BUENOS AIRES – Argentina’s Wixaleyiñ Mapuche education team has unveiled the first bilingual dictionary for its native Mapudungun tongue and Spanish produced “from the perspective of the people recovering” their language.
“Everything we poured into the dictionary was supervised by the people who speak the language,” Marta Berreta, one of the authors, told EFE, adding that they were older people who serve as a “living book” and convey the cultural content of an unwritten language.
The team says these features differentiate their work from others on the language of the Mapuches, most of whom live in southern Chile.
Wixaleyiñ has been working for 10 years to revitalize and disseminate Mapuche culture and language in Buenos Aires province.
After receiving a grant from an Argentine university, the “Language, Inter-culture, Revitalization and Dissemination in Print of Mapudungun” was completed.
The team published 300 copies of a dictionary designed to learn the Mapuche tongue as a second language.
“We are Mapuche and we must leave a testimony of our language because it is in danger of disappearing,” Berreta said.
“Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Bolivia and even Peru have linguistic state policies recognizing and addressing the problem of endangered indigenous languages, and policies to revitalize and preserve them, and that doesn’t happen in Argentina,” said one of Berreta’s colleagues, Laura Zapata.
Only a small number of people in Argentina speak Mapudungun, a language of the grandparents’ generation, Zapata said.
The children and grandchildren cannot speak the language proficiently, or they understand it but cannot speak it.
Mapudungun is “a language in danger of extinction” and not only the spoken word but also the people who speak it, and that increases the importance of the work by teams like Wixaleyiñ, Zapata said.