- Wolf DietrichWolf DietrichRomanisches Seminar, Westfälische Wilhelms-Universität Münster
“Tupian” is a common term applied by linguists to a linguistic stock of seven families spread across great parts of South America. Tupian languages share a large number of structural and morphological similarities which make genetic relationship very probable. Four families (Arikém, Mondé, Tuparí, and Raramarama-Poruborá) are still limited to the Madeira-Guaporé region in Brazil, considered by some scholars to be the Tupí homeland. Other families and branches would have migrated, in ancient times, down the Amazon (Mundurukú, Mawé) and up the Xingú River (Juruna, Awetí). Only the Tupí-Guarani branch, which makes up about 40 living languages, mainly spread to the south.
Two Tupí-Guaraní languages played an important part in the Portuguese and Spanish colonisation of South America, Tupinambá on the Brazilian coast and Guaraní in colonial Paraguay. In the early 21st century, Guaraní is spoken by more than six million non-Indian people in Paraguay and in adjacent parts of Argentina and Brazil.
Tupí-Guaraní (TG) is an artificial term used by linguists to denominate the family composed by eight subgroups of languages, one of them being the Guaraní subgroup and the other one the extinct Tupinambá and its varieties.
Important phonological characteristics of Tupian languages are nasality and the occurrence of a high central vowel /ɨ/, a glottal stop /ʔ/, and final consonants, especially plosives in coda position. Nasality seems to be a common characteristic of all branches of the family. Most of them show phenomena such as nasal harmony, also called nasal assimilation or regressive nasalization by some scholars.
Tupian languages have a rich morphology expressed mainly by suffixes and prefixes, though particles are also important to express grammatical categories. Verbal morphology is characterized by generally rich devices of valence-changing formations. Relational inflection is one of the most striking phenomena of TG nominal phrases. It allows marking the determination of a noun by a preceding adjunct, its syntactical transformation into a nominal predicate, or the absence of any relation. Relational inflection partly occurs also in other branches and families than Tupí-Guaraní. Verbal person marking is realized by prefixing in most languages; some languages of the Tuparí and Juruna family, however, use only free pronouns.
Tupian syntax is based on the predication of both verbs and nouns. Subordinate clauses, such as relative clauses, are produced by nominalization, while adverbial clauses are formed by specific particles or postpositions on the predicate. Traditional word order is SOV.