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    Land of winds > The people > Language | Issue 07 (Sep.-Oct. 2011)
    By Edgardo Civallero | Sara Plaza

The Mapudungu


Mapudungu (from mapu “land, earth” and dungu “speech, speak”) is the Mapuche language, a native people who live in south-central Chile and Argentine Patagonia. It is an isolated language (though it has also been related to different languages according to different linguists), which has been heavily influenced by both Quechua and Spanish. At present it is spoken by about 200,000 people. According to statistics (though they differ depending on definition and research methodology), 16% of the Mapuche population in Chile speak their language on a daily basis and 18% understand but do not speak it.

Mapudungu (also formerly known as Araucanian language, a term that is now disused and avoided by Mapuche and non-Mapuche scholars alike) has a number of dialects: the Pikunche (the northern variant); the Moluche or Nguluche (the dialect spoken in central Chile) which is regarded as the standard variant of the language since it is the most widely spread; and the Huilliche (the southern variant), considered most different from the standard.

First steps in the formalization and normalization of Mapudungu were taken by the Jesuit priests who arrived in Chile during the 17th and 18th centuries. At present, the political debate over which alphabet (there are 7 or 8 different ones) to use as the standard alphabet of written Mapudungu continues. The most accepted ones are the Alfabeto Unificado (elaborated by the Sociedad Chilena de Lingüística in 1986), the Grafemario Raguileo (by Anselmo Raguileo in 1982, the one that suits best to the phonetic system of the Mapuche language), and the Grafemario Azümchefe (a combination of both the former and the latter, by the CONADI and promoted by the Chilean government). In the middle 1990s, it appeared a system of writing that uses triangular symbols, allegedly Mapuche. It was known as Adentu Nemul and ended up being a fraud.

Mapudungu is an agglutinative language, meaning that words consist of a chain of more or less clearly distinguishable and separable affixes and/or morphemes. Verbs can be finite or non-finite, 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).
Several examples are provided bellow.

    Fey chi ürarün epu trokiñ che fütra kamapu allküngey
    The sound of the two shouting groups is heard far away

    Mara inakeeyeo trewa fente tueteo ula well ñamuneteo ula
    The hare is chased until the dog kills it or it escapes

    Chi weya pichi wentru witralewerkey müten ñi dungunon ka ñi trekawenon pichi rume
    The poor child stood up (so they say), without speaking and not being able to move forward

    ...kimngekelay cheo ta ñi nien ta chi ngürü ta ñi ruka ka ta ñi koñikemum
    ...we neither know where the fox live, nor where he keeps the young save

First Mapudungu grammar was published by Jesuit priest Luis de Valdivia in 1606 (“Arte y Gramatica General de la Lengva que corre en todo el Reyno de Chile”). In 1765, another Jesuit, Andrés Febrés, published “Arte de la Lengva General del Reyno de Chile”, which included a grammar and a dictionary and was considered one of the most influential works before the researches carried out by scholar Rodolfo Lenz at the end of the 19th century. Between 1903 and 1916, a new grammar and a new dictionary by Félix José de Augusta renewed the interest for the language in academic circles.

The study of Mapudungu has recently been led by Chilean linguistic Adalberto Salas, as well as by a group of native scholars. There is a large body of written material in Mapudungu, including literature, poetry, educational texts, web pages and even a translation of Windows operating system by Microsoft. Poet Elicura Chihuailaf is one of the most prominent examples of contemporary literature written in Mapudungu.


Mapuche language, in Wikipedia.
Book. “Gramática del idioma Mapuche” (“Mapuche Grammar”), by Raguileo Lincopil [es].
Spanish-Mapudungu Glossary [es].
Mapudungun, in Wikilibros [es].
Mapudunguyu, blog about Mapuche language and culture [es].


Video 01. Song in Mapudungu, by Elicura Chihuailaf.
Video 02. “Retrato azul de Kechurewe” (“Kechurewe blue portrait”), by Elicura Chihuailaf.
Video 03. “Poesía Mapuche” (“Mapuche poetry”), by Elicura Chihuailaf (live).
Video 04. “La lluvia” (“The rain”), by Elicura Chihuailaf.


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