Ona language

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Native to Argentina Chile
Region Patagonia, Tierra del Fuego.
Ethnicity Selk'nam
Extinct 1970's[1]
  • Chon proper
    • Island Chon
      • Ona
Language codes
ISO 639-3 ona
Glottolog onaa1245[2]

Ona (Aona), also known as Selk'nam (Shelknam), is a language that is spoken by the Selk'nam people in Isla Grande de Tierra del Fuego in southernmost South America.

Part of the Chonan languages of Patagonia, Selk'nam is almost extinct, due both to the late 19th-century Selk'nam genocide by European immigrants, high fatalities due to disease and disruption of traditional society. One source states that the last fluent native speakers died in the 1980s,[3]:92 but another claims that two speakers had survived into 2014.[4]


Julius Popper during a hunt of the Ona people. In the late 19th century, estancieros and gold prospectors launched a campaign of extermination against the indigenous peoples of Tierra del Fuego.
Selk'nam children, 1898

The Selk'nam people, also known as the 'Ona, were an indigenous people who inhabited the northeastern part of the archipelago of Tierra del Fuego for thousands of years before Europeans arrived. They were nomads known as "foot-people," as they did their hunting on land, rather than being seafarers.

The last full-blooded Selk'nam, Ángela Loij, died in 1974. They were one of the last aboriginal groups in South America to be reached by Europeans. Their language, believed to be part of the Chonan family, is considered extinct as the last speakers died in the 1980s.


The Ona language is an object–verb–subject language.[5]


  1. ^ Ona at Ethnologue (19th ed., 2016)
  2. ^ Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds. (2017). "Ona". Glottolog 3.0. Jena, Germany: Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History. 
  3. ^ Adelaar, Willem (2010). "South America". In Christopher (ed.), Atlas of the World's Languages in Danger, 3rd Edition. UNESCO. pp. 86-94.
  4. ^ Rojas, Luis (2014). A Heritage Reference Grammar of Selk'nam. Manuscript.
  5. ^ Najlis, Elena (1973). Lengua selknam. Buenos Aires: Universidad de Salvador. 

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