Monday, December 7, 2015

Country Profile: The Languages of Paraguay

It has been a couple of months since we've looked at the linguistic landscape of a country in the Americas, so today we're focusing on the languages of Paraguay, a landlocked country in the heart of South America.

The Official Languages

Paraguay has two official languages, Spanish and Guaraní, both of which are spoken by the vast majority of the country's population. Spanish is a Romance language that was first introduced to Paraguay during the colonial era, while Guaraní is an indigenous language that belongs to the Tupian language family.

The country's most popular language is Guaraní, which is the native language of over 4.5 million Paraguayans. In addition, most Paraguayans with a different mother tongue speak Guaraní as a second language. One of the most remarkable things about Guaraní is that it is the only indigenous language in the Americans to have a large population of non-indigenous speakers, since most other indigenous languages have seen significant declines in their use since the introduction of European languages like Spanish and Portuguese.

Spanish, on the other hand, is the native language of around 350,000 Paraguayans. However, it retains its importance due to the fact that it is also used as a second language by approximately 4 million people in Paraguay.

Other Languages

Saltos del Monday, a famous waterfall in Paraguay.
While most Paraguayans speak one or both of the country's official languages, Paraguay is actually home to about 20 other languages. While most of them are indigenous languages, the two most spoken minority languages in Paraguay actually belong to the Germanic language family! There are over 150,000 German speakers in Paraguay, primarily due to German immigration to the country over the past century.

The other Germanic language is Plautdietsch, which is sometimes considered a dialect of German instead of a distinct language. Plautdietsch is the language of the Russian Mennonites, a group of Mennonites named for their migration from Germany to Russia in the late 1700s and early 1800s. Eventually, settlements were founded in other countries around the world, which is how Plautdietsch made its way to Paraguay via immigration from Canada in the 1920s.

When it comes to indigenous languages, the most spoken languages besides Guaraní are Nivaclé, Enlhet, Enxet, Mbyá Guaraní, and Ava Guaraní. There are about 13,000 native speakers of Nivaclé, the language of the Nivaclé indigenous group in Paraguay. Enlhet and Enxet are both spoken by over 5,000 members of the Enxet people, who primarily live in the Gran Chaco region. There are also about 5,000 native speakers of Mbyá Guaraní and over 2,000 of Ava Guaraní, both of which are closely related to the Guaraní language. In fact, some linguists consider them to be dialects instead of separate languages.

The least spoken languages in Paraguay are Toba Qom, Manjui, Pai Tavytera, Ñandeva, and Guana. All of these languages have less than 1,000 native speakers, and most of them have threatened status due to the decline in their use. The Guana language fares worst of all, as it is near extinction with only a couple dozen native speakers remaining.