PARAGUAY’S GUARANÍ LANGUAGE IS FLOURISHING
Legislation protecting the Guaraní language reveals a double-standard in the government’s approach to the Guaraní people.
The difference between Paraguayan Guaraní and 43% of the world’s languages is that it is far from going extinct–Paraguayan Guaraní is thriving.
In Paraguay alone there are 5,850,000 speakers of Paraguayan Guaraní, and the 2012 census showed that 63.9 percent of the population are bilingual in both Guaraní and Spanish. What makes this language unique in South America is that it is the only indigenous language spoken predominantly by non-indigenous people.
It’s important to note that the Guaraní that is spoken across the country – known as Paraguayan Guaraní – has changed and developed from the language that the Spanish colonists encountered when they set foot in the region. The main Guaraní indigenous groups in Paraguay today speak either Ava Guaraní or Mbyá Guaraní.
Andrew Nickson, an honorary reader at the University of Birmingham who has studied Guaraní, explained to Latin America Reports that although there are differences, the languages are mutually intelligible. For the purposes of this article, the Guaraní referred to in this article is Paraguayan Guaraní.
Guaraní, unlike many indigenous languages – and people – in the region, was not reduced to near-extinction by Spanish colonists. On the contrary, according to a study from a linguist from the University of Oviedo, the Guaraní community had a relatively amiable relationship with newcomers. In the mid-1530s, Spanish colonists created settlements in the Asunción region, and many Spanish men took Guaraní wives. Their children subsequently grew up bilingual and began a long tradition of European-Indigenous marriages that created the mestizo society that is evident in Paraguay today.
They studied the Guaraní language and created a written form for it, before they were expelled by colonists in the mid-1700s.
In 1770, King Carlos III of Spain created a Royal Decree to “extinguish” indigenous languages in colonized territories. From then on, the Spanish colonists attempted to stamp out the tongue by banning its use in official employment, politics and schools–areas where women were denied access.