Tsimané, Mosetén
Native toBolivia
Regionwestern Amazon
Native speakers
5,300 (2004)[1]
  • Tsimané (90%)
  • Santa Ana Mosetén
  • Covendo Mosetén
Official status
Official language in
Language codes
ISO 639-3cas

Chimané (Tsimané) is a South American language isolate. Some dialects are known as Mosetén (Mosetén of Santa Ana, Mosetén of Covendo). Chimane is a language of the western Bolivian lowlands spoken by the Tsimane peoples along the Beni River and the region around San Borja in the Department of Beni (Bolivia). Sakel (2004)[2] classifies them as two languages for a number of reasons, yet some of the variants of the language are mutually intelligible and they reportedly have no trouble communicating (Ethnologue 16) and were evidently a single language separated recently through cultural contact (Campbell 2000).


The dialects of Tsimané are in different sociolinguistic situations. Covendo Mosetén has around 600 speakers, while Santa Ana Mosetén only has around 150-200 speakers. Both of these dialects are fading quickly, and almost all speakers of these dialects are bilingual in Spanish. Only older speakers maintain use of the language without Spanish influence. Tsimané proper, on the other hand, has at least 4,000 speakers, and the number of speakers is growing. In addition, the majority of speakers of Tsimané proper are monolingual. The Mosetén were in contact with missions for almost 200 years, while the Tsimané have remained isolated for much longer, thus leading the Tsimané to preserve their customs and traditions, including language, much more than the Mosetén.[2]


Dialects listed by Mason (1950):[3]

Tsimane’ /tsi'maneʔ/ and Mosetén /mose'ten/ are self-designations that refer to both the language and ethnic group. Chimanes also refer to their language as tsunsi’ĉan /tsɨnt'siʔkhan/ ‘in our (language)’, while Mosetenes also refer to their language as tsinsi’ mik /tsint'si mik/ ‘our language’. As a dialect continuum, dialects of Chimane-Mosetén include Covendo Mosetén (500–800 speakers), spoken in the village of Covendo; Santa Ana Mosetén (150–200 speakers); and Chimane (12,500–15,000 speakers). Covendo is a more remote village that is predominantly ethnic Mosetén, while Santa Ana Mosetén (located between Covendo Mosetén and Chimane) is spoken in Santa Ana, which has many Spanish speakers who have moved from other parts of Bolivia. Chimane is still vigorously spoken, while Mosetén is highly endangered.[4]: 303 


Mosetenan has no obvious relatives among the languages of South America. There is some lexicon shared with Puquina and the Uru–Chipaya languages, but these appear to be borrowings. Morris Swadesh suggested a Moseten–Chon relationship, which Suárez provided evidence for in the 1970s, and with which Kaufman (1990) is sympathetic.

Language contact

Jolkesky (2016) notes that there are lexical similarities with the Uru-Chipaya, Yurakare, and Pano language families due to contact.[5]

Writing system

Chimane has been written since 1980 in a Spanish-based alphabet devised by Wayne Gill. It uses the additional letters ṕ, ć, q́u, tś, ćh, mʼ, nʼ, ä. It is widely used in publications and is taught in Chimane schools.[6]

In 1996, Colette Grinevald created an alphabet for Moseten and Chimane which used only those letters found on a Spanish keyboard. It included the multigraphs ph khdh ch chh tsh dh, and was adopted by the Moseten.[6]

Bolivian Law 3603 of 2007 Jan 17 recognizes the rights of the Chimane and Moseten to their language in all aspects of life in Bolivia, including education, and Chimane translation of policy which concerns them, and that written Chimane must use the unique Chimane(-Moseten) alphabet. However, it does not clarify which alphabet this is.[7]


Tsimané has 5 vowels:[2]

Front Central Back
Close i
Close-mid e o
Mid ə
Open a

Tsimané has 24 consonants:[2]

Labial Alveolar Post-alv./
Velar Glottal
plain pal.
Nasal m n ɲ
Plosive voiceless p t k ʔ
voiced b d
Affricate plain t͡s t͡ʃ
aspirated t͡sʰ t͡ʃʰ
Fricative f s ʃ h
Approximant ʋ j
Trill r


Loukotka (1968) lists the following basic vocabulary items for Mosetene and Chimane.[8]

gloss Mosetene Chimane
one irit íris
two pára pöre
three chibin chiːbi
tooth moñín múdyin
tongue nem ném
hand ín
woman pen pén
water oxñi oñé
fire tsi tsí
moon ivua ihúa
maize tára tãra
jaguar itsiki ítsikí
house aka aká


  1. ^ Chimane at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015) (subscription required)
  2. ^ a b c d Sakel, Jeanette (2004). A grammar of Mosetén. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter. ISBN 3110183404. OCLC 56682554.
  3. ^ Mason, John Alden (1950). "The languages of South America". In Steward, Julian (ed.). Handbook of South American Indians. Vol. 6. Washington, D.C., Government Printing Office: Smithsonian Institution, Bureau of American Ethnology Bulletin 143. pp. 157–317.
  4. ^ Epps, Patience; Michael, Lev, eds. (2023). Amazonian Languages: Language Isolates. Volume I: Aikanã to Kandozi-Chapra. Berlin: Walter de Gruyter. ISBN 978-3-11-041940-5.
  5. ^ Jolkesky, Marcelo Pinho de Valhery (2016). Estudo arqueo-ecolinguístico das terras tropicais sul-americanas (Ph.D. dissertation) (2 ed.). Brasília: University of Brasília.
  6. ^ a b Sakel, Jeanette, Gender Agreement in Mosetén, with Crevels, Mily and Simon van de Kerke in Sérgio Meira, Hein van der Voort (Editors): Current Studies on South American Languages, Indigenous Languages of Latin America 3, Leyde, CNWS, 2002 ISBN 90-5789-076-3
  7. ^ Ley 3603 de Enero 17 de 2007, declara patrimonio cultural, intangible de la nacion la lengua tsimane (chimane-mostene) Archived 2012-09-25 at the Wayback Machine
  8. ^ Loukotka, Čestmír (1968). Classification of South American Indian languages. Los Angeles: UCLA Latin American Center.