Panare language

E’ñapa Woromaipu
Native to Venezuela
Region just south of the Orinoco River, Estado Bolívar
Ethnicity 4,300 Panare people (2001 census)[1]
Native speakers
3,500 (2001 census)[1]
2,480 monolinguals (mostly women)[1]
  • Venezuelan Carib

    • Pemóng–Panare
      • Panare
Language codes
ISO 639-3 pbh
Glottolog enap1235[2]

Panare is a Cariban language, spoken by approximately 3,000–4,000 people in Bolivar State in southern Venezuela. Their main area is South of the town of Caicara del Orinoco, south of the Orinoco River. There are several subdialects of the language. The autonym for this language and people is eñapa, which has various senses depending on context, including 'people', 'indigenous-people', and 'Panare-people'. The term "Panare" itself is a Tupí word that means "friend." [3] It is unusual in having object–verb–agent as one of its main word orders, the other being the more common verb–agent–object. It also displays the typologically "uncommon" property of an ergative–absolutive alignment in the present and a nominative–accusative alignment in the past.


Panare is a member of the Cariban language family, though its sub-grouping within the family is a matter of contention. The first decades of attempted classifications were largely rejected by linguists, a uniform classification of all proposed members of the Cariban family was introduced by Terrence Kaufman (1994).[4] This grouping, still widely used by linguists, classifies Panare as a member of the Southern Amazonian branch, with no cousin languages. However, Spike Gildea has criticized this grouping as relying on faulty data used for earlier classifications by Durbin and Loukotka that have been since rejected. In 2012, Gildea put forth his own classification, which groups Panare as a member of the Venezuelan Carib branch, and in turn, part of the low-level Pemóng-Panare branch.[5] This classification has been considered an improvement by linguists such as Lyle Campbell and Doris & Thomas Payne, but it has yet to replace the Kaufman grouping, largely due to its relative youth.



Panare contains approximately 14 contrasting consonant phonemes, with variation depending on dialect and origins of certain lexical items (see: Notes).

Labial Alveolar Alveo-palatal Velar Glottal[6]
Plosives p t k ʔ
Nasals m n ɲ (ŋ)
Fricatives s h
Affricates t͡ɕ
Glides w j
Flaps ɾ


Panare contains 7 contrasting vowel phonemes.

Front Central Back
High i ɨ u
Mid e ə o
Low a


/n/ = [ŋ]/_#, _C[-alveolar]/[n] elsewhere; /ɲ/ has phonemic status in loanwords from Spanish, and is an allophone in native words; Payne & Payne (2013) consider /ʔ/ and /h/ to be different allophones of an “underlying pharyngeal approximate,” that releases differently depending on environment. There are also records of these two phones occurring in free variation, which may be attributed to once-distinct dialects being merged into communities of speakers with idiolectical contrasts.[7]


Panare is best classified as a heavy-agglutinating language that verges on polysynthesis. Many of its morphemes can be clearly identified by roots that remain isolated across inflectional processes, and inflection by multiple affixes is usually light. Words can grow long and complicated, but they can usually be rooted in one firm idea, rather than something akin to a process-based sentence.[8]

However, elements of polysynthesis appear in how roots are initially inflected. Essentially, most roots (that are not complements) are bound morphemes in some way, and require at least one inflectional morpheme until they can be used as units in a sentence. For example:


Panare sentence structure does not follow a strict word order, but a flexible one. In most studies, it is classified as an object-initial language.[10][11] However, subject-object-verb and subject-verb-object are known to appear frequently as well.[12] This kind of "object-initial tendency" is quite common in Amazonia, where sentence structure is often more consistently arranged through clause construction type than word order.[13] As a result, Panare and its neighboring languages often use case markings as a way of ordering how constituents of a sentence affect each other.[14][15]


The speakers of Panare (called E'ñepa (lit. "people") in their own language) live in Bolívar, Venezuela, west of the Cuchivero basin of the Orinoco River.[16] Up until the 21st Century, the Panare had few contacts with non-indigenous peoples (the few being explorers and anthropologists). However, increasing interactions with Venezuelans has led to widespread bilingualism with Spanish.[17]



  1. 1 2 3 Panare at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015)
  2. Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin; Bank, Sebastian, eds. (2016). "E'napa Woromaipu". Glottolog 2.7. Jena: Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History.
  3. Payne, Thomas E. (1997). Describing morphosyntax: A guide for field linguists. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. p. 13.
  4. Campbell, 1997: 202-203
  5. Gildea, 2012.
  6. Payne & Payne, 2013: 41-42
  7. Payne & Payne, 2013: 55
  8. Payne & Payne, 2013: 67-72
  9. Payne & Payne, 2013: 49
  10. Campbell, 2012: 273
  11. Gildea, 1989
  12. Payne & Payne, 2013: 313-320
  13. Derbyshire, 1987: 313-315
  14. Payne & Payne, 2013
  15. Derbyshire, 1987
  16. Ethnologue
  17. Crevels, 2012: 217

Audio resources exist for this language at the University of Oregon Library. Thomas E. Payne and Doris L.Payne. 1989. Panare language sound recordings.

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