cabral 2012), where Akuntsú belongs to Tuparían, a subfamily of the Eastern branch. This language is classified as a Tupían language, member of the Tuparían subfamily with respect to the genetic classification of Akuntsú (Gabas 1995, 2005; Cabral and Aragon 2004a, 2005).

Language Documentation[edit]

The first language information about Akuntsu officially appeared only in 1995, when the first contact with the Omerê groups was intervented by FUNAI(Valadɑ̃O 1996). The most detailed description (linguistic aspects) of Akuntsu was done by Carolina Aragon. She began her documentation in 2004. Firstly, only vocabulary of various sorts was collected and input in LALI ’s (Laboratório de línguas indígenas)database. After she began some fieldwork trips, the morphology and syntactic aspects have been better analyzed and interpreted. Her Fieldwork was undertaken twice each year. (2014) She stays as long as possible each time with these five monolingual Akuntsu people, learning their language and their culture in daily contact. That work resulted in some papers (Cabral and Aragon 2005; Aragon and Carvalho 2009) and in an M.A. thesis about the phonology, morphology, and some aspects of the syntactic of Akuntsu language (Aragon 2008).She has implemented a descriptive and comparative study of Akuntsu from 2013-2015, and Carolina started a dictionary for Akuntsu language since 2016 as a coordinator and she worked with Luciene Montessi (2016).



The Akuntsu vowel inventory has five underlying oral segments. In Akuntsu, there are inherently nasal vowels, but also phonetically nasalized vowels.

Oral vowel
Front Central Back
High             i            ɨ
Mid           e (ɛ)        o (u)
Low           a

                          Table 1. Oral vowel chart in Akuntsu (Aragon 2014: 40)

Nasal vowel
Front Central Back
High ɪ̃ ɨ̃
Mid õ
Low ã

Table 2. Nasal vowel chart in Akuntsu (Aragon 2014: 42)


There are five manners of articulation for the consonants, namely stops, affricates, nasals, flaps and approximants, and five places of articulation, labial, alveolar, palatal, velar, and labio-velar.

labial alveolar palatal velar labio-velar
Voiceless stops p t k
Voiced stops b d g
Affricates ŋ
Nasals m n
Approximant w j

Table 3. Consonants chart in Akuntsu (Aragon 2014: 68)



Carolina Aragon based a lot of her research around Akuntsu. In her book, A Grammar of Akuntsu, she divided the morphology of Akuntsu into three main sections, nominal morphology, verbal morphology, and adjectives and adverbs (Aragon 2014, pg.ix table of contents). As for nouns in Akuntsu, there are simple nouns which can receive determinative morpheme and undergo reduplication and compound processes. Complex nouns can be attached to oblique clitics or linked to postpositions, and they are often compound nouns or juxtapositions. As for numerals are often formed by undergo reduplication (Aragon 2014, pg.192). In the verbs section, Aragon focused on the three modalities of Akuntsu which are indicative, interrogative, and imperative. Modality which is the speaker’s attitude toward the realities expressed by the speaker, or by some other participant, within the proposition. The indicative modality is unmarked, fitting into the realis modal system. According to Mithun (1999:173 apud Palmer 2001:1): "The realis portrays situations as actualized, as having occurred or actually occurring, knowable through direct perception. The irrealis portrays situations as purely within the realm of thought, knowable only through imagination." While the imperative and interrogative are often morphologically marked in the language, and fit into the irrelias modality (Aragon 2014, pg.232). Verb morpheme in Akuntsu can either be transitive or intransitive, with exceptions for causative verb morphemes which can only be intransitive and object nominalizers which can only be transitive (Aragon 2014, pg. 236). Aragon (2014) argued that adjectives and adverbs of Akuntsu are open classes of their own. Adverbs in Akuntsu from a morphological standpoint have no independent status of their own, rather adjectives can be used to modify verbs and possess an adverbial function (Aragon 2014, pg. 243-244). However, adjectives used as adverbs are syntactically different from prototypical adjectives. Adverbs are words that have no fixed order in the clause, being allowed to occur at the beginning or at the end, though they are not allowed to come between the object and verb within the verb phrase. (Aragon 2014, pg.250) 


Akuntsú has three sets of personal pronouns: independent, dependent and emphatic.

1S on o- oɾẽ
2S en e- eɾẽ
3S te i-~t- --
3COR -- te- --
1PL.INCL kitʃe ki- kiɾẽ
1PL.EXCL otʃe otʃe --
2PL iat iat --
3PL kejat kejat --


   Table 4. Pronominal forms (Aragon 2014: 179)


1.Independent pronoun and dependent pronouns:  pea en    i=poka

firewood 2s  3s=burn

‘Firewood, I burned it’ (180)

2. Dependent pronoun: e=neme   


‘You ran’ (181)

3. Emphatic pronoun: oɾẽ o=eɾek-kwa

1S.EM 1s=speech-TR.PL

‘I speak’  (183)

Aspects of Grammar[edit]

Vowel Lengthening[edit]

Akuntsu employs vowel lengthening to represent the degree of intensity in adjectives (Aragon 2014, pg 241). Vowel lengthening is used to express the meaning of “very”, but it can also be applied to borrowed words such as iwe which indicated pain. Iwe functions as interjection and it can also be reduplicated meaning it can be repeated many times to express strong emotions (Aragon 2014, pg.268).

Ex 1. kwako ø-okwaj peeeɾek=na

guan (sp.) R-tail wide/long=ESS

‘The guan's tail is very long’

Ex 2.o=ø-amĩna iweee

1S=R-knee IDEO

‘My knee is hurting very much’

Ex 3.te ãka õjpe ko-a iwe-iwe eo atʃi

3S that.way snuff ingest-THV IDEO-RED belly pain

‘[...] he, that way, sniffed snuff, it is hurting so much, the belly is hurting’

Compound Nouns[edit]

Compound nouns can be formed by combining two words together, and it can be a noun and a noun or a noun and an adjective. The resulting meaning is predictable from the two constituents but different semantically. In a compound, the second component or the rightmost component possess the primary stress, and the stress on the other component is reduced. Most words in Akuntsu follows the iambic stress system (Aragon 2014, pg. 105).

Ex 1. otat + niŋ

fire + striped


Ex 2./oɾoɾo/ + /pe/

cotton + skin/peel



Valency Change[edit]

In her description of A GRAMMAR OF AKUNTSÚ, A TUPÍAN LANGUAGE, Carolina (2014) writes there are several strategies that Akuntsu express its valency change. Derivational verbal morphemes, valence-changing morphemes signaling (i) antipassives and (ii) causatives. (Aragon (2014), P40) and it also signals reciprocal. (Aragon (2014), P220)

Antipassive (Valency Reducing)[edit]

In Akuntsú, as Carolina (284) described, the antipassive voice is not marked on the verb in morphological sense, but through demotion of the object to an oblique complementary in a given transitive clause.

kɨpepo i=paɾã-ka kɨp=pe

wind 3s=break-TR tree=OBL

‘The wind is breaking [away at] the tree’

In this example above, the oblique clitic =pe marks the object when it is occurring outside of the usual syntactic position of the object. In such typical antipassive constructions, the subject does not change status at all and it continues to be the AGENT of a transitive clause. However, in this strategy the core internal argument of a transitive verb, its logical direct object, changes its status to a non-core, oblique argument. Unlike other languages, the corresponding constructions in Akuntsú do not receive any overt marker on their verbs. (Aragon (2014), P284)

Causative (Valency Increasing)[edit]

In Akuntsu, morpheme -ka has multiple uses. When the morpheme -ka are attached to intransitive verbs (or to verb ideophones), to elements that only require one obligatory argument, it makes the verb transitive, adding to its semantic value a CAUSATIVE reading. It increases the valency.

en i=wɨbɨ-ka

2s 3s=slide-TR

‘You made it slide (from the hammock to the floor)’

In this example above, the morpheme -ka attached to an intransitive verb slide which include a new argument that has the semantic function as a “causer”, in this case, ‘you’ is the cause of the movement of slide. (Aragon (2014), P214)

Reciprocal (Valency Reducing)[edit]

In Akuntsu, as Carolina wrote, the morpheme te has several functions, in some case, the morpheme te has a reciprocal reading. The reciprocal te reduces the valency of transitive verbs, and only one syntactic argument is expressed in the clause. It involves plural arguments, whereas no explicit syntactic object is found. (Aragon (2014), P221)

peɾo te=õpa

macaw 3COR=beat

‘The macaws are fighting’

Lit.They are beating each other.

In the example above, reciprocal te was added in transitive verb ‘beat’, reducing the valency of verb but creating the context that they are beating each other (interactional sense). Comparing to next example:

peɾo õpa Konibu

macaw beat Konibú

‘Konibú beat the macaw’

No reciprocal te was attached, therefore, the meaning of the sentence completely changed in a way: only Konibú did the action which is ‘beat’, while the macaw is just object of the verb. The valency remains.   



In Akuntsu, reduplication marks the plurality in nouns and aspectual function in verbs. The most productive type of reduplication is usually the first syllable or the the final syllable in a monosyllabic reduplication, and reduplication follows the structure of CV, VC, or CVC (Aragon (2014), p.103)







‘many woodpeckers’

(Aragon (2014), p. 175)

Disyllabic reduplication affects only words with the shape CV.CV in Akuntsu. Complex syllables of the form CVC.CVC have not yet been found reduplicated. (Aragon (2014), p.104) Numeral quantifiers can also be reduplicated. (Aragon (2014), p.175)




two banana

‘two bananas’



two-RED banana

‘four (or many) bananas’ 

(Aragon (2014), p.175)

The iterative morpheme ekwa expresses the idea that the event occurred several times, that an event happened repeatedly, expressing plurality. This morpheme has the label ITER for both functions in this dissertation. The iterative morpheme may have two semantic readings: (i) the event occurred many times or (ii) it reflects the idea of the plurality of objects affected. It is worth noting that the particle ekwa gives the plurality of the object, when attached to transitive verbs, while the morpheme -kwa yields the repetition/continuity/plurality of the action only. (Aragon (2014), p. 225-226)

te=tʃet              ekwa

3COR=leave    ITER

‘He leaves repeatedly’

(Aragon (2014), p. 225)

Jõnebo           mi        ekwa

cricket             kill      ITER

‘Kill the crickets!

(Aragon (2014), p. 226)


Aragon, Carolina Coelho. “A GRAMMAR OF AKUNTSÚ, A TUPÍAN LANGUAGE.” Universidade Católica de Brasília, 2014.

ARAGON, Carolina Coelho. Considerações sobre os ideofones e seu uso em Akuntsú. Revista de Letras (Taguatinga), v. 8, p. 1-13, 2015.

Aragon, Carolina Coelho. “Fonologia e aspectos morfologicos e sintaticos da lingua Akuntsu. Dissertação de Mestrado, Universidade de Brasilia, 2008.

ARAGON, Carolina Coelho. Posposições e Marcadores Oblíquos em Akuntsú (Tupí). Revista Brasileira de Linguística Antropológica, v. 10, p. 47-57, 2018.

Caspar, Franz. Tupari (Entre Os índios, Nas Florestas Brasileiras). Ed. Melhoramentos, 1958.

Moore, Denny. “Brazil: Language Situation.” Encyclopedia of Language & Linguistics, 2nd ed., vol.2, Elsevier, 2006, pp. 117–128.

Gabas Jr., Nilson. “A Classificação Da Língua Akuntsu.” Estudos Lingüísticos XXXIV, 2005.pp.105–110.

Milanez, Felipe, and Glenn H. Shepard Jr. “The Few Remaining: Genocide Survivors and the Brazilian State.” Tipití: Journal of the Society for the Anthropology of Lowland South America, vol. 14, no. 1, 2016, pp. 131–134

Valadɑ̃o, Virgínia. “Os índios ilhados do Igarapé Omerê”. In: RICARDO, Carlos Alberto. Povos Indígenas no Brasil: 1991-1995.” Instituto Socioambiental, 1996.   


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