Araucanian languages

The Araucanian languages, a small language family of indigenous languages of the Americas, is located in central Chile and neighboring areas of Argentina. The living representatives of this family are Mapudungu (ISO 639-3: arn) and Huilliche (ISO 639-3: huh). These are sometimes considered divergent dialects of a single language isolate.

It is estimated that there are approximately 200,000 Mapudungu-speakers in Chile and 40,000 speakers in Argentina. Huilliche is the native language of a few thousands of Chileans.

Andes of Chile, Argentina
Linguistic classificationOne of the world's primary language families


  • Campbell, Lyle (1997). American Indian languages: The historical linguistics of Native America. Oxford University Press. ISBN 0195094271.


  1. ^ Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds. (2017). "Araucanian". Glottolog 3.0. Jena, Germany: Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History.
Huilliche language

Huilliche (which can also be found spelt Williche, Huiliche or Veliche) is a moribund branch of the Araucanian language family. In 1982 it was spoken by about 2,000 ethnic Huilliche people in Chile, but now it is only spoken by a few elderly speakers. It is spoken in the nation's Los Lagos and Los Ríos regions; and mountain valleys, between the city of Valdivia and south toward Chiloé Archipelago.

Huilliche is composed of at least two varieties, called Huillichesungun and Tsesungun by their speakers. Huillichesungun is spoken in Wequetrumao, on the island of Chiloé, and Tsesungun is spoken Choroy Traiguen, on the coast of Osorno province. Huilliche is closely related to Mapudungun, the language of the Mapuche, though more research is needed to determine the degree of mutual intelligibility between the two. The "Enduring Voices" project of National Geographic reports the following:"They are to some degree hidden within the broader Mapuche ethnic group, yet consider themselves quite distinct in both language and identity [...] Though the two languages [Huillichesungun and Tsesungun] may share as many as 80% of basic words, we confirmed that they differ in their sounds and grammar, as well as in their ethno-linguistic identity [...] Unexpectedly, Tsesungun, though it is geographically closer to Mapudungun, is less similar to it."The Jesuit priest Luis de Valdivia reported in 1606 that there was linguistic unity in the territory between Coquimbo and Chiloé, from the Pacific to the Andes, and that this was composed of varieties whose differences were mostly in pronunciation and vocabulary. This analysis is supported by researchers at the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th century, such as Félix de Augusta or Rodolfo Lenz, and by those in the second half of the 20th century, such as Robert Croese. The latter two noted that Huilliche was the most divergent of the varieties of Araucanian, as did Pilar Álvarez-Santullano, a researcher in the phonology and syntax of Chesungun on the Osorno coast.

Most Huilliche speakers are older adults, and most ethnic Huilliche speak Spanish as their first language, making both Huilliche varieties highly endangered.

List of language families

The following is a list of language families. It also includes language isolates, unclassified languages and other types.

Mapuche history

The Mapuche people of southern Chile and Argentina have a long history dating back as an archaeological culture to 600–500 BC. The Mapuche society had great transformations after Spanish contact in the mid–16th century. These changes included the adoption of Old World crops and animals and the onset of a rich Spanish–Mapuche trade in La Frontera and Valdivia. Despite these contacts Mapuche were never completely subjugated by the Spanish Empire. Between the 18th and 19th century Mapuche culture and people spread eastwards into the Pampas and the Patagonian plains. This vast new territory allowed Mapuche groups to control a substantial part of the salt and cattle trade in the Southern Cone.

Between 1861 and 1883 the Republic of Chile conducted a series of campaigns that ended Mapuche independence causing the death of thousands of Mapuche through combat, pillaging, starvation and smallpox epidemics. Argentina conducted similar campaigns on the eastern side of the Andes in the 1870s. In large parts of the Mapuche lands the traditional economy collapsed forcing thousands to seek themselves to the large cities and live in impoverished conditions as housemaids, hawkers or labourers.

From the late 20th century onwards Mapuche people have been increasingly active in conflicts over land rights and indigenous rights.

Mapuche language

Mapuche or Mapudungun (from mapu 'land' and dungun 'speak, speech') is an Araucanian language related to Huilliche spoken in south-central Chile and west central Argentina by the Mapuche people (from mapu 'land' and che 'people'). It is also spelled Mapuzugun and Mapudungu. It was formerly known as Araucanian, the name given to the Mapuche by the Spaniards; the Mapuche avoid it as a remnant of Spanish colonialism, and it is considered offensive.

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 despite the Chilean government's commitment to provide full access to education in Mapuche areas in southern Chile. There is an ongoing political debate over which alphabet to use as the standard alphabet of written Mapudungun. There are approximately 144,000 native speakers in Chile and another 8,400 in west central Argentina.

Only 2.4% of urban speakers and 16% of rural speakers use Mapudungun when speaking with children, and only 3.8% of speakers aged 10–19 years in the south of Chile (the language’s stronghold) are "highly competent" in the language.

and Asia
New Guinea
and the Pacific
See also
National language
Living Indigenous languages
Extinct and endangered languages
Language families
Related groups

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