Tikuna, a ten-toneme language in Amazonia

AMERINDIA 43: 55-101, 2021

Denis BERTET
DDL (Laboratoire Dynamique Du Langage – CNRS–Université Lumière-Lyon 2)

Abstract: Tikuna (isolate, western Amazonia) has been known since the 1950s to be one of Amazonia’s richest tone languages. However, no agreement has been reached yet as to how many underlying tonemes are needed to account for the large number of tones it displays on the surface. Based on first-hand data collected from 2015 to 2018, I show that the variety of Tikuna spoken in the community of San Martín de Amacayacu (Colombia) features an inventory of ten (level and contour) tonemes in stressed syllables, and six (level) tonemes in unstressed syllables. The tonal and phonational realizations corresponding to these numerous tonemes are illustrated on real samples. I argue that a more economical underlying inventory cannot successfully account for the attested contrasts and surface realizations. Such a rich toneme inventory is cross-linguistically extremely rare, and unique in South America.