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Native to Chile, Argentina
Ethnicity 604,000 [1] (Mapuche)
Native speakers
258,620 [1]  (2002)
  • Mapudungun
Dialects Moluche (Manzanero, Ngoluche), Pehuenche, Picunche. Easy intelligibility among dialects. Pehuenche and Moluche are very similar.[1]
Language codes
ISO 639-2 arn
ISO 639-3 arn
Graffiti in Mapudungun meaning "War Council".

The Mapuche language, Mapudungun[2] (from mapu 'earth, land' and dungun 'speak, speech') is a language isolate spoken in south-central Chile by approximately 144,000 people and west central Argentina by approximately 8,400 people called the Mapuche (from mapu 'earth' and che 'people') people.[3] Almost all Mapudungun speakers are bilingual in Spanish. Mapudungun is also spelled Mapuzugun and sometimes called Mapudungu or Araucanian.[2] The latter was the name given to the Mapuche by the Spaniards. Today both the Mapuche and others avoid this usage as the exonym is a remnant of Spanish colonialism, and is considered offensive.

Mapudungun is a language isolate spoken actively by relatively few people in Chile and Argentina. Mapudungun is not an official language of Chile or Argentina, and has received virtually no government support throughout its history. It is not used as a language of instruction in either country’s educational system. Only 2.4% of urban speakers and 15.9% of rural speakers use Mapudungun when speaking with children, while only 3.8% of speakers aged 10–19 years in the south of Chile (the language’s stronghold) are ‘highly competent’ in the language.[3]

The Mapuche people are a group of indigenous inhabitants of south-central Chile and southwestern Argentina, including parts of present-day Patagonia. The collective term refers to a wide-ranging ethnicity composed of various groups who shared a common social, religious and economic structure, as well as a common linguistic heritage as Mapudungun speakers.[4]

History of the language[edit]

At the time of the arrival of the Spanish, Mapudungun was the only language spoken in central Chile. The socio-linguistic situation of the Mapuche has changed rapidly. At the end of the 19th century virtually all Mapuche people spoke Mapudungun. Now, the majority of Mapudungun speakers are bilingual in Spanish. The Mapuche were forced to speak Spanish due to the dominance of Spanish around them. The degree of bilingualism is very much dependent upon the residency in the Mapuche community, participation in Chilean society, and generally the individual's choice towards the traditional or modern-urban way of life.[5]

Mapudungun, also formerly known as the Araucanian language, has been classified by some linguists as being related to the Penutian languages of North America.[6] Others group it among the Andean languages (Greenberg 1987, Key 1978), and yet others postulate an Araucanian-Mayan relationship (Stark 1970, Hamp 1971). Croese (1989, 1991) has advanced the hypothesis that it is related to Arawak. Other authorities regard it as an isolate language. It has had some lexical influence from Quechua (pataka- 'hundred', warangka- 'thousand') and Spanish.

When the Spanish arrived in Chile, they found four groups of Mapuche speakers: the Picunche (from pikum 'north' and che 'people'), the Huilliche (from willi 'south'), the Pehuenche (from Pehue 'mountain'), and the Moluche (from molu 'west'). The Picunche were conquered quite rapidly by the Spanish, whereas the Huilliche were not assimilated until the 18th century.

The Mapuche have retained an ethnic identity and still speak Mapudungun. They were originally found in the historic region of Araucanía, from which the Spanish called them Araucanos. This name has fallen out of favor, and is avoided by Mapuche and non-Mapuche scholars alike.

Regional dialects[edit]

Yepun is a Mapuche name given to one of the VLT Unit Telescope in Chile.[7]

Mapudungun can be divided into three broad dialect groups: north, central and south. These are further divided into eight sub-groups: I and II (northern group), III–VII (central group) and VIII (southern group). These dialects share a high degree of mutual intelligibility, which decreases only between I and VIII. The Mapudungun spoken in the Argentinean provinces of Neuquen and Rıo⁄ Negro is similar to that of the central dialect group in Chile, while the Ranquel (Ranku ̈lche) variety spoken in the Argentinean province of La Pampa is closer to the northern dialect group.[3]

On the Chilean side of the Andes known as Ngulumapu, a number of variations of the Mapuche language are spoken. The Pehuenche dialect is spoken by the Pehuenche living in the Andes Mountains. The Huillice (also Huilliche, Veliche) dialect was spoken south of the Tolten River. It now has several thousand speakers, most of whom speak Spanish as a first language. These speaker live south of the Mapuche in Chile's Valdivian Coastal Range, Osorno Province and on Chiloé Island.[8]

In Argentina, due to the migration of Mapudungun-speaking peoples and the subsequent Araucanization of areas, the Pehuenche dialect is spoken in Neuquén (from Valdivia to Neuquén). The Moluche or Cucuruluche dialect is spoken from the Limay River to Nahuel Huapi Lake. The Huilliche or Veliche dialect is spoken in the Nahuel Huapi Lake region as well. The Ranquenche dialect is spoken in the Chalileo Department and General Acha Department in the La Pampa Province, and in the Río Colorado region.


The present description is based on the speech of four female and five male speakers whose ages range from 40 to 62 years (average: 51 years). All are native first-language speakers of Mapudungun who learned Spanish as a second language, starting on average at age 9, and all but two of them remain dominant in Mapudungun.[3]

  • The basic word order of Mapudungun is basically free, but there is a preferred word order based on:[5]

1. The semantic role of noun phrase referents: (a)The agent in a transitive event precedes the verb. (b)The subject of an intransitive verb follows verb form. 2. Topicality: (a)The entity under discussion tends to take sentence initial position.

  • Nouns in Mapudungun are grouped in two classes, animate and inanimate. This is e.g. reflected in the use of pu as a plural indicator for animate nouns and yuka as the plural for inanimate nouns. Chi (or ti) can be used as a definite animate article as in chi wentru 'the man' and chi pu wentru for 'the men'. The number kiñe 'one' serves as an indefinite article. subjects and objects are in the same case.[9]
  • The personal pronouns distinguish three persons and three numbers; they are as follows: iñche 'I', iñchiw 'we (2)', iñchiñ 'we (more than 2)'; eymi 'you', eymu 'you (2)', eymün 'you (more than 2)'; fey 'he/she/it', feyengu 'they (2)', feyengün 'they (more than 2)'.
  • Possessive pronouns are related to the personal forms: ñi 'my; his, her; their', yu 'our (2)', 'our (more than 2)'; mi 'your', mu 'your (2)', mün 'your (more than 2)'. They are often found with a particle ta that does not seem to add anything specific to the meaning, e.g. tami 'your'.
  • Interrogative pronouns include iney 'who', chem 'what', chumül 'when', chew 'where', chum(ngechi) 'how' and chumngelu 'why'.
  • Numbers from 1 to 10 are as follows: 1 kiñe, 2 epu, 3 küla, 4 meli, 5 kechu, 6 kayu, 7 regle, 8 pura, 9 aylla, 10 mari; 20 epu mari, 30 küla mari, 110 (kiñe) pataka mari. Numbers are extremely regular in formation, comparable to Chinese and Wolof, or to constructed languages such as Esperanto.
  • Verbs can be finite or non-finite (non-finite endings: -n, -el, -etew, -lu, -am, etc.), are intransitive or transitive and are conjugated according to person (first, second and third), number (singular, dual and plural), voice (active, agentless passive and reflexive-reciprocal, plus two applicatives) and mood (indicative, imperative and subjunctive). In the indicative, the present (zero) and future (-(y)a) tenses are distinguished. There are a number of aspects: the progressive, resultative and habitual are well established; some forms that seem to mark some subtype of perfect are also found. Other verb morphology includes an evidential marker (reportative-mirative), directionals (cislocative, translocative, andative and ambulative, plus an interruptive and continuous action marker) and modal markers (sudden action, faked action, immediate action, etc.). There is productive noun incorporation, and the case can be made for root compounding morphology.

The indicative present paradigm for an intransitive verb like konün 'enter' is as follows:

Singular Dual Plural
Person First konün

( ← kon-n)


( ← kon-i-i-u)


( ← kon-i-i-n)

Second konimi

( ← kon-i-m-i)


( ← kon-i-m-u)


( ← kon-i-m-n)

Third koni

( ← kon-i-0-0)


( ← kon-i-ng-u)


( ← kon-i-ng-n)

What some authors[citation needed] have described as an inverse system (similar to the ones described for Algonquian languages) can be seen from the forms of a transitive verb like pen 'see'. The 'intransitive' forms are the following:

Singular Dual Plural
Person First pen

( ← pe-n)


( ← pe-i-i-u)


( ← pe-i-i-n)

Second peymi

( ← pe-i-m-i)


( ← pe-i-m-u)


( ← pe-i-m-n)

Third pey

( ← pe-i-0-0)


( ← pe-i-ng-u)


( ← pe-i-ng-n)

The 'transitive' forms are the following (only singular forms are provided here):

First Second Third
Patient First pewün

( ← pe-w-n)


( ← pe-e-n)


( ← pe-e-n-mew)

Second peeyu

( ← pe-e-i-u)


( ← pe-w-i-m-u)


( ← pe-e-i-m-i-mew)

Third pefiñ

( ← pe-fi-n)


( ← pe-fi-i-m-i)

DIR pefi / INV peeyew / REFL pewi

( ← pe-fi-i-0-0 / pe-e-i-0-0-mew / pe-w-i-0-0)

When a third peson interacts with a first or second person, the forms are either direct (without -e) or inverse (with -e) and the speaker has no choice. When two third persons interact, two different forms are available: the direct form (pefi) is appropriate when the agent is topical (i.e., the central figure in that particular passage). The inverse form (peenew) is appropriate when the patient is topical. Thus, chi wentru pefi chi domo means 'the man saw the woman' while chi wentru peeyew chi domo means something like 'the man was seen by the woman'; note, however, that it is not a passive construction; the passive would be chi wentru pengey 'the man was seen; someone saw the man'.



Stress in Mapudungun is non-contrastive. Closed syllables tend to attract stress. Words ending in a consonant are stressed on the final syllable. Words with two syllables ending in a vowel tend to be stressed on the final syllable also but words with two syllables can also be stressed on the second to the last syllable. In trisyllabic words, stress tends to fall on the next to last syllable. In words of four or more syllables, primary stress is assigned with the rules above for words with two syllables, as applied to the last two syllables. Additionally, words of four or more syllables receive a secondary stress accent on the first or second syllable from the left.[3]


Mapudungun has six vowel phonemes, /ɪ ë ɐ̝ ö ʊ ɘ/, all of which have allophones in unstressed position, [I£ ë̝ ɜ ö̝ ʊ̝ ˆ] . It should be noted that the vowels of Mapudungun have traditionally been treated as the five vowels of Spanish (/i e a o u/), with identical stressed and unstressed allophones, plus a high central unrounded vowel /ɨ/ (commonly known as the ‘sixth vowel’) having a mid central allophone [ə] in unstressed position. Ten of Mapudungun’s twelve vowel allophones are concentrated in the high vowel space, while the remaining two fall in the mid-low area.[3]


Mapudungun does not distinguish between voiceless and voiced plosives. There are three approximants (or glides). Liquids consist of the three lateral sounds and what is phonetically close to a retroflex approximant. Some authors do not recognize /s/ as a separate phoneme; rather, they class it as an allophone of /ʃ/. /ʈʂ/ (spelled as "tr", "tx" or even "x") is often described as a /tʃ/ sound followed by a /ɻ/ sound; it is similar to the sound of English tr in tree, but without aspiration. Particularly interesting are the relatively rare interdental sounds /t̪/, /n̪/ and /l̪/, which contrast with their dentoalveolar counterparts; roots may have either only interdental ([l̪afken̪] 'sea, lake') or only dentoalveolar ([lwan] 'guanaco') consonants.[3]

Written form[edit]

The Mapuche had no writing system before the Spanish arrived, but since then the language has been written with the Latin script. Although the orthography used in this article is based on the Alfabeto Mapuche Unificado - the system used by Chilean linguists and other people in many publications in the language - the competing Ragileo, Nhewenh and Azumchefi systems all have their supporters, and there is still no consensus between authorities, linguists and Mapuche communities. The same word can look very different in each system, with the word for "conversation or story" being written either gvxam or ngütram for example.[10]

A multitude of writing systems have been developed for Mapudungun, but none has gained widespread adoption, and the language is rarely written.[3]

Microsoft lawsuit[edit]

In late 2006, Mapuche leaders threatened to sue Microsoft when the latter completed a translation of their Windows operating system into Mapudungun. They claimed that Microsoft needed permission to do so and had not sought it.[11] The event can be seen in the light of the greater political struggle concerning which alphabet should become the standard alphabet of the Mapuche people. The initial Mapudungun was only a spoken language, without a written form.


Older works in Mapudungun[edit]

The formalization and normalization of Mapudungun was effected by the first Mapudungun grammar published by the Jesuit priest Luis de Valdivia in 1606 (Arte y Gramatica General de la Lengva que Corre en Todo el Reyno de Chile). More important is the Arte de la Lengua General del Reyno de Chile by the Jesuit Andrés Febrés (1765, Lima) composed of a grammar and dictionary. In 1776 three volumes in Latin were published in Westfalia (Chilidúgú sive Res Chilenses) by the German Jesuit Bernardo Havestadt. The work by Febrés was used as a basic preparation from 1810 for missionary priests going into the regions occupied by the Mapuche people. A corrected version was completed in 1846 and a summary, without a dictionary in 1864. A work based on Febrés' book is the Breve Metodo della Lingua Araucana y Dizionario Italo-Araucano e Viceversa by the Italian Octaviano de Niza in 1888. It was destroyed in a fire at the Convento de San Francisco in Valdivia in 1928.

The most comprehensive works to date are the ones by Augusta (1903, 1916). Salas (1992, 2006) is an introduction for non-specialists, featuring an ethnographic introduction and a valuable text collection as well. Zúñiga (2006) includes a complete grammatical description, a bilingual dictionary, some texts and an audio CD with text recordings (educational material, a traditional folktale and six contemporary poems). Smeets (1989) and Zúñiga (2000) are for specialists only. Fernández-Garay (2005) introduces both the language and the culture. Catrileo (1995) and the dictionaries by Hernández & Ramos are trilingual (Spanish, English and Mapudungun).

Modern works in Mapudungun[edit]

Dictionaries for Mapudungun[edit]

  • Diccionario araucano, by Félix José de Augusta, 1916. [1996 reprint by Cerro Manquehue, Santiago.] ISBN 956-7210-17-9
  • Diccionario lingüístico-etnográfico de la lengua mapuche. Mapudungun-español-English, by María Catrileo, Santiago: Andrés Bello, 1995.
  • Diccionario comentado mapuche-español, by Esteban Erize, Bahía Blanca: Yepun, 1960.
  • Ranquel-español/español-ranquel. Diccionario de una variedad mapuche de la Pampa (Argentina), by Ana Fernández Garay, Leiden: CNWS (Leiden University), 2001. ISBN 90-5789-058-5
  • Diccionario ilustrado mapudungun-español-inglés, by Arturo Hernández and Nelly Ramos, Santiago: Pehuén, 1997.
  • Mapuche: lengua y cultura. Mapudungun-español-inglés, by Arturo Hernández and Nelly Ramos. Santiago: Pehuén, 2005. [5th (augmented) edition of their 1997 dictionary.]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c Lewis, M. Paul, Gary F. Simons, and Charles D. Fennig (eds.). 2013. Ethnologue: Languages of the World, Seventeenth edition. Dallas, Texas: SIL International. Online version: http://www.ethnologue.com.
  2. ^ a b Heggarty, P.; Beresford-Jones, D. (2013). "Andes: linguistic history.". In Ness, I.; P., Bellwood. The Encyclopedia of Global Human Migration. Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell. pp. 401–409. 
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h Scott Sadowsky, Héctor Painequeo, Gastón Salamanca and Heriberto Avelino (2013). Mapudungun. Journal of the International Phonetic Association, 43, pp 87-96 doi:10.1017/ S0025100312000369
  4. ^ https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mapuche#Mapuche_languages
  5. ^ a b Gruyter, Mouton. A Grammar of Mapuche. Berlin: Walter de Gruyter GmbH and Co., 2008. Print.
  6. ^ http://www.newworldencyclopedia.org/entry/Mapuche
  7. ^ "Names of VLT Unit Telescopes". Very Large Telescope. ESO. Retrieved 18 June 2012. 
  8. ^ Gordon, Ethnologue (2005) treats Moluche and Huilliche as separate languages.
  9. ^ "The World Atlas of Language Structures Online" (Dryer, Matthew S. & Haspelmath, Martin 2013)
  11. ^ Guerra idiomática entre los indígenas mapuches de Chile y Microsoft. El Mundo / Gideon Long (Reuters), 28 November 2006 [1]


  • Aprueban alfabeto mapuche único (Oct 19, 1999). El Mercurio de Santiago.
  • Campbell, Lyle (1997) American Indian languages: The historical linguistics of Native America. New York: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-509427-1.
  • Instituto Nacional de Estadística y Censos (2005) Encuesta Complementaria de Pueblos Indígenas (ECPI), 2004-2005 - Primeros resultados provisionales. Buenos Aires: INDEC. ISSN 0327-7968.

External links[edit]

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