Wichí languages

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Argentina, Bolivia
Linguistic classificationMatacoan
  • Wichí

The Wichí languages are an indigenous language family spoken by the Wichí in northwestern Argentina and far-southeastern Bolivia, part of the Matacoan family. They are also known as Mataco, Wichi, Wichí Lhamtés, Weenhayek, Noctenes, Matahuayo, Matako, Weʃwo. The name Mataco is common but pejorative.


Currently, the Argentine government does not have education in indigenous languages in schools. Because the Wichí have to be fluent in Spanish to access government services, and children are only educated in Spanish, Wichí children only speak Spanish among themselves. This has made all Wichí dialects vulnerable to extinction.[2]


They include the following languages:

The Argentine National Institute of Statistics and Censuses (INDEC) gives a figure of 36,135 Wichí speakers in Argentina.

In Rosario, the third biggest city of Argentina, there is a community of about 10,000 Wichí people, all of them fluent in Wichi, and some native speakers. There are a couple of bilingual primary schools.

For Bolivia, Alvarsson estimated between 1,700 and 2,000 speakers in 1988; a census reported 1,912, and Diez Astete & Riester (1996) estimated between 2,300 and 2,600 Weenhayek in sixteen communities.

According to Najlis (1968) and Gordon (2005), three main dialects can be distinguished in the Wichí group: southwestern or Vejós (Wehwós), northeastern or Güisnay (Weenhayek) and northwestern or Nocten (Oktenay). Tovar (1981) and other authors claim the existence of only two dialects (northeastern and southwestern), while Braunstein (1992-3) identifies eleven ethnic subgroups.

Wichí languages are predominantly suffixing and polysynthetic; verbal words have between 2 and 15 morphemes. Alienable and inalienable possession is distinguished. The phonological inventory is large, with simple, glottalized and aspirated stops and sonorants. The number of vowels varies with dialect (five or six).


Consonant sounds in the Wichi languages
Bilabial Labial Alveolar Post-
Palatal Velar Uvular Glottal
central lateral
Plosive plain p t k q ʔ
Affricate plain ts
aspirated tsʰ
ejective tsʼ tʃʼ
Fricative s ɬ χ h
Nasal plain m n n̥ ɲ
glottal ʼm ʼn ʼɲ
Approximant plain w w̥ l l̥ j
glottal ʼw ʼl ʼj

Vowel sounds in the Wichi languages are /a ɑ e i o u/.[3][4]

External links[edit]


  1. ^ Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds. (2017). "Wichi". Glottolog 3.0. Jena, Germany: Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History.
  2. ^ Zdrojkowski Avram, Megan Leigh. "A phonological description of Wichí: The dialect of Misión La Paz, Salta, Argentina".
  3. ^ Nercesian, Verónica (2011). Stress in Wichí (Mataguayan) and its Interaction with the Word Formation Processes (PDF).
  4. ^ Avram, Megan Leigh Zdrojkowski (2008). A Phonological Description of Wichí: The Dialect of Misión La Paz, Salta, Argentina. Master's Theses and Doctoral Dissertations. Paper 152.