Tehuelche language

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
aonekko ʾaʾien
Native toArgentina
RegionSanta Cruz
Extinct2019 (with the death of Dora Manchado)[1]
  • Chon proper †
    • Continental Chon †
      • Tehuelche
Language codes
ISO 639-3teh
Map with approximate distributions of languages in Patagonia at the time of the Spanish conquest. Source: W. Adelaar (2004): The Andean Languages, Cambridge University Press.
This article contains IPA phonetic symbols. Without proper rendering support, you may see question marks, boxes, or other symbols instead of Unicode characters. For an introductory guide on IPA symbols, see Help:IPA.

Tehuelche (Aoniken, Inaquen, Gunua-Kena, Gununa-Kena) is one of the Chonan languages of Patagonia. Its speakers were nomadic hunters who occupied territory in present-day Chile, north of Tierra del Fuego and south of the Mapuche people. It is also known as Aonikenk or Aonekko 'a'ien.

The decline of the language started with the Mapuche invasion in the north, that was then followed by the occupation of Patagonia by the Argentine and Chilean states and state-facilitated genocide. Tehuelche were considerably influenced by other languages and cultures, in particular Mapudungun (the language of the Mapuche). This allowed the transference of morpho-syntactical elements into Tehuelche.[2] During the 19th and 20th centuries, Spanish became the dominant language as Argentina and Chile gained independence, and Spanish-speaking settlers took possession of Patagonia. Because of these factors the language was dying out. In 1983/84 there were 29 speakers but by the year 2000 there were only 4 speakers left of Tehuelche, by 2012 only 2, and by 2019 the last speaker died. As of 2000 the Tehuelche ethnic group numbered 200. Today many members of the Tehuelche ethnic group have limited knowledge of the language and are doing their best to ensure language revival, as Tehuelche is still a very important symbol for the group of people who identify themselves as Tehuelche.[3][4]

In spite of the death of Dora Manchado in 2019, the language has been documented (from her), recuperated and revitalized by various groups of Aonikenks, with the collaboration of a group of linguists and anthropologists, that have made various studies and academic works about this language.[4]


Tehuelche belongs to the Chonan family together with Teushen, Selk'nam (Ona) and Haush. The latter two languages, spoken by tribes in northeast and far northeast Tierra del Fuego, have different statuses of documentation and linguistic revitalization by their corresponding communities.


Mason (1950) lists dialects as:[5]

  • Northern: Payniken; Poya
  • Southern: Inaken



Tehuelche has 3 vocalic qualities which can be short or long. (Fernandez 1988: 87-88)

Front Central Back
Mid e eː o oː
Open a aː


Tehuelche has 25 consonantal phonemes. Stops can be plain, glottalized or voiced. (Fernández 1998: 88-89)

Labial Dental Palatal Velar Uvular Glottal
Nasal m n
Stop plain p t k q ʔ
ejective p’ t’ tʃ’ k’ q’
voiced b d ɡ ɢ
Fricatives s ʃ x χ
Approximant w l j
Trill r



Singular Dual Plural
1st person ia okwa oshwa
2nd person ma: mkma mshma
3rd person ta: tkta tshta




  1. ^ "Museums of the mind: Why we should preserve endangered languages · Global Voices". Nov 6, 2019. Retrieved Oct 12, 2020.
  2. ^ Ana Fernández Garay (2006). "La nominalización en lenguas indígenas de la Patagonia" (PDF) (in Spanish). National University of La Pampa. ISSN 1665-1200. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2017-08-29. Retrieved 2023-04-22.
  3. ^ "kketo sh m ´ekot - lengua tehuelche". kketo sh m ´ekot - lengua tehuelche (in European Spanish). Retrieved 2020-03-18.
  4. ^ a b "qadeshiakk". qadeshiakk (in Spanish). Retrieved 2020-03-18.
  5. ^ Mason, John Alden (1950). "The languages of South America". In Steward, Julian (ed.). Handbook of South American Indians. Vol. 6. Washington, D.C., Government Printing Office: Smithsonian Institution, Bureau of American Ethnology Bulletin 143. pp. 157–317.
  • Fernández Garay, Ana V. (1997): Testimonios de los últimos tehuelches. Buenos Aires: Universidad de Buenos Aires.(Spanish)
  • Fernández Garay, Ana V. (1998): El tehuelche. Una lengua en vías de extinción. Valdivia: Universidad Austral de Chile [Anejos de Estudios Filológicos 15]. (Spanish)
  • Fernández Garay, Ana V. (2004): Diccionario tehuelche-español / índice español-tehuelche. Leiden: University of Leiden [Indigenous Languages of Latin America 4].(Spanish)
  • Malvestitti, Marisa (2014): "Ahúnik’ənk’. Un vocabulario de la lengua tehuelche documentado por Roberto Lehmann-Nitsche". Indiana. 31: 377-408. ISSN 0341-8642.
  • Viegas Barros, J. Pedro (2005): Voces en el viento. Raíces lingüísticas de la Patagonia. Buenos Aires: Mondragón.(Spanish)
  • Ana Fernandez Garay, La nominalizacion de lenguas indigenas de la Patagonia, Puebla, México,2006 (Spanish)

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