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Guarani language

Guarani is an indigenous language of South America that belongs to the Tupi-Guarani subfamily of the Tupian languages. It is one of the official languages of Paraguay (along with Spanish), where it is spoken by 94% of the population. It is also spoken by indigenous communities in neighbouring countries, including parts of northern Argentina, eastern Bolivia and southwestern Brazil. It is also treated as a second official language of the Argentine provinces of Corrientes and Misiones.

It is the only indigenous language of the Americas whose overwhelming majority of speakers are non-indigenous people. This is an anomaly in the Americas where language shift towards more prestigious official languages has otherwise been a nearly universal cultural and identity marker of mestizos (people of mixed Spanish and Amerindian ancestry), and also of culturally assimilated, upwardly-mobile Amerindian people.

Jesuit priest Antonio Ruiz de Montoya, who wrote a book called Tesoro de la lengua guarani ("The Treasure of the Guarani Language"), described Guarani as a language "so copious and elegant that it can compete with the most famous [of languages]."

It has been said that the Paraguay football (soccer) team speaks Guarani on the pitch to confuse the opposing team.

Predominance of Guarani


Guarani is, alongside Spanish, one of the official languages of Paraguay. Paraguay's constitution is bilingual, and its state-produced textbooks are typically half in Spanish and half in Guarani.

Nonetheless, the two languages have a very complicated relationship. In practice, almost nobody in Paraguay speaks "pure Spanish" or "pure Guarani", but rather a combination which varies according to the social class, lifestyle and racial origin of the speaker. Thus, the more well-educated, more urban, and more European-descended population tends to speak Argentine-influenced Spanish with short phrases of Guarani thrown in, while the less educated, more rural, and more Amerindian-descended population tends to speak a Guarani with significant vocabulary-borrowing from Spanish. This latter mix is known as Jopara .

Speakers of Guarani who are not fluent in any other language have markedly limited opportunities for education and employment. There are very few speakers of Guarani outside of South America. Those few that exist include emigrants, scholars, missionaries, and agents of the Peace Corps.


Guarani is an official language in the provinces of Corrientes and Misiones, alongside Spanish.


Guarani is widely spoken in the the southeastern provinces of the country.


The Guarani language, together with its near-identical sisters, the lingua geral paulista (presently extinct) and the lingua geral amazonica (whose modern descendant is Nheengatu), was once as prevalent in Brazil as it is in Paraguay. The language began a long period of decline in Brazil when the Jesuits, who had done much to spread and standardize it, were expelled from the country by Portuguese administrator Marques de Pombal in 1759. However, Guarani still survives in scattered pockets throughout Brazil, one of which can be found in a rural district within the municipality of Sao Paulo. Olivio Jekupe, a resident of Krukutu village, located in this area, has published a book of folk tales written in Guarani and Portuguese. Because of its proximity with Paraguay, in Mato Grosso do Sul (Ponta Pora), the Guarani language is a second language locally.


Guarani persisted with enough vigor to be made official because the Jesuits elected it as the language to preach Roman Catholicism to the Indians (Guarani was the language of the autonomous Jesuit Reducciones) and because Paraguay's dictators for a time shut the country's borders and thereby protected the local culture and language.

Writing system

Guarani became a written language relatively recently. The modern Guarani alphabet is basically a subset of the Latin alphabet , complemented with two diacritics and six digraphs. Its orthography is largely phonemic, with letter values mostly similar to those of Spanish. All vowels can take an acute accent to mark stress (A/a E/e I/i O/o U/u), but the resulting graphemes are not letters of the alphabet. The tilde marks nasalisation and is used with many letters that are considered part of the alphabet: A/a / G/g I/i N/n O/o U/u /. (Note that G/g with tilde is not available as a precomposed glyph in Unicode).


Guarani only allows syllables consisting of a vowel or a consonant plus a vowel; a syllable ending in a consonant or two or more consonants together (except "digraphs") are not possible. This is represented (C)V(V).

Vowels: correspond more or less to the Spanish and IPA equivalents, although sometimes the allophones , are used more frequently; y is the close central unrounded vowel .

All these vowels have nasalized counterparts.


, , are in complementary distribution with , and respectively.

is often pronounced , depending on the dialect.

The glottal stop is only found between vowels.

The alveolar trill and alveolar lateral approximant are not sounds native to Guarani.

Nasal Harmony

Guarani is one of the few languages of the world displaying nasal harmony. A word is either nasal, and then only allows the nasal allophones of certain phonemes, or oral, only allowing the oral allophones. Words with some nasal allophones and some oral allophones do not exist. A word is nasal if it has at least one of these nasal allophones: a - - i - o - u - - g - m - mb - n - nd - ng - nt - n , in its stem, and all the rest being oral. The nasal harmony also influences the choice of prefixes, and to a certain extent, enclitics. For example, the postpositions pe, ta turn into me, nda respectively after nasal words.


Guarani is highly agglutinative. It is a fluid-S type active language and it has been classified as a 6th class language in the Milewski's typology. It uses Subject Verb Object alignment usually, but Object Verb when the subject is not specified.

The language lacks gender and has no definite article, but due to influence from Spanish, la is used as a definite article for singular reference, and lo for plural reference. These are not found in pure Guarani (Guaraniete).


Guarani distinguishes between inclusive and exclusive pronouns of the first person plural.

Reflexive pronoun: je: ahecha ("I look"), ajehecha ("I look at myself")


Guarani stems can be divided into a number of conjugation classes, which are called areal (with the subclass aireal) and chendal, respectively. The names for these classes stem from the names of the prefixes for 1st and 2nd person singular.

The areal conjugation is used to convey that the participant was actively involved, whereas the chendal conjugation is used to convey that the participant is Undergoer. Note that transitive verbs can take either conjugation, intransitive verbs normally take areal, but can take chendal for habitual readings. Nouns can also be conjugated, but only as chendal. This conveys a predicative possessive reading.

Furthermore, the conjugations vary slightly according to the stem being oral or nasal.

Verb root ne' ("speak"); nasal verb.


Negation is indicated by a circumfix n(d)(V)-...-(r)i in Guarani. The preverbal portion of the circumfix is nd- for oral bases andn- for nasal bases. For 2nd person singular, an epenthetic e is inserted before the base, for 1st person plural inclusive, an epenthetic a is inserted.

The postverbal portion is -ri for bases ending in -i, and -i for all others

The negation can be used in all tenses, but for future or irrealis reference, the normal tense marking is replaced by ''mo'a, resulting in n(d)(V)-base-mo'a-ias in Ndajapomo'ai'', "I won't do it".

Tense and aspect morphemes

-kuri: marks proximity of the action. ''Ha'ukuri, "I just ate" . It can also be used after a pronoun, ha che kuri, che po'a, "and about what happened to me, I was lucky"

-'va'ekue''': indicates a fact that occurred long ago and asserts that it's really truth. ''Okanyva'ekue, "he/she went missing a long time ago"

-'ra'e''': tells that the speaker was doubtful before but he's sure at the moment he speaks. ''Nde rejoguara'e petei ta'angambyry pyahu, "so then you bought a new television after all"

-'raka'e': expresses the uncertainty of a perfect-aspect fact. Pe peikoraka'e Asuncion-pe, "I think you lived in Asuncion for a while". Nevertheless nowadays this morpheme has lost some of its meaning, having a correspondence with ra'eand va'ekue

The verb form without suffixes at all is a present somewhat aorist: Upe ara res reho mombyry'', "that day you got out and you went far"

-ta: is a future of immediate happening, it's also used as authoritarian imperative. Oujeyta agaite, "he/she'll come back soon".

-ma: has the meaning of "already". Ajapoma, "I already did it".

These two suffixes can be added together: ahatama, "I'm already going"

-'''va'era': indicates something not imminent or something that must be done for social or moral reasons, in this case corresponds to the German modal verb sollen. Pea ojejapova'era, "that must be done"

-ne: indicates something that probably will happen or something the speaker imagines that is happening. It correlates in certain way with the subjunctive of Spanish. Mitanguera aga oguahene hogape, "the children are probably coming home now"

-hina, inaafter nasal words: continual action at the moment of speaking, present and pluperfect continuous or emphatic. Rojatapyhina'', "we're making fire"; ''che ha'ehina'', "it's ME!"

-vo: it has a subtle difference with hina in which vo indicates not necessarily what's being done at the moment of speaking. ''amba'apovo'', "I'm working (not necessarily now)"

-pota: indicates proximity immediately before the start of the process. Ajukapota, "I'm near the edge in which I will start to kill".

-pa: indicates emphatically that a process has all finished. Amboparapa pe ogyke, "I painted the wall completely"

This suffix can be joined with ma, making up pama: ''nande jaikuaapama nde remimo'a, "now we became to know all your thought". These are unstressed suffixes: ta, ma, ne, vo; so the stress goes upon the last syllable of the verb.

Guarani loans to English

The words that English has borrowed from Guarani are mostly names of animals. "Jaguar" comes from jaguareteand "piranha" comes from pira ana. Other words are: "agouti" from akutiand "tapir" from tapira''. The name Paraguay is itself a Guarani word, as (probably) is the name Uruguay.

See also

Guarani languages


Jesuit Reductions

Mbya Guarani

Old Tupi

Paraguayan Guarani

Western Argentine Guarani

External links

Ethnologue reports for Guarani languages

Guarani - English Dictionary: from * Webster's Online Dictionary - the Rosetta Edition.

Guarani Portal from the University of Mainz:

www.guarani.de: - online dictionary in Spanish, German and Guarani

www.guaranirenda.com: - about the Guarani language

Guarani Possessive Constructions: - by Maura Velazquez.

Stative Verbs and Possessions in Guarani: - University of Koln

An article written in Guarani: - a sample of the Guarani language

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