Mapuche language

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Native to Chile, Argentina
Ethnicity 600,000 Mapuche (2002)[1]
Native speakers
260,000 (2007)[1]
  • Mapudungun
Official status
Official language in
Galvarino (Chile)[2]
Language codes
ISO 639-2 arn
ISO 639-3 arn
Glottolog mapu1245[3]
Core region of mapuche population 2002 by counties.

Orange: rural Mapuche; Dark: urban Mapuche; White: non-Mapuche inhabitants

Surfaces of circles are adjusted to 40 inhabitants/km2.
This article contains IPA phonetic symbols. Without proper rendering support, you may see question marks, boxes, or other symbols instead of Unicode characters.

Mapudungun[4] (from mapu 'earth, land' and dungun 'speak, speech') is a language isolate spoken in south-central Chile and west central Argentina by the Mapuche people (from mapu 'earth' and che 'people'). It is also spelled Mapuzugun and Mapudungu, and was formerly known as Araucanian.[4] The latter was the name given to the Mapuche by the Spaniards. Today the Mapuche avoid this exonym 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, whereas only 3.8% of speakers aged 10–19 years in the south of Chile (the language’s stronghold) are "highly competent" in the language.[5]


See also: Mapuche history

When the Spanish arrived in Chile, they found four groups of Mapuche speakers in the region of Araucanía, from which the Spanish called them Araucanos: the Picunche (from pikum 'north' and che 'people'), the Huilliche (from willi 'south'), the Pehuenche (from Pehuen 'Araucaria araucana (a tree)'), 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. Mapudungun was the only language spoken in central Chile. The socio-linguistic situation of the Mapuche has changed rapidly. Now, nearly all of Mapuche people are bilingual or monolingual in Spanish. The degree of bilingualism depends on the community, participation in Chilean society, and the individual's choice towards the traditional or modern/urban way of life.[6]

There is some lexical influence from Quechua (pataka- 'hundred', warangka- 'thousand') and Spanish.


Dialect sub-groups









Cladogram showing the closeness of Mapuche dialect sub-groups based on shared features according to Robert A. Croese. Dialect sub-groups are roughly ordered from their geographical distribution from north to south.[7]

Linguist Robert A. Croese divides Mapudungun into eight dialectal sub-groups (I-VIII). Sub-group I is centered in Arauco Province, Sub-group II is the dialect of Angol, Los Ángeles and the middle and lower Bío Bío River. Sub-group III is centered around Purén. In the areas around Lonquimay, Melipeuco and Allipén River dialect sub-group IV is spoken. Sub-group V is spoken at the coast of Araucanía Region including Queule, Budi Lake and Toltén. Around Temuco, Freire and Gorbea the sub-group VI is spoken. Group VII is spoken in Valdivia Province plus Pucón and Curarrehue. The last "dialect" sub-group is VIII which is the Huilliche language spoken from Lago Ranco and Río Bueno to the south and is not mutually ineligible with the other dialects.[7]

These can be grouped in four dialect groups: north, central, south-central and south. These are further divided into eight sub-groups: I and II (northern), III–IV (central), V-VII (south-central) and VIII (southern). The sub-groups III-VII are more closely related to each other than they are to I-II and VIII. Croese finds these relationships as consistent, but not proof, with the theory of origin of the Mapuche proposed by Ricardo E. Latcham.[7]

The Mapudungun spoken in the Argentinean provinces of Neuquen and Rio 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.[8]


Depending on the alphabet, the sound /tʃ/ is spelled ch or c, and /ŋ/ as g or ng. The language is called either the "speech (d/zuŋun) of the earth (mapu)" or the "speech of the people (tʃe)". An n may connect the two words. There are thus several ways to write the name of the language:

Alphabet Mapu with N Mapu without N Che/Ce with N Che/Ce without N
Ragileo Mapunzugun[9] Mapuzugun Cenzugun Cezugun
Unified Mapundungun Mapudungun Chendungun Chedungun
Azümchefe Mapunzugun Mapuzugun Chenzugun Chezugun



Mapudungun has partially predictable, non-contrastive stress. The stressed syllable is generally the last one if it's closed (awkán 'game', tralkán 'thunder'), and the one before last if the last one is open (rúka 'house', lóngko 'head'). There is no phonemic tone.


Stressed monophthongs of Mapudungun, from Sadowsky et al. (2013:92)
Mapuche vowel phonemes[10]
Front Central Back
unrounded unrounded rounded
Near-close ɪ ʊ
Close-mid e ɘ o
Near-open ɐ
  • When unstressed, all of the vowels are somewhat raised [ɪ̝, ɘ̝, ʊ̝, ë̝, ö̝, ɜ]. Among these, the unstressed /ɐ/ is the most strongly raised vowel. Utterance-final unstressed vowels are generally devoiced or even elided when they occur after voiceless consonants, and sometimes even after voiced consonants.[11]
  • /ɪ, ɘ, ʊ, ɐ/ are often transcribed as /i, ɨ, u, a/, but the latter symbols are not phonetically accurate.[10]
  • /e, o/ are somewhat centralized [ë, ö].[10]
  • /ɐ/ is slightly raised [ɐ̝].[10]

/ɘ/ is spelled ï, ü, or v, depending on the alphabet.


Mapuche consonant phonemes[5]
Labial Dental Alveolar Postalveolar Retroflex Palatal Velar
Nasal m n ɲ ŋ
voiceless p t ʈʂ k
Fricative voiceless f θ s ʃ
voiced ʐ j ɣ
Approximant central w
lateral l ʎ
  • /m, p/ are bilabial, whereas /f/ is labiodental.[5]
  • /n̪, t̪, θ, l̪/ are interdental, and do not occur in all dialects.[12]
  • Utterance-final coronal laterals /l̪, l/ may be realized as voiceless fricatives [ɬ̪, ɬ]. [13]
  • The plosives may be aspirated; phonetically, the aspiration is more lenis than e.g. in English:[14]
    • /k/ is often aspirated [kʰ].[14]
    • /t/, as well as the [c] allophone of /k/ are fairly frequently aspirated [tʰ, cʰ].[14]
    • /p, t̪/ are occasionally aspirated [pʰ, t̪ʰ].[14]
  • Some speakers realize /ʈʂ/ as apical postalveolar, either an affricate or an aspirated plosive.[13]
  • /ʐ/ can be either an apical (not sub-apical) fricative [ʐ], a central approximant [ɻ] or, for some speakers, even a lateral approximant [ɭ]. In post-nuclear position, the fricative variant may be realized as voiceless [ʂ].[15]
  • /j/ varies between an approximant [j] and a fricative [ʝ].[13]
  • Before /ɪ, e/, the velars /ŋ, k, ɣ/ (but not /w/) are fronted to [c, ŋ˖, ɣ˖~ʝ].[14]
  • /w/ is labialized velar.[5]

Written form[edit]

Main article: Mapudungun alphabet
Graffiti in Mapudungun meaning "War Council".

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.[16]

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.[17][18] 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 word order of Mapudungun is flexible, but with preferred patterns. A topic–comment construction is common. The subject (agent) of a transitive clause tends to precede the verb, and the object tends to follow (A–V–O order), while the subject of an intransitive clause tends to follow the verb (V–S order).[6]
  • 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.[19]
  • 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 person 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'.

Studies of Mapudungun[edit]

Older works[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.

Modern works[edit]

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).


  • 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.]

Mapudungun language courses[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Mapudungun at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015)
  2. ^ "Galvarino es la primera comuna de Chile en establecer el mapudungún como su idioma oficial". Radio Bío-Bío (in Spanish). 7 August 2013. Retrieved 21 September 2015. 
  3. ^ Nordhoff, Sebastian; Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds. (2013). "Mapudungun". Glottolog. Leipzig: Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology. 
  4. ^ 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. 
  5. ^ a b c d Sadowsky et al. (2013), p. 88.
  6. ^ a b Gruyter, Mouton. A Grammar of Mapuche. Berlin: Walter de Gruyter GmbH and Co., 2008. Print.
  7. ^ a b c Croese, Robert A. (1985). "21. Mapuche Dialect Survey". In Manelis Klein, Harriet; Stark, Louisa R. South American Indian Languages: Retrospect and Prospect. Austin, Texas: University of Texas Press. p. 784–801. ISBN 0-292-77592-X. 
  8. ^ Sadowsky et al. (2013), p. 87.
  9. ^ La Nacion (Chile) [1]
  10. ^ a b c d Sadowsky et al. (2013), p. 92.
  11. ^ Sadowsky et al. (2013), pp. 92–94.
  12. ^ Sadowsky et al. (2013), pp. 88–89.
  13. ^ a b c Sadowsky et al. (2013), p. 91.
  14. ^ a b c d e Sadowsky et al. (2013), p. 89.
  15. ^ Sadowsky et al. (2013), p. 90.
  17. ^ Reuters news article
  18. ^ Guerra idiomática entre los indígenas mapuches de Chile y Microsoft. El Mundo / Gideon Long (Reuters), 28 November 2006 [2]
  19. ^


  • 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.
  • Sadowsky, Scott; Painequeo, Héctor; Salamanca, Gastón; Avelino, Heriberto (2013), "Mapudungun", Journal of the International Phonetic Association 43 (1): 87–96, doi:10.1017/S0025100312000369 

External links[edit]