Chilean Language

Andre Cramblit andrekar at NCIDC.ORG
Tue Oct 31 00:02:30 UTC 2006


(October 29, 2006) Chile’s Ministry for Education is developing a
program to save the country’s indigenous languages from extinction by
teaching them to children in indigenous communities. The program, led
by Education Minister Yasna Provoste Campilla, will aim to provide
teaching materials for Mapudungun, Aymara, Quechua, and Rapa Nui.

“The idea is to have a sub sector in the area of language and
communication that will allow the introduction of indigenous languages
into the classroom, in this way ensuring their preservation,” said

In addition to the teaching program, Chile’s Center of Public Surveys
will publish a study in November about Mapudungun, the language of the
Mapuche in Chile, estimated to have about 150,000 speakers. While
Mapudungun is more widely spoken than many native American languages,
it is notoriously difficult to teach, as it uses at least four
different alphabets.

Chile has nine officially recognized living languages. At present, there
is no official data about how many people speak Chile’s indigenous
languages, but a census in 2002 revealed that 35 percent of Chile’s
indigenous people understand their original language, while 17 percent
are able to speak it.

While Chile already has two extinct languages, Kakauhua and Kunza, there
could soon be an addition to these. The Yámana language from Patagonia
is already extinct in Argentina, and since the death of her sister on
Saturday, Cristina Calderón is its only remaining native speaker.

While there is little hope that Yámana will be saved from extinction,
efforts are being made to save the southern language of Qawasqar.
Linguist Oscar Aguilera has been studying Qawasquar since 1975. “About
seven people use it on a day-to-day basis,” said Aguilera, “and less
than a dozen speak it with any fluency.” Aguilera has managed to create
a concise Spanish-Qawasquar dictionary and says he is developing
materials for teaching the language to the youngest members of the
community with the hope of ensuring its survival.
Language extinction is a problem causing increasing concern worldwide,
both from a social and political point of view. A language becomes
extinct every 15 days, taking with it its unique cultural and
historical background.

“In general, you could say that the great majority of the world’s six
million languages are being threatened with extinction,” said Arturo
Hernández, socio-linguist at the Universidad Católica of Temuco.
Successful efforts have been made in the past to revive dying languages.
In Wales, more than 30 percent of children now speak Gaelic, a language
that was once thought to be well on the road to extinction.

By Cate Setterfield (editor at

More information about the Endangered-languages-l mailing list