A Paraguayan Linguistic Perspective

Paraguay is a pluralistic country, not only in sociologic terms, but in linguistic ones as well. Apart from the various, diverse non-aborigine languages spoken in this inland country, according to Bartomeu Melià[1], (2005) there are 5 main branches of aborigine origin, each of them with their subdivisions, adding up a total of 20 aborigine languages.


On July 9th I had the opportunity to visit Yalve Sanga[2], a small town located in the District of Loma Plata, Departamento de Boquerón inParaguay. The town is populated mainly by aborigines from the Enlhet and Nivacle (Chulupí) ethnic people besides “latin Paraguayans” (as Mennonites call us) and Mennonites. I had the opportunity to visit the school for aborigines in this town. This school offers classes in Spanish, which is the lingua franca in that particular situation, and specific classes in the students’ mother tongue. I was invited to participate in one of the classes. Nelson Nuñez, 3rd year student from the teacher training certificate program at ISE, and my student, asked the Nivaclé teacher several questions, and he collected the following linguistic corpus:

Tôvalhay – maká (aborigine ethnic group)
nathu jo’oy – good morning
nu’ut jo’oy – good afternoon
tulh jo’oy – good evening

C’use nôque yitsa’at – I like this place
Jaytsac’un – I’m eating
Ta e’y – what’s your name?
Ts’ishamesh – “Thanks” (actually, they do not have a word for “thanks”, they use the equivalent “I am grateful” instead.

Jachenesh cum – “please” (actually, they do not have this lexical item. Instead, they use the equivalent “I’m lending you this”)

The teacher explained that in Enlhet there is no plural form for pronouns.
Yiva’atsha – I
Ava’atsha – you
lhava’atsha – he
Anôque – she
Ava’atshe’elh – we, you all, they.


We also atended a Enlhet class. The teacher explained that in Enlhet there are some gender distinctions in pronouns.

co’o – I
lhep – he
lheya – she
nengo’o – male we
quellhep – male they
quellheya – female they

What really caught my attention is that in that particular school where Plattdeutsch (low German Mennonite dialect) is a common language (the school is organized Mennonite style) when the students got to choose a foreign language to study because of MEC requirements, they chose English. It is amazing that in a pluralistic, multilanguage society English is the language chosen. When the Principal, Dario Medina, was asked about the reason for this, he said he had no idea of the reasons why the students had chosen English over German and how unusual it was considering the strong influence of Mennonites in that community. This fact tells us one more time of the widespread impact English has as a vehicular language in a worldwide fashion.


2 thoughts on “A Paraguayan Linguistic Perspective

  1. Hi!
    The Enlhet and Nivacle data are just the other way round, i.e. what you show as Enlhet is Nivacle and “Nivacle” is Enlhet. These two languages belong to two different linguistic families (like English and Arabic, for instance). It is true that the central Chaco is a real multilingual sociolinguistic laboratory. Please notice that the Nivacle data (cited as “Enlhet”) are loan translations, and are hardly ever used by the speakers themselves. Since they are well aquainted with Spanish greetings, they have no problem in finding “equivalents” in Nivacle. Best Regards

    • Thank you very much for the information Alain. I’ll make the necessary changes. It was difficult for us to get the information from the Enlhet/Nivacle teachers, but we managed to do it. Thanks again!

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