Ona language

Ona (Aona), also known as Selk'nam (Shelknam), is a language that is spoken by the Selk'nam people in Isla Grande de Tierra del Fuego in southernmost South America.

Native toArgentina Chile
RegionPatagonia, Tierra del Fuego.
  • Chon proper
    • Island Chon
      • Ona
Language codes
ISO 639-3ona

Part of the Chonan languages of Patagonia, Selk'nam is almost extinct, due both to the late 19th-century Selk'nam genocide by European immigrants, high fatalities due to disease and disruption of traditional society. One source states that the last fluent native speakers died in the 1980s,[3]:92 but another claims that two speakers had survived into 2014.[4]


The Selk'nam people, also known as the 'Ona, were an indigenous people who inhabited the northeastern part of the archipelago of Tierra del Fuego for thousands of years before Europeans arrived. They were nomads known as "foot-people," as they did their hunting on land, rather than being seafarers.

The last full-blooded Selk'nam, Ángela Loij, died in 1974. They were one of the last aboriginal groups in South America to be reached by Europeans. Their language, believed to be part of the Chonan family, is considered extinct as the last speakers died in the 1980s.


Based on available data, Selk'nam seems to have had 3 vowels and 23 consonants.[5]

Selk'nam has three vowels: /a, ɪ, ʊ/.

Bilabial Alveolar Palato-
Retroflex Palatal Velar Uvular Glottal
dental plain
Stop voiceless p t k q ʔ
Affricate voiceless t͡ʃ
ejective t͡ʃʼ
Fricative s ʂ x h
Nasal m n
Approximant l j w
Flap ɾ


The Ona language is an object–verb–subject language. There are only two word classes in Selk'nam: nouns and verbs.[6]


  1. Ona at Ethnologue (19th ed., 2016)
  2. Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds. (2017). "Selk'nam". Glottolog 3.0. Jena, Germany: Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History.
  3. Adelaar, Willem (2010). "South America". In Christopher (ed.), Atlas of the World's Languages in Danger, 3rd Edition. UNESCO. pp. 86-94.
  4. Rojas, Luis (2014). A Heritage Reference Grammar of Selk'nam. Manuscript.
  5. Berscia, Luis Miguel Rojas (2014). A Heritage Reference Grammar of Selk’nam. Radboud University Nijmegen.
  6. Najlis, Elena (1973). Lengua selknam. Buenos Aires: Universidad de Salvador.

See also

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