Paraguay is one of three countries in the Americas that name one or more indigenous languages as official, alongside Spanish. Interestingly, it is also the country where the most non-indigenous people are bilingual in an indigenous language, in this case Guaraní. Over 5 million people in Paraguay speak it. The 2012 census determined that 64% of the population speak both Guaraní and Spanish. As of 1992, the bilingual status of the country was added to the Constitution. The Constitution is bilingual, as are many textbooks. Not all indigenous people in Paraguay are Guaraní however, there are 50,000 people of eight additional tribes with their own languages. Those do not have official status.
In the map below, we see that no Central American or Spanish-speaking Caribbean countries are officially bilingual. In South America, Perú, Bolivia, and Paraguay have stripes to indicate more than one official language. Brazil and Argentina have regions that are bilingual.
The word Guaraní was a name the Spanish gave this dominant indigenous tribe, thought to be from the word for warrior in the indigenous language. These original inhabitants of what would be Paraguay called themselves avá, or the people. You may be surprised to learn that more than a dozen Guaraní words were imported into English. Most came to English through Portuguese or French.
- Animals: jaguar, cougar and tapir
- Fish: piranha
- Birds: macaw and toucan
- Foods: cashew, manioc, açai, and tapioca
- Two more words you might not guess: maraca and petunia
The words Paraguay and Uruguay are also from Guaraní, although their meanings are disputed. They both refer to rivers. The original -guaí ending means to or from water. The Guaraní people live in Paraguay, Argentina, Bolivia, Uruguay and Brazil. The colloquial Guaraní commonly spoken in Paraguay which adds in Spanish vocabulary as well, is called jopará or yopará.
Women are credited with preserving the indigenous language which has finally earned an authorized ranking. Raising the majority of children to speak Guaraní is a well-established custom in Paraguay. Neither this language tradition nor official status has shielded indigenous people from prejudice and scornful attitudes from wealthy ethnically Spanish families. However, despite a lot of pressure the language and culture have largely survived. That is an amazing feat accomplished by centuries of resistance.
A toast to generations of caregivers, singing and speaking to their children in their mother tongue in spite of the European language lurking just outside their door!
Thanks for reading. Please stop by the comments and let us know what thoughts this post brought to mind. ¡Gracias y olé! –Rebecca