BUENOS AIRES — Argentina may be South America’s most Europeanized country, with Spanish, of course, as its official language, but it also has 36 recognized indigenous tongues (belonging to 38 peoples).
That is the conclusion that researchers involved in a year-long project create the country’s first comprehensive language map presented earlier this month in Buenos Aires as part of the UN’s 2019 International Year of Indigenous Languages.
Of those, 15 are still in more or less common use, nine are in the process of recuperation, and 12 are classified as “without speakers,” as opposed to “extinct,” since technically speaking “they’re not dead,” explains Daniel Huircapán, 34, a member of the Querandí people. “No one knows of anyone who still speaks those languages, but doesn’t mean people won’t do so in the future,” he adds.
Huircapán, from Chubut, was one the people who contributed to the language mapping project. His ancestral language is Gününa-Küne (or Puelche). “The map was based on various research projects carried out on native peoples,” he explains.
The project is an extension of a so-called “re-ethnicization” movement in Argentina. It’s an effort to rediscover the country’s indigenous past, when until as late as 1810, the country had 38 different groups of native peoples, most of which are now largely forgotten. “Many indigenous cultures were silenced for various reasons, but the re-ethnicization process has helped us learn about them,” says Huircapán.
He now teaches Gününa-Küne at the University of Buenos Aires School of Languages, where he also studies anthropology. Huircapán sees the process as part of “an affirmation across Latin America in response to globalization, which has overshadowed the native peoples who have in turn returned to their roots.”
A 2010 government census, based on figures compiled in 2004-5, listed the most widely spoken native languages in Argentina to be Mapuche (or mapudungun), Quechua, Guaraní, Qom-Quaqtaq, Wichí and Aymará, according to UNESCO, the United Nations’ cultural agency.
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