Iquito dictionary

by Lev Michael and Christine Beier

Iquito-English Dictionary

Compilers Lev Michael and Christine Beier
Native speaker consultants Jaime Pacaya Inuma, Ema Llona Yareja, Hermenegildo Díaz Cuyasa, and Ligia Inuma Inuma (see Acknowledgements for more information and images)

The language and its speakers

Iquito [iqu] is a language of the Zaparoan family; its sister languages include Andoa [anb] (also: Katsakáti), Arabela [arl], and Záparo [zro] (also: Zápara, Sápara).1 Both Iquito and the Zaparoan family are critically endangered. At the time of writing in 2020, Iquito has fewer than 10 remaining fluent native speakers, the youngest of whom are in their seventies and only two of whom regularly use the language as a means of communication. As of 2011, Arabela had about 30 remaining speakers (Buenaño 2011); as of 2014, Záparo had only a few rememberers; and by 2009 Andoa had already fallen silent.2 Community-oriented efforts to revitalize and revalorize Iquito (Beier & Michael 2018) and Záparo (e.g., Viatori & Ushigua 2007) are currently underway, however.

Prior to encountering European diseases, missionaries, and military aggression in the late 17th century, speakers of the Zaparoan languages occupied an extensive territory in what is now northwestern Peru and eastern Ecuador. This territory spanned from the banks of the Napo River in the north to the banks of the middle Tigre River in the south and to the upper Pastaza River basin in the west (Map 1). Within this region, Iquito groups occupied a large territory between the Napo and Tigre Rivers. Iquitos’ first major sustained interaction with the invading Europeans and their descendants was with Jesuit missionaries in the 18th century, who sought to concentrate Iquitos in a number of reducciones, or mission settlements, in the Nanay River basin (see Map 2). After the Jesuits were expelled from South America, some Iquito families settled near the present day location of the city of Iquitos (Grohs 1974, Uriarte 1986), through which circumstance the city later got its name.

Map of Zaparoan homelands

Map 1. Locations of the Napo, Tigre, and Pastaza Rivers, which define the historical territories of the speakers of Zaparoan languages.3

After a period of relative peace and liberty, Iquitos were again beset during the Rubber Boom of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, when the remaining Iquito groups were enslaved by the so-called patrones who controlled the local rubber trade (Santos-Granero & Barclay 2000). Through the triple impact of introduced diseases, missionization, and enslavement, an original Iquito population of roughly 5,000 was reduced to some 150 individuals by the 1920s. Yet, despite such staggering population loss, the Iquito language and many aspects of culture remained vital until the 1950s, when the combination of virulent local anti-indigenous racism and Peruvian government policies designed to ‘peruvianize’ indigenous peoples (de la Cadena 2000) — notably including aggressively anti-indigenous education policies — brought an abrupt end to natural language transmission from young parents to their children. Since the late 1950s, the number of Iquito speakers has dropped increasingly sharply, as the Iquito language has been replaced by Loretano Spanish [spq], a regional variety of Peruvian Spanish.

Since the 1950s, the majority of Iquito speakers and inheritors have lived in or near the community of San Antonio de Pintuyacu (Map 2).

Location of San Antonio de Pintuyacu

Map 2. Location of the Iquito village of San Antonio de Pintuyacu, Maynas, Loreto, Peru.4 As of 2017, the population of the Iquitos metropolitan area was roughly 510,0005 and the population of San Antonio was roughly 400.

The first Iquito school was a bilingual school founded in San Antonio in approximately 1958 by a North American Protestant missionary couple, Robert and Elizabeth Eastman, of the Summer Institute of Linguistics (now SIL International; SIL below), who trained and supported the school’s only fluent bilingual Iquito/Spanish teacher, Felix Cabral Sinchija, until conflicts with the regional government and the Catholic Church led to the closing of Felix Cabral’s bilingual school in 1967. Subsequently, the Peruvian Ministry of Education provided Spanish-language-only formal education until 1999, when the school in San Antonio was converted to an ‘intercultural bilingual’ school (Educación Intercultural Bilingüe), a model of education that allows indigenous community members who have a high school diploma to obtain teaching positions in indigenous community schools with the stated objective of facilitating the transmission of Indigenous languages and cultures within the formal education system.

The Iquito Language Documentation Project (ILDP), of which this dictionary is an outcome, was launched in San Antonio in 2001 in response to an effort by community elders and leaders to increase the presence of Iquito language and culture in community life. The objectives of the ILDP, which were laid out in a formal agreement among its participants in 2002, were to create linguistic documentation of Iquito coupled with language revitalization materials and activities. Two intensive phases of collaborative work among members of the ILDP team have taken place: in 2002–2006 and from 2014 to the time of writing. Please see the Acknowledgements for information on funding for the ILDP.

Sources of the data for this dictionary

This dictionary is based on the knowledge of this resource’s four fluent native Iquito speaker co-authors. Lexical documentation of Iquito was an integral part of the ILDP since its inception, and formed an important part of fieldwork every year from 2002 to 2006 and again from 2014 through 2020.

The lexical documentation of Iquito reflected in this dictionary involved three methods that we describe below: text analysis, spontaneous interaction, and elicitation.

Text analysis

Many lexical items were identified from the transcription of audio recordings of monological texts, such as personal narratives, historical narratives, traditional stories, and procedural texts, as well as from audio recordings of spontaneous multi-party interactions among Iquito speakers. Such texts not only served to identify lexical items but also served to complement our elicitation-based understanding of their meanings.

In addition, transcribed and translated audio-recorded texts were the source of the majority of the example sentences provided in the lexical entries. Example sentences drawn from texts were checked during elicitation sessions for their accuracy and grammaticality.

Spontaneous interaction

In their work with the Iquito language, compilers Beier and Michael included a strong commitment to developing as much communicative competence in the language as possible. As a result, through conversations among the six co-authors of this dictionary, a sizable number of new lexical items, and new senses of previously documented lexical items, were identified.


Finally, elicitation played a crucial role. Many lexical items were identified in the context of elicitation sessions that explored particular semantic domains, some of which made use of visual and audio stimulus materials (see Scientific names for further discussion), as well as co-participation in daily activities. Elicitation was critical in the development of definitions, and systematic comparison among headwords with similar meanings played an especially important role.

Each field of each entry was systematically checked in structured elicitation sessions by Beier and/or Michael with one or more of our co-authors. The form of the headword and the definition were checked with a minimum of two of our co-authors, and many were checked with three or all four of them.

Example sentences that were not obtained from transcribed texts were obtained via elicitation by Beier or Michael and a native speaker co-author.

Finally, the lexical database underlying this dictionary was first developed in Shoebox and later imported into, and further developed with, Fieldworks Language Explorer (FLEx).

How this dictionary came about and what comes next

The preparation of a reasonably comprehensive dictionary of a previously little-documented language is a long voyage, and here we briefly describe the course that has brought about the work before you, and the future trajectory we anticipate.

The compilers’ engagement with the Iquito language began in 2001, when we made our first visit to the Iquito community of San Antonio de Pintuyacu, in response to reports from NGO contacts in Lima and Iquitos that the community was interested in finding linguists to assist them in responding to the endangerment of their heritage language. Community members expressed enthusiasm about the prospect of us undertaking language documentation and revitalization activities with them, and so in 2002 we returned to San Antonio and launched our work with two fellow graduate students, Mark Brown and Lynda de Jong (now Boudreault). Subsequently, we obtained three years of funding, in collaboration with Nora England as PI, from the Hans Rausing Endangered Languages Documentation Programme (MDP-0042), which supported a team-based language documentation and revitalization project from 2003 through 2006.

From the outset, community members identified an Iquito–Spanish dictionary as one of the most important language documentation priorities, and so, in 2006, at the end of the ELDP-funded phase of the project, we completed the Diccionario Bilingüe Iquito–Castellano y Castellano–Iquito (Michael et al. 2006) and distributed this first version of an Iquito dictionary to the community’s bilingual school teachers and other interested community members, as well as making it available online.

After a hiatus during which we were committed to work with other Amazonian languages, we returned to language documentation and revitalization activities with Iquito in 2014, with further development of the dictionary as one of our major goals. Apart from increasing the lexical coverage of the dictionary, we were eager to improve the detail and precision of the definitions, to provide more grammatical information, and to update the phonological representations of citation forms and roots. At that point, we made three important changes.

First, we decided to change the primary language of the entries from Spanish to English and complete the dictionary in English, subsequently translating it as a whole into Spanish. Our motivation for doing this was to increase the precision of the dictionary’s definitions and notes, having recognized that, since we are not native Spanish speakers, the existing Spanish prose of the dictionary was problematic in a number of ways. Although this decision has slowed the pace at which we are able to make new Spanish versions of the dictionary available to community members and hispanophone scholars, we felt that the need for accuracy outweighed the desideratum of speed.

Second, we changed the orthography (writing system) used in the dictionary to reflect the new Iquito alphabet (set of letters) that the Peruvian Ministry of Education made official in 2014. The 2006 version of the dictionary employed an orthography that followed hispanophone orthographic conventions, and which drew considerably on the orthography developed in the early 1960s by Robert and Elizabeth Eastman, SIL missionaries who worked in the Iquito community of San Antonio for a number of years. In 2002, when we began active work with the Iquito community, community members expressed the desire to continue using this earlier orthography, and so, with minor modifications, we adopted it as the orthography for our work. In 2014, however, Peru’s Ministry of Education conducted a set of community-participatory alphabet workshops which resulted in the official adoption of a new non-hispanophone alphabet. Consequently, in that same year, we adopted this new alphabet and developed a full orthography based on it, with extensions for phonemes that the Ministry’s alphabet development had not addressed.

And third, we redoubled our commitment to developing an adequate analysis and understanding of the Iquito prosodic system, with one of our major aims being to improve the phonological representations in the dictionary. Iquito exhibits an intricate tonal system in which tones associated with different morphological categories interact in complex ways and, in some cases, are also associated with vowel lengthening processes. Our understanding of the prosodic system at the end of the first phase of the ILDP, being only partial, led to a variety of inaccuracies in the phonological representations in the 2006 dictionary. At this point, we are satisfied that we have a good analysis and understanding of the Iquito prosodic system, which has resulted in much-improved phonological representations in this dictionary. There will inevitably be minor adjustments going forward, but we now feel confident in our overall analysis, conclusions, and representations.

The preceding allusion to the future leads us to observe that if the creation of a dictionary is a lengthy voyage, the publication of the present version is but one waypoint towards the destination of documenting the Iquito lexicon to the best of our abilities, and of providing accessible lexical resources to varied communities interested in them—most obviously, Iquito community members, hispanophone scholars, and anglophone scholars. In August 2019, we released a new student dictionary (Beier et al. 2019) and distributed it to Iquito elders, leaders, teachers, students, and any other interested community members, as well as online. This is the first widely-distributed dictionary for use by community members since the 2006 version, and it constitutes the first major output of the research that we resumed in 2014. The Iquito–English Dictionary published by Ediciones Abya-Yala in 2019 constituted the second output of that research, and has a scholarly target audience. This searchable online version, based on the 2019 publication, constitutes the third output. At present, we are in the midst of translating this Iquito—English dictionary into an Iquito–Spanish dictionary, which will likewise have a scholarly target audience, and which we hope to publish in the coming year, as the fourth output of our research. As the fifth output, we are preparing a reference dictionary for community use, which will be more extensive and detailed than the student dictionary, which was necessarily tailored for use by school children.

We also intend to prepare a new edition of this Iquito–English dictionary, although we hesitate to predict when it will be ready. We anticipate the value of a new edition for a number of reasons. First, we are currently preparing a descriptive grammar of Iquito, and experience has taught us that advances in our understanding of Iquito grammar often have implications for both our understanding of the Iquito lexicon, and for our judgment of what properly belongs in lexical resources, versus what should be treated in grammatical descriptions. For example, it has only been in recent years that we have come to realize that the word class of nouns includes an important subclass that we call locative nouns (see the discussion of nouns below) which merit being identified as such in the part-of-speech specifications of dictionary lemmas. We do not doubt that similar insights, with similar consequences for the documentation of the Iquito lexicon, will emerge as our grammatical research continues. Similarly, there are other areas where recent discoveries suggest that in the future we may need to revise aspects of our lexical documentation. For example, recent research has revealed that a phonological distinction exists among postpositions: some of them condition tonal shifts, a property that we associate with tightly prosodically-bound elements; while others do not, a property that we associate with prosodically-independent words. In this dictionary, we treat all postpositions as enclitics, since they are indeed all phrasal enclitics, but it may be the case that in the future we will wish to differentiate between postpositions that behave like phonological clitics, and those that do not.

Second, for reasons of continuity with previous works written on Iquito, by ourselves as well as by others, in this edition we continue to mark only high tones in Iquito forms. However, our research over the past two years has made it clear that Iquito also exhibits low tones, resulting in a three-way tonal contrast on tone-bearing units between high, low, and null. As it turns out, the position of low tones can usually be predicted by the position of high tones (and conversely), so the current representations are not inaccurate per se but these representations do suffer from the drawback that determining the position of low tones on the basis of high tones requires an intimate familiarity with the complex Iquito tonal system, which is a heavy burden to place on most dictionary users. The representations in the next edition of the dictionary will mark both high and low tones, making them more surface-transparent.

Third, we are in the midst of significantly revising our substantial text corpus, which exists as a parsed FLEx corpus, and we anticipate that doing so will lead us to expand and revise the dictionary in certain ways. The revision of the text corpus has been motivated both by advances we have made in our understanding of the Iquito prosodic system, as briefly discussed above, and by advances in our understanding of the Iquito lexicon (e.g., distinguishing an increasing number of senses in certain lemmas). Experience tells us that the revision of the text corpus will lead us to refine our understanding of the semantics of certain lexemes, and will also provide us with the opportunity to increase both the quantity and quality of exemplification in the dictionary.

We offer the user of this dictionary, then, the present work, which is as comprehensive a documentation of the lexicon of Iquito as is possible at the present time. Given the richness and intricacy of each human language, the development of any dictionary is a potentially endless journey, with further exemplification, explication, and emendation always possible. Our progress with the documentation of the Iquito lexicon has reached a point, however, that we believe merits the release of new dictionaries for use by the Iquito community and the scholarly community. We hope our readers concur.

Phonology, alphabet, graphemes, and orthography

Segmental inventory

Iquito exhibits both segmental phonemes (as all languages do) and tone. The vowel inventory is given in Table 1 and the consonant inventory in Table 2.

Front Central Back
High i, iː <ii> ɨ, ɨː <ɨɨ> u, uː <uu>
Low a, aː <aa>

Table 1. Iquito vowel inventory. Graphemes in angle brackets indicate the practical orthography if it differs from the phonemic representation.

Labial Aveolar Alveopalatal Velar Labiovelar Glottal
Stop p [p, pʲ] t [t, tʲ] k [k, kʲ]
kʲ <ki>
kʷ <kw>
Nasal m [m, mʲ] n [n, ɲ] ɲ <ni>
Fricative s [s, ʃ] ʃ [ʃ, ʃʲ] <si> h <j>
Approximant j <y> w
Flap ɾ [ɾ, r, ɾʲ]

Table 2. Iquito consonant inventory. Segments in square brackets are surface allophones of the phoneme; graphemes in angle brackets indicate the practical orthography if it differs from the phonemic representation.

In the next section, we discuss the alphabet and the graphemes that we have used to represent segmental phonemes in the Iquito orthography employed in this dictionary; in the subsequent section, we turn to a discussion of the orthographic representation of tone that we employ.

Segmental graphemes and orthography

The Iquito alphabet used in this dictionary is closely based on the official Iquito alphabet that was developed in a set of community-participatory workshops organized by the Peruvian Ministry of Education in 2014. This alphabet is given, in alphabetical order, in (1):

(1) a, aa, i, ii, ɨ, ɨɨ, j, k, m, n, p, r, s, t, u, uu, w, y

On the basis of this alphabet, we represent the eight vowel phonemes of Iquito using the graphemes given in Table 3 and the fourteen consonant phonemes using the graphemes given in Table 4. In both tables, the ‘phoneme’ column provides IPA-based phonemic equivalents for the graphemes.6

Grapheme Phoneme Grapheme example Phoneme example Gloss
a a ajapaka ahapaka wasp
aa taana taːna other
i i minati minati pineapple
ii siimana ʃi:mana shaman
ɨ ɨ kɨtɨ kɨtɨ gecko
ɨɨ ɨː mɨɨja mɨːha hummingbird
u u nunamija nunamiha sun
uu muuti muːti black agouti

Table 3. Iquito vowel graphemes

Grapheme Phoneme Grapheme example Phoneme example Gloss
j h járaki háɾaki firewood
k k kakuti kakuti sand
ki(a, aa) kʲ(a, aa) íkiaari íkʲaːɾi stunted fruit
kw(a, aa) kʷ(a, aa) ikwani ikʷani man
m m mɨɨsaji mɨːsahi woman
n n náana náːna tree
ni ɲ niaatíija ɲaːtíːha mother
p p pikana pikana wet
r ɾ irísina iɾíʃina hard
s s asasana asasana food
si(V, Vː) ʃ(V, Vː) kusiaamɨ kuʃaːmɨ brave
t t iita iːta house
w w áwaku áwaku finger
y j nawɨyini nawɨjini spirit
Ci(aa) Cʲ(aa) nɨtiáana nɨtʲáːna runner

Table 4. Iquito consonant graphemes

While the vowel graphemes are self-explanatory, a few of the consonant graphemes require some explanation. Specifically, the Iquito orthography used in this dictionary employs a set of digraphs selected to maintain continuity with the Iquito orthography developed by SIL missionaries Robert and Elizabeth Eastman (e.g., Eastman & Eastman 1963; see The language and its speakers for more information). These digraphs fall into two classes:

  1. three graphemes associated with palatalization, <ki(a, aa), ni(V, Vː), si(V, Vː)>, representing the phonemes /kʲ, ɲ, ʃ/ respectively; and
  2. the grapheme associated with labialization, <kw(a, aa)>, representing the phoneme /kʷ/.

Beginning with the latter, the phoneme /kʷ/ has a restricted distribution, appearing only before /a, aː/. Despite this restricted distribution, there is no evidence suggesting that it should be analyzed synchronically as an underlying stop-glide sequence; or as the result of glide formation (e.g., from an underlying /kua/ sequence); or as the result of rounding harmony.7 (Significantly, a labialized voiceless velar stop reconstructs to Proto-Zaparoan; see Michael et al., in prep.)

Turning now to the graphemes associated with palatalization, we begin by observing that there does exist a productive glide-formation process in Iquito, by which the high vowels /i, ɨ/ glide to /j/ (<y>) to avoid vowel hiatus, i.e., /Ci(a, aː)/ → /Cʲ(a,aː)/. The productivity of this process is evident in cases where these vowels appear in root-final position and are followed by vowel-initial suffixes, as in (2).

(2) Nuaatiaákura. [nuaːtʲáːkùɾà]
‘S/he was saying (recent past).’

It may well have been the existence of this productive glide-formation process that led the Eastmans to represent the palatalized component of all palatalized segments as an orthographic <i>.9 Thus, instead of adopting distinct graphemes for /kʲ, ɲ, ʃ/, they chose to represent the corresponding speech sounds as <ki, ni, si>.

And indeed, the glide-formation process mentioned above would yield, from an underlying /CiVː/ representation, a surface sequence identical to that derived from the /kʲ/ and /ɲ/ phonemes we posit. Nevertheless, we do not opt to eliminate the /kʲ/ and /ɲ/ phonemes in favor of underlying /ki/ and /ni/ sequences. This is due to the simple fact that, in forms where we posit such phonemes, there is never an alternation that suggests the presence of an underlying /ki/ or /ni/ sequence, which raises the question of how speakers could ever infer the presence of these hypothetical sequences. Similar observations apply for opting to retain the /ʃ/ phoneme in our inventory.

Finally, in order to maintain continuity with previous Iquito written materials, in this dictionary we continue to use the existing orthographic strategy for representing /kʲ, ɲ, ʃ/ by writing palatalized segments as <Ci> sequences, or <ki, ni, si> respectively.

Tone marking and orthography

In addition to segmental phonemes, Iquito exhibits tone, with a tonal inventory of /H, L, Ø/ (high, low, and null). The tonal system is complex, with most tones constituting parts of /HLL/ tonal melodies. In the orthography employed in this dictionary, only /H/ tones are marked, and in general, each /H/ tone is followed by two /L/ tones, although the second /L/ tone is, in some environments, supplanted by an /H/ from a following /HLL/ melody.

Below we exemplify how tone is indicated in this dictionary, with only /H/ tones marked, and how this corresponds to a tonal representation in which /L/ tones are also marked. In (3a), we provide the orthographic representation of ‘blood’ as found in this dictionary; in (3b), we provide the representation in which the entire /HLL/ melody is spelled out, including the two /L/ tones that can be inferred from the presence of the /H/ tone. Likewise, in (4a) we provide the orthographic representation of ‘Tamshi Quebrada’ found in the dictionary, and in (4b), the representation including /L/ tones; in this case, though, note that the first /HLL/ melody is truncated because the /H/ from the second /HLL/ melody falls on the mora that would otherwise have been occupied by the second /L/ of the first /HLL/ melody, i.e., the melody associated with the first /H/ tone.

(3) a. májaaka ‘blood’
b. májààka
(4) a. Nuríyɨyúumu ‘Tamshi Quebrada (name of creek)’
b. Nuríyɨ̀yúùmù

Structure and content of dictionary entries

In this section, we provide information that will help readers understand the types of categories and information that are used in the dictionary entries, or lemmas, as they are also known.

Iquito parts of speech

In this dictionary, we distinguish the following parts of speech: adjective, adverb, adverbial clitic, adverbial subordinator, demonstrative, determiner, grammatical clitic, interjection, interrogative, locative demonstrative adverb, locative noun, locative postposition, noun (including compound nouns), numeral, particle, postposition, pronoun (anaphoric, indefinite, person, and relative), proper noun, and verb (copular, existential, intransitive, transitive, ditransitive, and ambitransitive).

Distinctive properties of these parts of speech in Iquito and their representations in this dictionary are the focus of the discussion below.

The noun and noun phrase


The headword given for nouns is the bare root. Two inflectional categories associated with Iquito nouns exhibit some irregularities: number and possession.

Irregular plurals. Iquito exhibits a regular nominal plural suffix, -ka, exemplified in (5).

(5) iíminaka

In addition, however, the language exhibits a large number of irregular plural forms, some involving relatively high-frequency irregular suffixes, such as -wa, exemplified in (6), and others involving suffixes that appear on only one or two nouns in the entire lexicon, such as -yuuri.

(6) nasiwa

There is also a significant number of plural forms that are either suppletive or exhibit root allomorphy in their plural forms, exemplified in (7).

(7) a. mɨɨsaji
b. iitimɨra

If a lexeme exhibits an irregular plural form, we provide this form in the Irregular Plural field. It is also important to mention that Iquito is in the midst of a leveling of the plural-marking system towards greater use of the regular plural suffix -ka. This means that for some nouns, speakers volunteer both an irregular plural form and a regular plural form.10 When this is the case, we supply both the irregular plural form and regular plural form, to indicate that both forms are considered acceptable.

Irregular possessed forms. For numerous nouns, the possessed form differs from the unpossessed form in an unpredictable or only partially predictable manner. The most common difference between possessed and unpossessed forms of nouns is a tonal one, with vowel-initial possessed nouns often bearing an /HLL/ tonal melody that is absent in the unpossessed form, as in (8). These alternations are provided in the Irregular Possessed Form field.

(8) a. asasana
‘food (unpossessed)’
b. Jaime asásana
Jaime food.POSS
‘Jaime’s food’

Irregular third person possessed forms. Iquito exhibits a third person possessive proclitic, nu=, that typically simply attaches concatenatively to the left edges of nouns, even when doing so would result in vowel hiatus, as in (9).

(9) nu=inɨ́ɨsi
‘his/her hammock’

For certain nouns, however, this vowel hiatus is resolved, either by deleting the vowel of the proclitic, as in (10), or by the coalescence of the proclitic with the initial syllable of the root, resulting in a change in the vowel quality of the root, as in (11). For these nouns, the irregular form is given in the Variant Form(s) field after the tag irregular 3rd person possessed form.

(10) nánaka
‘his/her/its head’
(11) nɨ́niija
‘its fruit’

Locative nouns

Locative nouns are a subclass of nominal roots that obligatorily bear one of five locative suffixes, given in Table 5. Locative suffixes may have a number of different meanings, which depend on the reference frame with respect to which they are construed.

Suffix Meaning
-jina unspecified (default for certain locative stems)
-ki proximal
-ku up, upriver, outside
-kúura perpendicular to river, horizontally distal
-ma down, downriver, inside

Table 5. Locative suffixes.

An important difference between locative nouns and non-locative nouns in Iquito is that locative nouns do not require a postposition to license them in non-core argument functions. In this respect, it appears that the locative suffix licenses its associated nominal root in much the same way that a postposition licenses a noun. Locative nouns are thus ‘self-licensing’ in a way that non-locative nouns are not.

This important difference is illustrated when we compare (12) and (13). First, in both (12a) and (12b), we see the intransitive verb root iíki- ‘be located in a place’ accompanied by a non-core argument expressing a location. In (12a), the postposition =sirikumaji ‘right next to’ licenses the noun kusi ‘pot’. In (12b), however, no postposition appears; instead, the locative suffix -ma ‘LOC:down’ serves as the licenser of the nominal root kuri- ‘port’.

(12) a. Nu=iíkii kusi=sirikumaji.
Nu=iíki-ii-øHLL# kusi=sirikumaji
‘She/he/it is (located) right next to the pot.’
b. Nu=iíkii kurima.
Nu=iíki-ii-øHLL# kuri-ma
3GNL=be.located-IPFV-NON.PST port-LOC:down
‘She/he/it is (located down) at the port.’

Now, in (13a-c), we see the transitive verb root mii- ‘have’ followed by a direct object core argument. In (13a), the noun kusi ‘pot’ is the direct object licensed by the verb mii- ‘have’ and it does not appear with a postposition. If we compare (13b) with (13a), we see that when kuri- ‘port’, appears as the direct object of the same transitive verb mii- ‘have’ it again bears the locative suffix -ma ‘LOC:down’ in this core argument function, even though the locative suffix is not required here for its licensing function. Finally, we see in (13c) that it is in fact ungrammatical for a locative nominal root such as kuri- ‘port’ to appear without a locative suffix.

(13) a. Nu=miíyaa kusi.
Nu=mii-yaa-øHLL# kusi
3GNL=have-IPFV-NON.PST pot
‘She/he/it has a pot.’
b. Nu=miíyaa kurima.
Nu=mii-yaa-øHLL# kuri-ma
3GNL=have-IPFV-NON.PST port-LOC:down
‘She/he/it has a port.’
c. * Nu=miíyaa kuri.
Intended: ‘She/he/it has a port.’

Note that most locative nouns exhibit a ‘default’ form that is usually construed as being bleached of locative meaning despite bearing a locative suffix, as exemplifed by kurima ‘port’ in (13b), where the root kuri- bears the locative suffix -ma by default. It is the default form that serves as the citation form in this dictionary.

Morphological expression of number and animacy

Number and animacy are marked in noun phrases via a set of three suffixes: -na ‘general number, general animacy’; -mi ‘plural inanimate’; and -pɨ ‘plural animate’. As is common in such systems cross-linguistically, ‘plural’ stipulates ‘more than one’, while ‘general number’ is simply unspecified for number, compatible with both ‘one’ and ‘more than one’ interpretations. Similarly, ‘general animacy’ is unspecified for animacy, and is compatible with both ‘animate’ and ‘inanimate’ interpretations. Agreement patterns involving these suffixes are described and exemplified below.


Iquito has a relatively large set of determiners — specifically, adnominal elements that establish the contextual uniqueness of the nominal element they accompany — that express both a three-way contrast in number and animacy, discussed in the previous section, and a three-way contrast in spatial reference. The set of determiners is given in Table 6.

Form Number Animacy Deictic component
iina general general general11
iimi plural inanimate general11
iipɨ plural animate general11
kiina general general addressee proximal
kiimi plural inanimate addressee proximal
kiipɨ plural animate addressee proximal
iina tíira general general speaker & addressee distal
iimi tíira plural inanimate speaker & addressee distal
iipɨ tíira plural animate speaker & addressee distal

Table 6. Iquito determiners

Iquito determiners agree in number and animacy with their co-occurring adjectives and nouns. Exhaustive morphological marking of plurality, as in (14a), is common. However, because ‘general’ number and animacy are semantically compatible with either singular or plural referents, as well as with either animate or inanimate ones, mismatches in the forms of agreement suffixes may occur, in two ways. First, it is possible for any one of the three number/animacy markers to occur on a target determiner (or other adnominal) whose controller lacks overt plural marking, as in (14b&c). Second, ‘generalʼ -na may co-occur with either plural, -mi or -pɨ, as in (14c), depending on discourse context.

(14) a. Iipɨ kuupɨ maapɨ kaayaaka, na=iíkii iiti.
Ii-pɨ kuu-pɨ maa-pɨ kaayaaka na=iíki-ii-øHLL# iiti
DEF-PL.ANIM two-PL.ANIM elder-PL.ANIM person.PL 3PL-live/reside-IPFV-NON.PST here
‘The two elderly people, they live here.’
(14) b. Iimi kusi, na=ímaa iiti.
Ii-mi kusi na=imá-aa-øHLL# iiti
DEF-PL.INAN pot(GNL) 3PL-be.placed-IPFV-NON.PST here
‘The pots, they are (placed) here.’
(14) c. Iimi kusi mɨɨ́nana, na=ímaa iiti.
Ii-mi kusi mɨɨ́na-na na=imá-aa-øHLL# iiti
DEF-PL.INAN pot(GNL) black-GNL 3PL-be.placed-IPFV-NON.PST here
‘The black pots, they are (placed) here.’

Note that the forms iina, iimi and iipɨ in fact have multiple functions in addition to their role as determiners. They may have an anaphoric function, establishing co-reference with another nominal element in the discourse; and/or they may have a demonstrative (exophoric) function, establishing ostensive reference with an entity in the discourse context, as shown in (15). Finally, they may function as relative pronouns, as in (16).

(15) Iina mɨɨsaji iíkii iiti.
ii-na mɨɨsaji iíki-ii-øHLL# iiti
DEF/DEM-GNL woman live/reside-IPFV-NON.PST here
Contextual uniqueness function: ‘The woman (who I have in mind) lives here.’
Anaphoric function: ‘The woman (mentioned previously) lives here.’
Demonstrative function: ‘That woman (toward whom I am gesturing) lives here.’
(16) Ki=kápuuyaa iina pɨ́=tasikɨ iina pajátɨrɨɨ.
Ki=kápuu-yaa-øHLL# ii-na pɨ́=tasikɨ ii-na pajátɨ-rɨɨ-øHLL#
‘I’m patching our fish trap that got a hole.’

In addition to the above complex forms, Iquito has a single indefinite determiner, shown in (17), whose function is to introduce a new referent into discouse. Note that this form is homophonous with the numeral ‘one’.

(17) Nuúkiika mɨɨsaji iíkii iiti.
nuúkiika mɨɨsaji iíki-ii-øHLL# iiti
INDEF woman live/reside-IPFV-NON.PST here
‘A woman lives here.’
Also: ‘One woman lives here.’


The citation form of adjectives typically consists of the adjectival root plus the general number and general animacy agreement suffix -na, as in (18).

(18) aákusana
‘red (general number/animacy)’

In some cases, the citation form of an adjective bears not the general number and animacy suffix -na form but rather a different suffix that speakers prefer for the citation form for the root in question, as illustrated in (19), where the citation form bears the proximal locative suffix -ki.

(19) iriyaki
‘deserted (place)’


The citation form of verbs is the event-nominalized form of the verb, which Iquito speakers characterize as the ‘name’ of verbs, and which they readily provide when asked to translate the infinitive form of Spanish verbs (e.g., comer ‘eat’). The event nominalizer has the segmental form -ni, it conditions a preceding long vowel, and it is associated with an /HLL/ melody, with the /H/ tone that we mark in this dictionary appearing two moras to the left of the -ni segmental sequence, as in (20) and (21).

(20) natáani
nata- ́ːni
‘planting, to plant’
(21) tasíini
tasii- ́ːni
‘waiting, to wait’

While the event-nominalized form of the verb is the obvious choice for the verbal citation form, verb roots cannot in fact be reliably inferred from this citation form, since event nominalization neutralizes length contrasts in the final vowel of the root. For this reason, we also provide the Root associated with the citation form in each verb lemma.

Identifying roots is also useful because they may exhibit tones that are erased by the event nominalization process, in particular, when the root’s high tone falls on the mora immediately preceding the event nominalizer’s high tone. Consider, for example, the root tásii ‘pinch’, in (22), which forms a minimal pair with tasii ‘wait’, given above in (21). As is evident by comparing (22) with (21), the event nominalized forms of tásii ‘pinch’ and tasii ‘wait’ are homophonous, due to the fact that the root tone of tásii ‘pinch’ has been erased by the event nominalization process.

(22) tasíini
tásii- ́ːni
‘pinching, to pinch’

In addition to providing a verb Root for all verb lemmas, we provide a Derivational Root (i.e., a root allomorph conditioned by the presence of derivational suffixes) for the 90 or so roots that exhibit them. For example, when followed only by inflectional morphology, the verb ajirɨ́ɨni ‘sit’ exhibits the root ajiítɨ, but when it is followed by derivational morphology, it exhibits the ‘derivational root’ ajírɨ, as in (23), where the derivational root is conditioned by the following event nominalization suffix.

(23) ajirɨɨ́ni
ajírɨ- ́ːni
‘sitting, to sit’

The Iquito verb and verb phrase

Transitivity in verbs

Iquito verbs may be intransitive, transitive, ditransitive or ambitransitive. We briefly distinguish the properties of each below. Note that in this dictionary, identical verb roots of different valencies are given distinct lemmas. Consequently, the transitive and ambitransitive forms of, for example, asáani ‘eat’ appear in separate lemmas.

Intransitive verbs are those that license a single subject argument only, as in (24) and (25).

(24) Nu=mákii.
‘S/he is sleeping.’
(25) Nu=nɨtɨki.
‘S/he ran (earlier today).’

Transitive verbs are those that require two overt arguments, subject and object, as in (26) and (27).

(26) Nu=túrii paápaaja.
Nu=turi-ii-øHLL# paápaaja fish
‘S/he is smoking fish.’
(27) Nu=nikiki nuu.
Nu=niki-Ø-ki nuu
‘S/he saw him/her (earlier today).’

Ambitransitive verbs are those that license up to two arguments, but only require one, as in (28) and (29). Many high frequency Iquito verbs are ambitransitive.

(28) a. Nu=ásaa.
‘S/he is eating.’
b. Nu=ásaa paápaaja.
Nu=asá-aa-øHLL# paápaaja
3GNL=eat-IPFV-NON.PST fish
‘S/he is eating fish.’
(29) a. Nu=sikitaki.
‘S/he washed (earlier today).’
b. Nu=sikitaki kusi.
Nu=sikita-Ø-ki kusi
3GNL=wash-PFV-NON.PST pot
‘S/he washed (a) pot (earlier today).’

Ditransitive verbs license up to three overt arguments -- subject, direct object, and indirect object -- as exemplified in (30) and (31). While the majority require at least two overt arguments (subject and direct object), a small subset of ditransitive verbs, such as paajúuni ‘teach’, require only a single (subject) argument, as in (30a). When a single post-verbal, non-subject argument accompanies a ditransitive verb, ambiguity regarding the grammatical relationship of that argument may arise, as in (31a). When there are two overt post-verbal arguments, their order is not syntactically rigid, as shown in (31b-c); rather, post-verbal argument ordering is sensitive to pragmatic considerations.

(30) a. Nu=paájuuyaa.
‘S/he is teaching.’
(30) b. Nu=paájuuyaa kíija.
Nu=paájuu-yaa-øHLL# kíija
‘S/he is teaching me.’
(30) c. Nu=paájuuyaa kíija taníini.
Nu=paájuu-yaa-øHLL# kíija tani-:niHLL#
‘S/he is teaching me weaving (to weave).’
(31) a. Na=miitɨɨ́yaa nuu.
Na=miitɨɨ-yaa-øHLL# nuu
‘They are giving (to) him/her.’
‘They are giving it.’
(31) b. Na=miitɨɨ́yaa nuu paápaaja.
Na=miitɨɨ-yaa-øHLL# nuu paápaaja
3PL=give-IPFV-NON.PST 3GNL fish
‘They are giving him/her fish.’
(31) c. Na=miitɨɨ́yaa paápaaja nuu.
Na=miitɨɨ-yaa-øHLL# paápaaja nuu
3PL=give-IPFV-NON.PST fish 3GNL
‘They are giving him/her fish.’

Tense, aspect, and associated motion

Tense and aspect marking are obligatory on finite Iquito verbs. All tense and aspect categories are expressed via verbal suffixes.

Iquito exhibits a three-way overt tense distinction, between non-past, recent past, and remote past. All finite Iquito verbs are also marked for aspect, expressing a binary contrast between perfective and imperfective. The expression of perfective aspect is particularly complex, as the language exhibits perfectives that select for lexical aspectual properties of the verb stems to which they attach (and also pragmatically coerce these lexical aspectual properties), as well as a set of associated motion suffixes that cumulatively express perfective aspect. Aspect morphology immediately follows the verb stem, with tense morphology to its right. The two remote past tense morphemes additionally cumulatively express a contrast between imperfective and perfective aspect. All these categories and their corresponding surface morphology are given in Tables 8, 9, and 10, while Table 7 provides a summary of the conventions employed in those tables.

Symbol What it represents
indicates a morpheme with no segmental content.
#LL indicates a fixed /LL/ tonal melody conditioned by the presence of two toneless moras following the right edge of the associated grammatical word.
HLL indicates a mobile /HLL/ tonal melody whose surface position is conditioned by its prosodic environment.
HLL# indicates a fixed /HLL/ tonal melody whose right edge is aligned to the right edge of its associated grammatical word.
indicates the /H/ of a fixed /HLL/ tonal melody that is expressed on the mora preceding its associated morpheme.
indicates the conditioning of a preceding long vowel, and the linking of the /H/ of a fixed /HLL/ tonal melody to the second mora of that lengthened vowel.

Table 7. Conventions used in subsequent tables.

Tense category Temporal reference Aspect encoded Suffix form Environment
Non-past from sundown yesterday through future (pre-hodiernal) none -ki /V/-final stem
HLL# /Vː/-final stem
Recent past ‘relatively recently’ through sundown yesterday none -kuraHLL all
Remote past ‘relatively long ago’ general perfective -kiaakɨHLL /V/-final stem
-V́kiaakɨ#LL /Vː/-final stem
imperfective -aárikɨ#LL /V/-final stem: deletes final /a, u/ but palatalizes final /i, ɨ/
-yaárikɨ#LL /Vː/-final stem

Table 8. Tense morphology.

Aspect category Lexical aspect specification Suffix form Environment
Imperfective none -yaa /Vː/-final stem
-aa /a/-final stem: deletes stem-final vowel
-ii /i, ɨ, u/-final stem: deletes stem-final vowel
Perfective none (‘general’) all
Perfective immediate transition between two states -V́rɨɨ toneless /Vː/-final stem
-rɨɨ (always toneless) elsewhere
Perfective slower transition between two states -yaárɨɨ /Vː/-final stem
-aárɨɨ /V/-final stem: deletes stem-final /a, u/ but palatalizes stem-final /i, ɨ/

Table 9. Aspect morphology.

Associated motion category Absolute reference frame Suffix form Environment
Arrive then do -sawɨɨ all
Do coming -maa all
Do then go OR do going -yaárɨɨ /Vː/-final stem
-aárɨɨ /V/-final stem: replaces stem-final /a, u/ but palatalizes stem-final /i, ɨ/
Do in passing deictic center -V́rɨɨ toneless /Vː/-final stem
-rɨɨ (always toneless) elsewhere
Go away, do, depart Go down/downriver, do, depart -kʷaa all
Come, do, depart Go up/upriver, do, depart -wɨɨ realis clauses
-:́kuwɨɨ irrealis clauses

Table 10. Associated motion morphology.

Reality status

Iquito exhibits an obligatory binary contrast in reality status between ‘realis’ and ‘irrealis’ in finite clauses, where reality status is a grammatical category that is grounded in a distinction between realized eventualities (e.g., events that have taken place in the past) and unrealized eventualities, (e.g., future events and hypothetical states of affairs). In Iquito, irrealis status is associated with future temporal reference, counterfactual modality, optative mood, and desiderative complements (see Beier et al. 2011 for an extensive discussion).

In Iquito, reality status is expressed by a word order alternation, in which two constructions are distinguished by the position of a non-subject, immediately post-verbal phrasal constituent (X) relative to the subject (S) and the verb (V). That is to say, for a given realis construction of the form SVX, there is a corresponding irrealis construction of the form SXV. The intervening X element is relatively unrestricted in terms of constituent type. This constructional alternation, here expressing a contrast between past and future temporal reference, is exemplified in (32) and (33).

(32) a. Realis; SVX order
Íima kapiki asúraaja.
S V X (object)
Íima kapi-Ø-ki asúraaja
‘Ema cooked manioc (earlier today)’.
b. Irrealis; SXV order
Íima asúraaja kapiki.
S X (object) V
Íima asúraaja kapi-Ø-ki manioc cook-PFV-NON.PST
‘Ema will cook manioc (later today).’
(33) a. Realis; SVX order
Kí=maaya makɨki tíira.
S V X (adverb)
kí=maaya makɨ-Ø-ki tíira
1SG.POSS=child sleep-PFV-NON.PST there
‘My child slept there (earlier today)’.
b.Irrealis; SXV order
Kí=maaya tíira makɨki.
S X (adverb) V
kí=maaya tíira makɨ-Ø-ki
1SG.POSS=child there sleep-PFV-NON.PST
‘My child will sleep there (later today).’

Clause-linking stategies

While Iquito demonstrates a wide range of semantic distinctions in its clause-linking strategies, the syntactic strategies for clause linking are few in number (see Michael 2009 for an extensive discussion). Here we briefly discuss and exemplify the two main strategies, the first of which employs a free clause-initial syntactic element to link two fully inflected clauses; and the second of which links a fully inflected main clause with a following non-finite clause in the form of a nominalized verb plus a postpositional clitic.

Linking two finite clauses. The first clause-linking strategy links two finite clauses using one of a small set of adverbial subordinators. The free syntactic element appears at the left edge of the subordinated clause and the subordinated clause typically appears after the main clause, as shown in (34). If the subordinated clause appears before the main clause to which it is linked, then the subordinated clause often optionally bears the clause-final clitic =na, as in (35).

(34) Íriikɨɨta nu=iíkuuyaa, iyaamiaákuji nu=kɨɨrɨɨ́yaa.
Íriikɨɨta nu=iíkuu-yaa-øHLL# iyaamiaákuji nu=kɨɨrɨɨ-yaa-øHLL#
haltingly 3GNL=walk-IPFV-NON.PST because 3GNL=be.afraid-IPFV-NON.PST
‘S/he is walking haltingly because he is afraid.’
(35) Jɨɨ́tikari taa jawana kia=nasi=na, kia=nuu ítuu.
jɨɨ́tikari taa jawa-na kia=nasi=na kia=nuu ítuu-Ø-øHLL#
when COP dry-GNL 2SG=3GNL burn-PFV-NON.PST
‘When your garden is dry, you will burn it.’

Linking a finite clause and a non-finite clause. The second clause-linking strategy links a finite clause to a non-finite subordinated clause (most often a reason clause or purpose clause) that follows it. The verb of the non-finite clause appears in the ‘event nominalized’ form and is accompanied by a postposition, as in (36) and (37).

(36) Aákari ki=sírataa, ki=míini=íira itíniija.
aákari kí=sírata-aa-øHLL# kí=mii-:niHLL#=íira itíniija
now 1SG=harvest.yuca-IPFV.-NON.PST 1SG=make-EV.NOMZ=PURP
‘Now I am harvesting manioc in order to make manioc beer.’
(37) Kana=ániki kina=siwɨráani=ánuura.
Kana=aní-Ø-ki kina=siwɨ́ra-:niHLL#=ánuura
‘We have come to visit you.’


Iquito exhibits a set of about 60 postpositions, all of which are NP enclitics, as exemplified in (38).

(38) a. Na=iíkwaki.
‘They went (earlier today).’
b. Na=iíkwaki naa=ánuura.
Na=iíkwa-Ø-ki naa=ánuura
3PL=go-PFV-NON.PST 3PL=toward
‘They went toward them (earlier today).’
c. Na=iíkwaki naa=jata.
Na=iíkwa-Ø-ki naa=jata
3PL=go-PFV-NON.PST 3PL=with
‘They went with them (earlier today).’

Locative postpositions

A subset of Iquito postpositions are morphologially complex elements that include spatial semantics. They obligatorily bear the same locative suffixes borne by locative nouns, as exemplified in (39). Like locative nouns, most locative postpositions exhibit a ‘default’ form, which serves as its citation form; the root consists of the citation form stripped of its locative suffix.

(39) a. Nu=iíkii kusi=jinakuma.
Nu=iíki-ii-øHLL# kusi=jinaku-ma
3GNL=be.located-IPFV-NON.PST pot=LOC:inside-LOC:below
‘It is inside, down at the bottom of, the pot.’
b. Nu=iíkii kusi=jinakuku.
Nu=iíki-ii-øHLL# kusi=jinaku-ku
3GNL=be.located-IPFV-NON.PST pot=LOC:inside-LOC:above
‘It is inside, up near the top of, the pot.’


Like most languages, Iquito has a large number of adverbs that have either clausal or verb phrasal scope and whose function is to provide information regarding manner, time, place, degree, or other characteristics of the eventuality associated with the verb or clause. In this section, we focus on morphologically complex adverbs in Iquito that include spatial semantics.

Locative demonstrative adverbs

In addition to locative nouns and locative postpositions, Iquito has a closed class of locative demonstrative adverbs. The felicity of some locative adverbs, like iiti ‘here’ in (40a), is calculated with respect to a single deictic center, typically the location of the speaker. The felicity of other locative adverbs, as in (40b) and (40c), is calculated with respect to two deictic centers: one typically associated with the speaker, and a second typically associated with the addressee, which is in addition situated in an absolute reference frame.

(40) a. Nu=iíkii iiti.
Nu=iíki-ii-øHLL# iiti
3GNL=be.located-IPFV-NON.PST here
‘She/he/it is here.’
b. Nu=iíkii iiku.
Nu=iíki-ii-øHLL# ii-ku
3GNL=be.located-IPFV-NON.PST here-above.addressee
‘She/he/it is up here.’
c. Nu=iíkii ii-ma.
Nu=iíki-ii-øHLL# ii-ma
3GNL=be.located-IPFV-NON.PST here-below.address
‘She/he/it is down here.’

Complex headwords

Headwords in this dictionary include compounds — that is, noun noun, noun adjective, adverb verb, etc. sequences that are presented as a single headword. In the specific case of compound nouns, these are often terms that denote unique flora, fauna, or natural phenomena.

We write compounds as two or more distinct words since the words in the compound are prosodically distinct, as revealed, e.g., by the tonal melodies of each component of the compound.

The most common types of compound forms in Iquito are exemplified in Table 11.

Headword type Types of component Example form Gloss Components
Noun noun + noun anapa páasi species of rare huasaco-type fish macaw + huasaco
kuni pakɨti Dragon-headed Bug snake + butterfly
adjective + noun aákusana isíiku ringworm red + sarna skin malady
taasíita iísaku sachacuy forest rat true + rat
noun + adjective áwasi sɨɨ́sanurika little (pinky) finger finger + small
iika tákaana detachable spear tip tooth + naked.GNL
noun + participialized verb muukwaayɨ ítuuja ‘rainbow burn’ skin malady rainbow + burn.PTCPL
níiya pániija Mud-dauber wasp earth + search.for.PTCPL
adverb + nominalized verb aniita asáana glutton big/great + eat.NOMZ
sɨɨ́sa kuwasiáana person with speech impediment badly + speak.NOMZ
Adjective adjective root + adjectivized noun saki namíjana light-eyed light-colored + eye.ADJR
riwa anásiikina bow-legged crooked + shank.ADJR
Verb adverb + verb ánasa iwíini be angry angrily + be.EV.NOMZ
suúkwara míini behave in a disgusting manner disgustingly + do.EV.NOMZ
nɨya karíini be pallid palely + appear.EV.NOMZ

Table 11. The most common types of compound forms in Iquito. These types of compounds appear as dictionary headwords. See fn. 8 for abbreviations.

Other key fields used in this dictionary


Those consultants who have most actively used Iquito throughout their adult life, and who, probably not coincidentally, exhibit the least purist language ideologies, liberally employ loanwords from Spanish, and to a lesser degree, Quechua, to refer to a wide range of introduced items and concepts with which Iquito speakers became familiar over the course of the 19th and 20th centuries. Ideologies of language purism are strong among some Iquito speakers, however, as well as among some other Iquito community members, and these individuals often react negatively to the appearance of identifiable loanwords in spoken Iquito, and even more so in written materials.

In acknowledgement of these concerns about the use of loanwords, we have been conservative in the number of loanwords we have included in the dictionary. Our decisions about which loanwords to include are based on a number of criteria: 1) they are clearly not ‘nonce loans’ but rather are long-established loans; 2) there is no conventionalized and widely-used non-loan Iquito counterpart; and 3) they are frequent even in the speech of relatively purist speakers.12

Moreover, we have sought to include loans that yield some insight into the linguistic or social history of the Iquito people. For example, the use of native Iquito words versus loanwords within the set of cultigens known to modern Iquitos gives us insight into what cultigens were raised by Iquitos prior to intense contact with mestizos in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, and which ones were introduced as a result of that contact. Similarly, the set of animals, fish, and plants with native Iquito names, versus names borrowed from Spanish or other indigenous languages, yields clues regarding the traditional habitat in which the Iquito people lived (that is to say, in headwaters regions, away from large rivers).

Grammar notes

We provide grammar notes to clarify the properties of lexemes that exhibit distinguishing or unexpected grammatical properties. In general, grammar notes are prose descriptions of the relevant grammatical properties; here we wish to briefly clarify the meaning of the grammar note abbreviated as Poss.pref. This notation indicates that the lexeme belongs to a class of nouns in Iquito that speakers strongly prefer to employ in possessed form, what we call ‘preferably possessed’ nouns. It is important to point out that these are neither obligatorily possessed nouns nor inalienably possessed nouns in an alienable/inalienable possession system, in that it is grammatical for these nouns to appear without possessors. And while in ‘out of the blue’ contexts speakers naturally produce preferably possessed nouns as possessed nouns, suitable contexts (e.g., encountering a dismembered body part) can pragmatically license these nouns to appear in unpossessed form.

Example sentences

We provide example sentences in order to clarify the use of lexemes or to exemplify their grammatical properties. Most examples in this dictionary are drawn from recorded texts, but some were elicited to illustrate specific aspects of a lexeme’s meaning or function.

The example sentences follow the orthographic conventions for written Iquito developed by the Centro del Idioma Iquito, located in the Iquito community San Antonio de Pintuyacu. The one convention that merits comment here is that clitics are separated from their hosts by equals signs, as in (41):

(41) Taana kakuti=jina kana=siwaánɨrɨɨ imɨráani.
‘We arrived at another beach.’

Variation and variants

The lexical data gathered by the Iquito Language Documentation Project exhibits a great deal of variation, reflecting the complex dialectal and demographic history of the Iquito people. Here, we discuss the ways in which this dictionary addresses this complex variation.

There are at least two clear sources of variation in the Iquito lexicon. First, as of the late 19th century, the Iquito people consisted of five major geographically delimited sub-groups, enumerated in Table 12 with their corresponding territories. Our consultants’ comments make it clear that, at least in the 20th century, Iquitos held strong language ideologies regarding linguistic differences between these sub-groups, focused on differences in lexicon and intonation.13 We refer to the linguistic variation indexing these sub-groups as ‘dialectal variation’.

Sub-group name Traditional territory (19th century)
Iíjakawɨɨ́raana Upper Pintuyacu River
Maasikuuri Upper Mazán River and upper Momón River
Maájanakáani Chambira River
Naamuutújuri Lower Nanay River, upriver of the confluence of the Pintuyacu and Nanay Rivers
Aámuuwáaja Headwaters of Pintuyacu River and Nanay River

Table 12. Iquito sub-groups

The identification of this dialectal variation is considerably complicated in the current day, however, by the fact that the 20th century saw the consolidation of Iquitos from all of these sub-groups into a small number of settlements, resulting in considerable dialect mixing. In addition, the current small total number of speakers exacerbates the difficulty of determining whether particular forms should be considered dialectal variants per se, by virtue of being historically associated with particular sub-groups; or whether they should be understood as sub-dialectal variants; or conversely, whether they participated historically in isoglosses spanning more than one dialect. In short, it is now challenging to understand how modern variation among a small number of individuals relates to historical forms of variation between, within, and across the dialect groups. We return to this point below.

A second source of variation in the Iquito lexical data are ongoing sound changes, the most striking being the loss of onsetless word-initial vowels.14 This process appears to be operating by lexical diffusion, so that some forms are unaffected, while other forms exhibit inter-speaker and/or intra-speaker variation in the presence of their initial vowels. (Other forms, we may assume, have by now entirely lost their initial vowels.)

These two sources of variation do not account for all variation in the data however, and at this point it becomes even more challenging to accurately characterize the basis of the variation. For example, if we compare certain forms produced by our two main male consultants, Hermenegildo Díaz Cuyasa (HDC) and Jaime Pacaya Inuma (JPI), with those produced by our main female consultant, Ema Llona Yareja (ELY), we find that the men’s forms exhibit certain types of sporadic and restricted vowel harmony. Significantly, the nature of this sporadic vowel harmony is often different between the two men. Similarly, a small but noticeable number of JPI’s forms exhibit /a, aː/ where all other speakers exhibit /ɨ, ɨː/ (e.g., jaátaaraata ~ jɨɨ́taaraata).

Since variability is a symptom of language obsolescence (Campbell & Muntzel 1989), it may be tempting to ascribe this and some other forms of lexical variation to the attrition of lexical knowledge. While this is no doubt a factor to some degree, many of the relevant variants are recognized by other speakers as stable over decades in the speech of particular individuals, and although idiosyncratic to a certain degree, this pattern is not clearly attributable to obsolescence-induced instability in lexical knowledge. In fact, consultants explain many cases of this smaller scale variation as due to the influence of a particular individual in their childhood, who used the forms in question. And in some cases, speakers attribute particular variants not to dialect groups, as discussed above, but to particular families. It seems clear, then, that there was some degree of systematic variation associated with families, and with particular individuals who may have been the last survivors of particular family lines.15 Family-group-based linguistic variation is not entirely surprising, given that the traditional Iquito settlement pattern was likewise family-group based, with such groups typically living several hours to several days of travel from their nearest neighbors. That family groups may have been a relevant unit of variation is also unsurprising given that the sociolinguistic and demographic circumstances of the late 19th century represent a massive collapse in terms of numbers and social organization in comparison to the state of Iquito society in the early 18th century, when Iquito people first came into contact with Europeans and mestizos through Jesuit missionary activity and their creation of reducciones in, and bordering on, Iquito territory. As such, it might be expected that family groups — which by the late 19th century were absorbed into one of the five sub-groups enumerated above — represented fragments of pre-contact Iquito linguistic diversity.

These observations regarding variation at the family-group and individual level suggest, first, that individual-level variation need not, and in most cases, should not, be ascribed to obsolescence-induced variability; and second, that a considerable fraction of individual-level variation in Iquito can never be accounted for in a fully satisfactory manner, resulting as it does from the virtually untraceable mixing of pre-contact linguistic diversity under circumstances of drastic demographic collapse and reorganization.

The classification of particular forms as dialectal or sociolinguistic variants of various types in this dictionary would ideally follow the methods of dialectology and sociolinguistics, both of which are empirically rigorous fields requiring the systematic, and relatively large-scale, collection of data within and across speech communities in order to arrive at trustworthy conclusions. Such work is, unfortunately, beyond our current abilities, in large part because language shift has already eroded the speech community to such a degree that the former dialectological and sociolinguistic structure of the Iquito speech communities would now be all but impossible to recover.

In place of sociolinguistic and dialectological surveys, we must instead rely on our consultants’ memories of the speech community in which they became adults, and their understanding of the dialectal and sociolinguistic organization of that community. This approach is a fraught one, of course, since it is well known that language ideologies exert powerful shaping effects on individuals’ perceptions of how particular linguistic forms are associated with particular socially salient groups, and how they are distributed within speech communities. With these caveats in place, we indicate below the linguistic variant categories that we employ in this dictionary, and the criteria we use to place forms in these categories.

Named dialectal variants

Iquito speakers recognize four major dialects, which correspond to the four major named Iquito sub-groups that survived into the early 20th century: Iíjakawɨɨ́raana, Maasikuuri, Maájanakáani, and Naamuutújuri. A fifth group, the Aámuuwáaja, which modern Iquito elders describe as a hunter-gatherer group, is considered to be closely related, but socially distinct from the Iquito groups. All these groups were identified with particular territories, given in Table 12, such that our consultants tend to alternate between identifying dialects with sub-group names or with their corresponding (former) geographical extent.

We identify a form as pertaining to a specific dialect if at least one of our consultants consistently identified a form as associated with that dialect. We take the Pintuyacu/Iíjakawɨɨ́raana dialect as the default dialect, and only indicate that a form is a dialectal variant if we identify it as pertaining to another dialect.

Unnamed dialectal variants

For some forms, speakers have clear judgments that they do not pertain to the Pintuyacu/Iíjakawɨɨ́raana dialect, but are instead associated with other Iquito dialect groups, yet they are unable to attribute the variant to any particular group.16 Such judgments potentially arise from two quite different situations. First, the variation in question may be a case where the Pintuyacu dialect was innovative (or borrowed an innovative form from another dialect), and the non-Pintuyacu dialect form was shared by more than one dialect. As such, it would be difficult to identify the non-Pintuyacu dialect form with a specific dialect. Second, the precise dialect group with which a non-Pintuyacu dialect form was associated may no longer be clear to our consultants. This is hardly surprising, since considerable dialect mixing dates back to at least the early 20th century, several decades prior to the birth of the elders with whom we work. We indicate that a variant is a ‘dialectal variant’, then, if consultants identified it as not pertaining to the Pintuyacu/Iíjakawɨɨ́raana dialect, but did not identify a specific dialect with which the form was associated.

Sociolinguistic variants

We reserve the term ‘sociolinguistic variant’ for variants that we ascribe to sound changes that appear to be in progress within the population of Iquito speakers, often exhibiting intra-speaker variation. The principal such sound change is the loss of short, toneless, word-initial vowels, a change that appears to be diffusing through the lexicon, and at this point mainly affects nouns. Different speakers produce particular alternants of specific alternant pairs with different frequencies, but we have made no attempt to quantify these frequencies.

Named individual variants

Named individual variants are variants in the dictionary that are ascribed to one of the co-authors who participated intensively in the preparation of the dictionary, namely Hermenegildo Díaz Cuyasa (HDC), Ema Llona Yareja (ELY), or Jaime Pacaya Inuma (JPI).17 These are variants that are uniformly used by that one identified speaker only, without any intra-speaker variation, and which moreover are not recognized by any of the speakers as a variant of wider use, either generally within the broader historical Iquito speech community, a regional dialect group, or a descent group. Moreover, these variants are generally recognized by all consultants as forms specifically and exclusively used by the particular speaker(s) to whom we ascribe the form.

Scientific names

Like other Amazonian languages, the part of the Iquito lexicon that is devoted to life forms is very rich, reflecting a profound accumulation of knowledge relating to the rainforest environment of the Iquito people. Most life forms or classes of life forms named in this significant reservoir of ethnobiological knowledge will be unfamiliar to many users of this dictionary, and reliance on their translational equivalents in local Spanish (if they exist) as the sole means of defining Iquito ethnobiological terms is problematic for a number of reasons (Michael & Jernigan, in prep.). For this reason, we have sought to provide scientific names for as many Iquito ethnobiological terms as possible, allowing readers to link Iquito ethnobiological terms to scientifically-recognized biological categories.

At the same time, we provide relevant local Spanish ethnobiological terminology in the definition of Iquito ethnobiological terms whenever possible, since these will be useful to users of the dictionary who seek to relate Iquito terms to ethnobiological terminology used in Loreto, and in Peruvian Amazonia more generally. Note, however, that some variation in Spanish ethnobiological terminology exists even within Loreto, let alone within the considerably greater region of Peruvian Amazonia as a whole. Appropriate caution should be taken, therefore, in the interpreting Spanish ethnobiological terminology given in this dictionary with respect to how these terms are used outside of Iquito territory. The information that we provide in the Loretano Spanish Glossary will be helpful in this regard.

Linking Iquito ethnobiological terms with scientific nomenclature for species, genera, families, and other groupings of life forms has proceeded in two main ways. The first is direct identification of species by working with Iquito language specialists and using a set of converging methodologies, including visual identification using field guides, auditory identification using recordings of vocalizations, and the use of natural history descriptions for disambiguation.18

The second major methodology is to employ available works that relate local Spanish names to scientific names. In this respect we have been fortunate in that the nearby city of Iquitos has for many decades been a major base and staging area for zoological and botanical research in Amazonia. One consequence of this has been the publication of a large number of scientific works that provide local Spanish equivalents used in the Iquitos area for species discussed and identified in the works in question (see below). By obtaining local Spanish equivalents to Iquito ethnobiological terms and then consulting works like these, we obtain important clues regarding the scientific names corresponding to Iquito ethnobiological terms. This has proved especially valuable in the case of Iquito ethnobiological terms for plants and fish, which have been more difficult for us to identify via more direct methods than mammals, birds, reptiles, and amphibians have.

It is important to emphasize that in general we do not rely exclusively on the associations given in these works between scientific names and local Spanish ethnobiological terminology in order to link Iquito ethnobiological terms to scientific ones. Whenever possible, we seek additional evidence made available by a candidate scientific identification (e.g., leaf shape, habitat type, or coloration) to confirm or reject the candidate identification. It is of course also the case that Iquito elders sometimes observe that no Spanish ethnobiological equivalent exists for a given Iquito term, or that the extension of the Spanish and Iquito terms are different, such that the utility of local Spanish equivalents is diminished in such cases.

Finally, we wish to observe that Iquito ethnobiological terms exhibit differing degrees of granularity with respect to scientific species names. Many correspond exactly to scientific species names, while others are more fine-grained, and others more coarse-grained. For names that are more fine-grained than scientific species names, we indicate that the Iquito term identifies a ‘variety’ of some specified scientific species. For names that are more coarse-grained than scientific species names, we indicate the Iquito term refers to a ‘type’ of life form, which we subsequently characterize by resort to genus or family names, e.g., we define amariiki as a general term for zúngaro-type fishes, which are large catfishes of the family Pimelodidae.

We conclude this section by listing the key works that we have consulted in developing the scientific name identifications found in this dictionary.

Works consulted in species identification

Bartlett, Richard & Patricia Pope Bartlett. 2003. Reptiles and amphibians of the Amazon. University Press of Florida.

Duke, James & Rodolfo Vasquez. 1994. Amazonian ethnobotanical dictionary. CRC Press.

Emmons, Louise & François Feer. 1997. Neotropical rainforest mammals: A field guide. University of Chicago Press.

Flores Bendezú, Ymber. 2013. Manual para la identificación de especies forestales en la región Ucayali. Dirección General Forestal y de Fauna Silvestre del Perú.

García, Carmen Rosa Dávila, Homero Sánchez Riveiro, Mayra Almendra Flores Silva, Jose Eduardo Mejia de Loayza, Carlos Custodio Angulo Chávez, Diana Castro Ruiz, Guillain Estivals, Aurea García Vásquez, Christian Nolorbe Payahua, Gladys Vargas Dávila, Jesús Núñez, Cedric Mariac, Fabrice Duponchelle & Jean-François Renno. 2018. Peces de consumo de la Amazonía Peruana. Iquitos, Perú: Instituto de Investigación de la Amazonía Peruana.

Grandtner, Miroslav & Julien Chevrette. 2013. Dictionary of trees, Vol. 2: South America: Nomenclature, taxonomy and ecology. Academic Press.

Hogue, Charles Leonard. 1993. Latin American insects and entomology. University of California Press.

Hilty, Steven & William Brown. 1986. A guide to the birds of Colombia. Princeton University Press.

Martín Brañas, Manolo (ed.). 2009. Amazonía: Guía ilustrada de flora y fauna. Programa de Cooperación Hispano Peruano-Proyecto Araucaria XXI Nauta.

Ministerio del Ambiente del Perú. 2015. Inventario y evaluación de los bosques de las cuencas de los ríos Itaya, Nanay y Tahuayo en el departamento de Loreto. Lima: Ministerio del Ambiente.

Moya, Luis, Mario Yomona & Carlos Cañas. 2017. Guía de reconocimiento de los principales peces de consumo en la Región Loreto. Wildlife Conservation Society.

Ortega, Hernán, José Iván Mojica, Juan Carlos Alonso & Max Hidalgo. 2006. Listado de los peces de la cuenca del río Putumayo en su sector colombo–peruano. Biota Colombiana 7(1): 95–112.

Schulenberg, Thomas, Douglas Stotz, Daniel Lane, John O’Neill & Theodore Parker III. 2010. Birds of Peru: Revised and updated edition. Princeton University Press.

Loretano Spanish Glossary

In this section we provide a brief glossary of Loretano Spanish terms that are used in this dictionary. Although an effort has been made to avoid unfamiliar terms in crafting definitions, it has proved useful, for reasons of economy, to make sparing use of certain local Spanish terms for referents and concepts that are particular to the environmental and cultural contexts of northern Peruvian Amazonia. These terms are widely used in the variety of Spanish spoken throughout the departamento of Loreto, and in many cases, more widely through the rainforest regions of eastern Peru.

aguajal noun A grove of aguaje palms. Aguajales are typically swampy areas and may extend for kilometers. Aguajales can be important hunting sites, as animals are drawn to fallen aguaje fruits when they are in season.
aguaje noun Mauritia flexuosa, a species of palm prized for its fruits. The roughly egg-sized ovoid fruits are covered with a tight layer of small scales, below which lies a layer of tangy, oily, orange flesh, several millimeters thick, which in turn surrounds a large seed. Aguaje fruits are a favorite snack in many rural Amazonian communities, and are also harvested commercially for consumption in larger Amazonian towns and cities, including as an ingredient for drinks and ice cream.
aguardiente noun Also commonly known as trago; a distilled sugarcane-based alcohol — effectively an un-aged white rum with a relatively high proportion of residual sugars.
ahuihua noun Caterpillar, especially edible types lacking stinging hairs.
añashua noun Term for a number of species of pike cichlids, fish of the genus Crenicichla. These predatory fish have long, slender bodies, a long dorsal fin running along most of the back, and a short, fan-like tail.
ayahuasca noun A hallucinogenic beverage whose principal ingredients include the ayahuasca (Banisteriopsis caapi) vine and chacruna (Psychotria spp.) leaves. Of Indigenous Amazonian origin, this beverage plays a focal role in the shamanic practices of many Indigenous groups. Long ago it became central to Peruvian Amazonian mestizo curanderismo as well, and in recent years, it has become the focus of a booming tourist industry in certain parts of Peruvian Amazonia.
barbasco noun Term referring to Lonchocarpus nicou and especially to the roots of this plant, which contain rotenone, a chemical compound used for fishing. The small-scale use of barbasco involves harvesting the roots, and then pounding and pulping them, which releases a white fluid that is rinsed into bodies of water such as creeks and oxbow lakes. The rotenone contained in the fluid inhibits the ability of fish gills to absorb oxygen. The suffocating fish become largely immobilized and float to the surface of the water, where they can be collected relatively easily.
bijao noun Term used for various plants of the genus Heliconia that have long, broad, and quite tough glossy leaves. These leaves are used in many communities in rural Peruvian Amazonia to wrap food for transport, or to cook it, in the form of patarashca (see below); they are also used to seal the tops of cooking pots to steam food.
bujurqui noun Term used for a large number of cichlid species, medium-sized fishes of the family Cichlidae, characterized by laterally compressed, slender bodies, with broad profiles.
carachama noun General term for catfishes of the family Loricariidae, notable for their scales, which appear to form a hard exoskeleton and give them an armored, antediluvian appearance.
carahuasca noun Term for a class of trees that grow in a variety of habitats, but especially in cleared areas that are reverting to forest. They are distinguishable by their bark, which can easily be peeled off in strips and used as tumplines.
cashorro noun General term for predatory fish of the genus Acestrorhynchus, characterized by their long, tapered snouts, and their long, sharp teeth.
chacra noun Swidden garden; a cultivated area, typically on the order of a hectare in size, which has been prepared by felling and burning the undergrowth and trees of an area of forest. Chacras are typically planted with a mixture of crops, including manioc, plantains, and corn, as well as minor cultigens such as pineapples, peppers, and barbasco. A chacra is normally productive for two to three years, after which point undergrowth returns and it becomes a purma (see below), as it reverts to forest.
chacruna noun Plants of the genus Psychotria, whose leaves are a key ingredient in ayahuasca (see above).
chambira noun Astrocaryum chambira, a species of palm of great importance to Amazonian Indigenous peoples for both its edible fruits and the fiber that can be extracted from its cogollo (see below). The fiber can be spun into a durable cord that is used to weave net bags and hammocks; the cord can itself be spun into heavier rope.
champal noun Term for an interior forest habitat type typically found in flat, elevated areas with sandy soils, which drain quickly after rains, and in which dry leaves form a layer 25–50cm deep, suppressing undergrowth.
chimicua noun General term for trees of the genus Pseudolmedia, noted for their sweet fruits.
cocha noun Lake, typically an oxbow lake; cochas are important fishing sites.
cogollo noun The tender and immature buds of palm fronds as they emerge from the top of a palm trunk. The cogollo of the chambira palm is important to many Indigenous communities as a source of fiber that is spun into durable cord.
cotolo noun General term for a number of catfishes of the family Pimelodidae, notable for their somewhat flattened head, their soft, often slime-covered, skin, and their dull, often gray, color. These catfishes are also sometimes called mota.
crisneja noun A pre-fabricated panel of palm leaf roof thatch. In Iquito territory, these are made using a ripa (see below) of palm wood (typically, pona), some 2–3cm wide and 2–3m in length, to which are attached leaves of irapay palm. The stems of the irapay leaves are tied to the ripa, one next to the other, with a separation of some 1.5–2cm, and the broad parts of the leaves are interleaved together on one side so as to create a solid rectangular piece of thatch with the ripa along one edge.
cumala noun General term for trees of the genus Virola.
cunchi (also cunche) noun General term for numerous catfishes of the genera Pimelodus and Pimelodella, which tend to be shorter than 25cm in length, with long barbels, and a tall dorsal fin located near the head.
cutipar transitive verb 1. A form of magical effect, often a sympathetic magical effect, by which a plant or animal produces a negative effect in a human, such as illness or deformation, due to some action on the human’s part, ranging from speaking ill of the plant or animal to failing to follow dietary restrictions associated with the consumption of the plant or animal, or even to simply seeing the plant or animal when the human is in some vulnerable state, such as pregnancy. 2. In the context of festivities where a person is serving a beverage, especially masato, to a group of guests, the insistence of a guest that the person serving the beverage drink some of the beverage that they are serving.
fariña noun Toasted manioc meal; in Peruvian Amazonia, fariña is principally made from sweet manioc, using a water-soaking technique. Following this technique, tubers of manioc are peeled and placed in a permeable sack, which is then immersed in water (often a conveniently located creek), where the manioc is allowed to decompose slightly over a week or two. Having been softened by the decomposition process, the tubers are then mashed, and the water is squeezed from them using a press. Once sufficiently dry, the resulting mash is stirred and toasted on a wide pan, resulting in a meal consisting of small hard pellets. This type of fariña bears the name fariña de agua when necessary to distinguish it from fariña made by grating fresh manioc, which is the common technique in parts of Amazonia where bitter manioc is grown.
irapay noun General term for a number of palm species of the genus Lepidocaryum; these palms are typically less than two meters in stature, and in Loreto their leaves are commonly harvested to weave crisnejas (see above).
isula (also izula) noun General term for ants of the genera Dinoponera and Paraponera; these large predatory ants normally hunt and forage alone, and are notorious for their extremely painful stings.
jicra noun A type of mesh shoulder bag traditionally woven by many Indigenous peoples in Peruvian Amazonia. Woven out of chambira cord, the body of the bag is typically some 20–30cm square in width and height and, due to the mesh nature of the weave, can expand to a similar depth.
lisa noun General term for fishes of the genera Schizodon, Laemolyta, and Leporinus, which are highly prized as a food source by the Iquitos of the Pintuyacu River basin. Ranging from 15cm to 40cm in length, these fishes are characterized by a distinctive body shape that is somewhat long in comparison to their diameter, with the head and snout tapering to a blunt point and the rear of the body likewise tapering towards the tail, which is often forked. Generally silvery in color, members of genera Schizodon and Leporinus often have one or several transverse stripe-like markings on their sides, while those of the genus Laemolyta often exhibit a longitudinal one.
macana noun General term for Neotropical knifefishes or Gymnotiformes, a group of slender fish whose bodies taper to a point at the tail with a single long fin on their underside, with which they propel themselves.
machimango noun General term for a number of tree species of the genus Eschweilera, many of which have large, distinctively shaped fruits that produce seeds eaten by animals, though not humans.
madre noun Literally, ‘mother’; a spirit or supernatural being associated with a species of plant or animal, or with a place. Madres are understood to embody the essence of a place or species, and typically protect it from intruders or threats.
masato noun A manioc-based beer with a low alcohol content, traditionally made by many Indigenous peoples in Peruvian Amazonia, and adopted by mestizo settlers in the region. Traditionally, it is made by boiling and mashing manioc, and chewing a portion of the mash to introduce amylase via saliva, which speeds the conversion of complex carbohydrates into sugar. It is also common to add grated sweet potato or sprouted corn sprouts as a source of sugar. The resulting mash is left to ferment for several days, after which is is strained and diluted with water, yielding a tangy, creamy, white beverage.
minga noun A form of work party common in rural Peruvian Amazonia, where a host invites friends and neighbors over for food and drink, and in return the guests help the host with a labor-intensive task, typically of an agricultural nature, such as clearing or planting a new garden. It is common for masato (see above) to be abundant at mingas, with the result that the hard work of the minga is carried out in a cheerful and friendly atmosphere.
moena noun Term for numerous trees of the family Lauraceae, generally characterized by the pleasant spicy fragrances of their wood.
mojarra noun General term used for smaller species (normally 15cm or less) of the family Cichlidae, typically used when no more specific name obtains.
novia noun Term for a number of species of driftwood catfishes, catfishes of the family Auchenipteridae. These catfish are notable for their particularly flat heads, and for having both a sharp spine in the dorsal fin right behind the head, and serrated spurs near their pectoral fins.
palometa noun Term for fish of the family Characidae, especially smaller species of the genera Mylossoma and Myleus. These resemble pañas, but their body shape is more circular in profile, and they tend to lack the underslung jaw of pañas.
paña noun General term for piranhas, predatory fish of the families Characidae and Serrasalmidae, but especially smaller species of the genera Serrasalmus and Pygocentrus.
parinari noun General term for trees of the genus Licania, notable for producing fruits eaten by both humans and animals.
patarashca noun A sealed bundle of leaf-wrapped food, which serves both as a container and a way to cook the food. A patarashca is cooked by placing it near a fire or live coals, either on a grill over the flame source, or nestled by the fire. Patarashcas are principally employed to cook fish, but a variety of other foods are cooked in them as well. Bijao are the most commonly used leaves, but a number of other leaves, including some types of palm, may be used for the distinctive flavor they impart.
patiquina noun Term for a number of plants of the genus Dieffenbachia; these herbaceous plants reach some 30cm in height and have heart-shaped leaves, edged in green with red or pale centers. The corms or stems of these plants are considered poisonous, and were traditionally used for a number of medicinal and magical practices.
patrón noun A social role that became prominent in Peruvian Amazonia in the late 19th-century in the context of economic relations between Indigenous peoples and mestizos, particularly as part of the patrónpeón system. In this system, patrones maintained economic monopolies over geographical areas and over the Indigenous peoples living in them, sometimes using brutal force against the Indigenous people in question. Patrones traded manufactured goods, such as metal tools, soap, and clothing, with the Indigenous people over whom they had a monopoly, for forest products collected and processed by their Indigenous peones. The products in question depended on the economic vagaries of the market at various times, and what forest products were available, but the patrónpeón system was initially driven by efforts to extract natural rubber (caucho) from rainforest areas. On the basis of the monopoly they maintained, patrones traded at rates hugely disadvantageous to the Indigenous people with whom they worked.
peke peke noun A type of boat motor in common use throughout Peruvian Amazonia, which consists of a 2-stroke air-cooled motor of 5.5–16 horsepower, to which is attached a shaft some 2 meters in length, at the end of which is mounted a small propeller. The body of the motor is mounted near the rear end of the boat on a gimbal that allows the motor and shaft to pivot from side to side, permitting the motorist not only to steer the boat but also to easily lower the shaft into, or raise it out of, the water, in order to avoid obstacles in the water.
peón noun A person, typically an Indigenous person, working under a patrón (see above). Peones generally worked for manufactured goods, such as metal tools, soap, and clothing, and were often paid at rates that kept them more or less permanently in debt to the patron for whom they worked. This perpetual debt, combined with the fact that servitude to patrones was maintained through a combination of physical violence and coercion by government and church officials, led Iquito elders to refer to the time during which they worked as peones as esclavitud, ‘slavery’.
pijuayo (also pifayo) noun Bactris gasipaes or Peach Palm, a palm traditionally of great importance to many Amazonian Indigenous peoples for both its wood and its oily, savory fruits, which can form an important part of the diet of Amazonian peoples during the months when they are in season. In Iquito territory, these somewhat ovoid fruits measure 4–8 cm diameter, and they have a dense and mealy flesh surrounding a small hard seed. The dark wood of the spine-covered trunk is especially tough, strong, and heavy, and traditionally served to make bows, spears, and other implements.
piripiri noun A term used in Peruvian Amazonia for certain types of plants, generally of the genus Cyperus, whose roots and rhizomes are said to have medicinal or magical powers, such as the ability to confer hunting luck on its users.
pona (also cashapona) noun Socratea exorrhiza, or Walking Palm; a palm with stilt roots whose wood was traditionally used in house construction. The spiny stilt roots also served as graters for manioc and sweet potato.
purma noun A chacra (see above) that is no longer being maintained, so that undergrowth has returned, gradually choking out any remaining cultigens as it reverts to forest.
rebeco noun General term for a variety of fish species of the family Doradidae, a class of small catfishes that generally measure 10–15cm in length and have sharp spurs near their pectoral fins. When handled, some rebecos produce a white liquid from glands near their gills, while some species produce squeaking sounds.
restinga noun An area that is elevated with respect to the surrounding land and remains above the water level when the lower-lying area surrounding it floods during the wet season, turning it into an island. These areas are important as destinations for hunting trips during the wet season, as terrestrial animals often withdraw to them when the surrounding areas flood, making them easier to find.
ripa noun A lath of palm wood, which traditionally has two main uses. First, they are used as building material for walls, being placed vertically, one next to another, and tied to horizontal supports; for this use, the laths are generally 5–10cm in width and some 2m in length. Second, they serve as the item to which palm leaves are tied in the manufacture of crisnejas; for this use, they are generally 2–3cm in width, and 2–3m in length.
sachapapa noun Dioscorea trifida, a creeper species that produces an edible starchy potato-like tuber.
shimbillo noun General term for a number of Inga sp. tree species which produce fruits in the form of long bean-like pods, many of which are valued for the sweet flesh surrounding their seeds.
shungo noun The dense, hard heartwood of certain tree species. Valued as house posts and similar types of supports, shungos are typically extracted by cutting away the surrounding softer wood, leaving a post-shaped core of dense, hard wood.
shuyo noun General term for a variety of fishes of the genera Erythrinus and Hoplerythrinus, a group of predatory fishes with tubular bodies, reminiscent of huasacos.
suri noun Term for the grubs of a number of species of beetles that mainly lay their eggs in the trunks of certain species of palms, but in some cases, also in the seeds of certain palm fruits. These plump grubs, ranging from 3–10cm in length, are prized both by Amazonian Indigenous peoples and by settlers in Peruvian Amazonia for the creamy fat that fills their bodies.
tahuampa noun An area of inundated forest. These are low-lying areas that flood at the height of the wet season, at which time they become important areas for fishing, as fish are drawn to them to forage on plant matter to which they now have access.
tamshi (also támishi) noun Term for certain lianas of the genus Heteropsis that are quite strong and flexible; they are commonly used in house construction to bind together large timbers, such as roof poles.
tangarana noun General term for trees of the genus Triplaris, which tend to grow near bodies of water, especially in successional habitats. The have broad leaves and hollow trunks that are often inhabited by colonies of ants which attack anyone who disturbs the tree.
ungurahui noun Jessenia bataua, species of palm valued for its dark purplish fruits. The fruits are roughly the shape of olives, measure some 3-4 cm long, and have a thin brittle shell below which lies a thin layer of purplish, oily flesh, which in turn surrounds a large seed.
varillal noun A forest habitat type encountered in areas where the soil consists principally of white sand. These nutrient-poor areas produce forests of slender, straight, and not very tall trees, and are home to particular species of plants and animals. Many of the trees growing in such areas are ideal for the upper timbers used in the construction of houses in rural Peruvian Amazonian communities, and are even harvested for commercial sale.
yuca noun Manihot esculenta, also known in English as ‘manioc’ and ‘cassava’. It produces large carbohydrate-rich tubers and is one of the primary cultigens of Indigenous Amazonian peoples, as well as of settlers in the region. The tubers are cooked in a variety of ways for eating, as well as constituting the principal ingredient of masato (see above). It merits mention that this word is often misspelled in English as yucca, a term that is instead properly applied to plants of the unrelated genus Yucca.
zúngaro (also súngaro) noun General term in Peruvian Amazonia for large catfishes of the family Pimelodidae, especially those of the genera Pseudoplatystoma and Brachyplatystoma.


Our greatest thanks go to our co-authors, the Iquito elders whose knowledge and expertise this dictionary seeks to reflect: Hermenegildo (Hermico) Díaz Cuyasa, Ligia Inuma Inuma, Ema Llona Yareja, and especially Jaime Pacaya Inuma. Over the course of hundreds (in Jaime’s case, thousands) of hours of collaborative work, these elders have conveyed to us the beauties and subtleties of the Iquito language, for the benefit of future generations of Iquito people, and to ensure that this patrimony of humanity is documented.

We also extend our thanks to the community members of San Antonio de Pintuyacu, whom we first visited in 2001, and where we have worked with the Iquito elders since 2002; the community’s interest in the products of our work with their elders has been a constant inspiration and motivation.

Jaime Pacaya Inuma in 2002 Jaime Pacaya Inuma in 2019
Jaime Pacaya Inuma in 2002 Jaime Pacaya Inuma in 2019
Ema Llona Yareja in 2003 Ema Llona Yareja in 2018
Ema Llona Yareja in 2003 Ema Llona Yareja in 2018
Hermenegildo Díaz Cuyasa in 2005 Hermenegildo Díaz Cuyasa in 2016
Hermenegildo Díaz Cuyasa in 2005 Hermenegildo Díaz Cuyasa in 2014; Hermico passed away in 2016
Ligia Inuma Inuma in 2004 Ligia Inuma Inuma in 2006
Ligia Inuma Inuma in 2004 Ligia Inuma Inuma in 2006; Ligia passed away in 2013

The current work drew considerably on an earlier Iquito–Spanish bilingual dictionary that we circulated among Iquito community members and online (Michael et al. 2006) and we sincerely thank our co-compiler on that work, Karina Sullón Acosta. That dictionary was much enriched by contributions of the members of the Iquito Language Documentation Project (ILDP) over the years, and we express our gratitude for their companionship and generously shared insights to Sisi Bautista Pizarro, Lynda (de Jong) Boudreault, Mark Brown, Taryne Hallett, Cynthia (Anderson) Hansen, Molly Harnisch, Edinson Huamancayo Curi, Marcelo Inuma Sinchija, I-Wen Lai, Kathryn Metz, Hilter Panduro Güimack, Rosalba Solís Vílchez, and Brianna (Grohmann) Walther.

Our work has been supported and facilitated by many other people. In particular, Nora England, at the University of Texas at Austin, made it possible to launch the ILDP as a long-term, multi-researcher project by joining us as PI on an Endangered Languages Documentation Programme grant (see below) while we were still graduate students, and she provided invaluable methodological and practical advice throughout the first phase of the ILDP.

Gabel Sotíl García, at the Universidad Nacional de la Amazonía Peruana in Iquitos, played a crucial role in the administration of the ILDP in its early years, and has been a source of valuable guidance and enthusiastic support for our community-oriented work. Gustavo Solís Fonseca and Elsa Vílchez Jiménez of the Centro de Investigación de la Lingüística Aplicada at the Universidad Nacional Mayor de San Marcos (UNMSM) in Lima also provided essential support in the ILDP’s early years.

We also want to express our sincerest thanks to Joel Sherzer and Tony Woodbury for giving us unusual latitude while we were graduate students at UT–Austin, and allowing us to launch the ILDP in parallel with our dissertation projects, as well as for all of their advice, wisdom, and encouragement in all of our projects.

A print version of this dictionary (Michael et al. 2019, published by Ediciones Abya-Yala in Quito, Ecuador), upon which this searchable digital version is based, was made possible by Greg Finley and Ronald Sprouse, each of whom has played a pivotal role in the development of a Python script that converts the XML output of Fieldworks Language Explorer (FLEx), which we used for developing this dictionary, to LaTeX, which we used to typeset it for print publication. Greg developed the early versions of the script; subsequently, Ronald has significantly expanded and fine-tuned the script to our evolving needs. We here wish to acknowledge and thank Ronald for his heroic labors in helping us bring this dictionary to fruition.

The work that resulted in this dictionary would have been impossible without the funding that we received from several sources. These include Cabeceras Aid Project, which has supported our community-oriented activities since 2001, and to whose board members and donors we express our infinite gratitude; the Hans Rausing Endangered Languages Programme, which supported documentation of Iquito from 2003 to 2006 with a Major Project grant (MDP-0042; co-PIs Nora England, Christine Beier and Lev Michael); and two NSF–NEH Documenting Endangered Languages Fellowships in 2015-2016 to Christine Beier (#230216-15) and Lev Michael (#230217-15).

Finally, we express our sincere thanks to all our other friends, family, and colleagues who have supported and encouraged our work on this project over these many years. We could not have gotten this far without you.

Lev, Ema, Jaime, and Hermico in 2015 Jaime, Chris, Ema, and Hermico in 2015
Lev, Ema, Jaime, and Hermico in 2015 Jaime, Chris, Ema, and Hermico in 2015


1 ‘Omurana’ [omu] and ‘Awishira’ [ash] have been identified as Zaparoan languages in some sources (e.g., Steward & Métraux 1948), but because they exhibit no systematic similarities to Zaparoan languages, or to each other, they are most likely isolates (Michael et al., in prep.).

2 Information on Andoa and Záparo language vitality is based on language documentation fieldwork by the compilers in the relevant communities (see Michael et al. 2009 and Beier et al. 2014 respectively).

3 Details added by the compilers to a base map by Kmusser, 2008 (Own work using Digital Chart of the World and GTOPO data; CC BY-SA 3.0),

4 Details added by the compilers to a base map originally produced by the Central Intelligence Agency and obtained courtesy of the University of Texas Libraries, The University of Texas at Austin,

5 Source:

6 It merits mention that although the official Ministry of Education alphabet is, as the description suggests, an alphabet and not an orthography per se, it is the case that the choice of letters for the official alphabet was significantly guided by an intention to produce an orthography very similar to the one used here. As far as we are aware, though, the Ministry of Education has yet to develop this orthography.

7 Although some speakers do variably realize underlying /uka/ sequences as [uka]∼[ukʷa], this is an unrelated phenomenon.

8 Abbreviations used throughout this discussion: 1/2/3 persons, ADJR adjectivizer, ANIM animate, COP copula, DEF definite, DEM demonstrative, DET determiner, DRV derivational root, EV.NOMZ event nominalizer, EXCL exclusive, GNL general number/animacy, IMM.PFV immediate perfective aspect, INAN inanimate, INCL inclusive, INDEF indefinite determiner, IPFV imperfective aspect, LOC locative, NOMZ nominalizer, NON.PST nonpast tense, PFV general perfective aspect, PL plural, POSP postposition, POSS possessed form, PROX proximal, PTCPL participializer, PURP purpose, REC.PST recent past tense, REL.PRO relative pronoun, SBD subordinate clause marker, SG singular.

9 Interestingly, this was a common feature among orthographies developed by SIL missionaries for indigenous Peruvian Amazonian languages in the 1950s and 1960s. It is unclear, on a language by language basis, and in Iquito in particular, to what degree this choice represents a commitment to the underlying, or phonemic, representation of the speech sounds in question, and to what degree this was simply a general orthographic convenience.

10 Indeed, in some cases, the irregular plural form is now considered archaic.

11 Due to pragmatic competition with the other determiners, iina, iimi and iipɨ are often construed as speaker-proximal.

12 That is to say, frequent in the speech of these speakers when they are not closely monitoring their own speech for the use of loanwords. When these speakers are being especially vigilant, they tend to substitute either nonce Iquito neologisms or employ periphrasis to avoid the use of the loanword.

13 Our consultants also cite a set of supposed physical morphological differences in body size and skin color, as well as specific differences in the lengths of legs and fingers, and the diameter of upper arms and lower legs, as highly salient distinguishing features of the different sub-groups.

14 It is worth noting that the same process affected Arabela, one of Iquito’s sister languages, such that all Arabela roots and affixes are now consonant-initial.

15 JPI’s grandmother Piírnaja, for example, who raised him after his mother died when JPI was a young child, seems to have been the last member of her Iíjakawɨɨ́raana family line, and she had significant influence on JPI’s language acquisition.

16 The phrase ‘Es de gente de otros ríos’, ‘It’s from people from other rivers’, is a common way that our consultants characterize such forms.

17 Unfortunately, we have not included any specific variants for Ligia Inuma Inuma because she passed away before we began keeping track of individual variants.

18 This methodology is described in detail in Michael & Jernigan, in prep.


Beier, Christine, Brenda Bowser, Lev Michael & Vivian Wauters. 2014. Diccionario Záparo Trilingüe: sápara–castellano–kichwa, castellano–sápara y kichwa–sápara. Quito: Ediciones Abya-Yala.

Beier, Christine, Cynthia Hansen, I-wen Lai & Lev Michael. 2011. Exploiting word order to express an inflectional category: Reality status in Iquito. Linguistic Typology 15:65–99.

Beier, Christine & Lev Michael. 2018. Language revalorization in Peruvian Amazonia, through the lens of Iquito. In Hinton, Leanne, Leena Huss & Gerald Roche (eds.), The Routledge Handbook of Language Revitalization, 406–414. New York: Routledge.

Beier, Christine, Lev Michael, Jaime Pacaya Inuma, Ema Llona Yareja, Hermenegildo Díaz Cuyasa & Ligia Inuma Inuma. 2019. Diccionario Escolar Ikíitu Kuwasíini–Tawɨ Kuwasíini (Iquito–Castellano). Iquitos: Iquito Language Documentation Project and Cabeceras Aid Project. Stable URL:

Buenaño, Julio. 2011. Importancia histórica, social, política y económica de la población arabela. Investigaciones Sociales 15(27): 331–348.

Campbell, Lyle & Martha Muntzel. 1989. The structural consequences of language death. In Dorian, Nancy C. (ed.), Investigating Obsolescence: Studies in Language Contraction and Death, 181–196. Cambridge University Press.

de la Cadena, Marisol. 2000. Indigenous Mestizos: The politics of race and culture in Cuzco, Peru, 1919-1991. Duke University Press.

Eastman, Robert & Elizabeth Eastman. 1963. Iquito syntax. In Elson, Benjamin (ed.), Studies in Peruvian Languages I, 145–192. Norman, OK: Summer Institute of Linguistics and University of Oklahoma Press.

Grohs, Waltraud. 1974. Los indios del Alto Amazonas del siglo XVI al XVIII: Poblaciones y migraciones en la antigua provincia de Maynas. Bonn: Bonner Amerikanistische Studien.

Michael, Lev. 2009. Clause linking in Iquito. In Dixon, RMW & Alexandra Aikhenvald (eds.), The semantics of clause linking: A cross-linguistic typology, 145-166. Oxford University Press.

Michael, Lev & Christine Beier with Jaime Pacaya Inuma, Ema Llona Yareja, Hermenegildo Díaz Cuyasa, and Ligia Inuma Inuma. 2019. Iquito–English Dictionary. Quito: Ediciones Abya-Yala.

Michael, Lev, Christine Beier, Ramón Escamilla, & Marta Piqueras-Brunet. 2009. Katsakáti: El idioma antiguo del pueblo de Andoas. Andoa Language Documentation Project. Available at:

Michael, Lev, Christine Beier & Karina Sullón Acosta, compilers. 2006. Diccionario Bilingüe Iquito–Castellano y Castellano–Iquito. Iquitos: Iquito Language Documentation Project and Cabeceras Aid Project.

Michael, Lev, Christine Beier, Olof Lundgren & Vivian Wauters. In prep. Reconstruction of the Proto-Zaparoan phonological inventory.

Michael, Lev & Kevin Jernigan. In prep. Methodologies for linguistic documentation of ethnobiological terminology. In Jenks, Peter & Lev Michael (eds.), From language description to documentation: Seven key topics. Special Issue of Language Documentation and Conservation.

Santos-Granero, Fernando & Frederica Barclay. 2000. Tamed frontiers: economy, society, and civil rights in upper Amazonia. Boulder, CO: Westview Press.

Steward, Julian H. & Alfred Métraux. 1948. Tribes of the Peruvian and Ecuadorian Montaña. In Steward, Julian H. (ed.), Handbook of South American Indians. Volume 3. The Tropical Forest Tribes, 535-656. Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution, Bureau of American Ethnology.

Uriarte, Manuel J. 1986. Diario de un misionero de Maynas. Iquitos: IIAP–CETA.

Viatori, Maximilian & Gloria Ushigua. 2007. Speaking Sovereignty: Indigenous Languages and Self-Determination. Wicazo Sa Review 22 (2): 7–21. Stable URL:

Full Entry Headword Part of Speech Meaning Description Examples
Primary Text Analyzed Text Gloss Translation IGT