The Language

The 'Weenhayek Language

As spoken by the 'Weenhayek (Mataco-Noctenes) tribe living along the Pilcomayo river in the Bolivian Chaco, with a stretch into Argentina.

In 1994 my "Phonological Outline of Mataco-Noctenes" was published in International Journal of America Linguistics (IJAL). It dealt with a language variant that was previously very little known or described outside the tribe. I had spent a long time in Villa Montes, a small town at the northernmost border of the 'Weenhayek territory in Bolivia, where I had the opportunity of searching into the Indian language on, so to speak, "virgin soil" and present findings that were based on personal experience during this extended period of time.


Already during a period up until 1989 I had made a first attempt to describe the phonology of the 'Weenhayek language. During that period I devoted significant time and energy to find a practical way of writing the language. My findings were published that year by the University of Stockholm (and can be obtained there). It is titled “Fonologiska principer i Mataco-Noctenes: Introduktion av ett skriftspråk” (Phonological principles in Mataco-Noctenes: Introduction of a written language).


Time was of crucial importance for the phonological studies of a language with so many unfamiliar and exceptional sounds (to my ears). Only after a long period my hearing began to distinguish, for instance, the subtle difference between certain consonants and glottal sounds in certain combinations. This, in fact, was a significant step towards my objective to produce a correct phonetic/phonological description and truly adequate texts and writing.


I was very aware that I had not been able to provide sufficient information and explanations on prosodic matters in the outline published in 1994. While I had the intention to write a complementary paper, other things had to be given priority or prevented my efforts: mainly, the completion of the translation of the New Testament, the work on a dictionary, and serious illness. After years, I have finally further elaborated on the Language in a paper that has never previously been made available (only published here):


Estructura silábica, acentuación y cantidad vocálica en ‘weenhayek (Spanish)


The data presented in this paper has been constantly revised together with the natives. Some descriptions may provoke astonishment. As to the vowel quantity there is a very advanced system with a series of quite complicated rules. An inexplicable observation is also the one that is presented in the example (30), where it is seen that practically all the personal pronouns - some twenty free forms and affixes - are included in the old exclusive plural form 'nolhaamelh 'we'.


I am hoping that this paper will provide insight and further the understanding of the 'Weenhayek language.


In addition to the papers above, you will also find the 'Weenhayek-Spanish Dictionary published in 2008 by the Sociedad Biblica Boliviana (ISBN: 978-99954-44-11-2).


- Kenneth Claesson


Recent Amendments

June 2016: Grammar of the 'Weenhayek language (Part 1) "Estudios de la gramática del idioma 'weenhayek 1 (Spanish)". (Revised March 2017)

March 2017: Grammar of the 'Weenhayek language (Part 2) "Estudios de la gramática del idioma 'weenhayek 2 (Spanish)".

© Kenneth Claesson 2016 - All rights reserved.