Tehuelche language

Tehuelche (Aoniken, Inaquen, Gunua-Kena, Gununa-Kena) is one of the Chonan languages of Patagonia. Its speakers were nomadic hunters who occupied territory in present-day Chile, north of Tierra del Fuego and south of the Mapuche people. It is also known as Aonikenk or Aonek'o 'ajen.

aonekko ʾaʾien
Native toArgentina
EthnicityTehuelche people
Extinct2019 (with the death of Dora Manchado)[1]
  • Chon proper
    • Continental Chon
      • Tehuelche
Language codes
ISO 639-3teh
Map with approximate distributions of languages in Patagonia at the time of the Spanish conquest. Source: W. Adelaar (2004): The Andean Languages, Cambridge University Press.

The decline of the language started with the Araucanization of Patagonia, when many Tehuelche peoples adopted the Mapuche language as their main language. While being quite separate from each other, the Tehuelche were considerably influenced by these two other languages and cultures. This allowed the transference of morpho-syntactical elements into Tehuelche.[3] During the 19th and 20th centuries, Spanish became the dominant language as Argentina and Chile gained independence, and Spanish-speaking settlers took possession of Patagonia.


Tehuelche belongs to the Chonan family together with Teushen, Ona (Selk'nam) and Haush. The latter two languages were spoken by tribes in northeast and far northeast Tierra del Fuego. They are extinct.



Tehuelche has 3 vocalic qualities which can be short or long. (Fernandez 1988: 87-88)

Front Central Back
Mid e eː o oː
Open a aː


Tehuelche has 25 consonantal phonemes. Stops can be plain, glottalized or voiced. (Fernández 1998: 88-89)

Labial Dental Palatal Velar Uvular Glottal
Nasal m n
Stop plain p t k q ʔ
ejective p’ t’ tʃ’ k’ q’
voiced b d ɡ ɢ
Fricatives s ʃ x χ
Approximant w l j
Trill r



Singular Dual Plural
1 person ja: okwa: ošwa:
2 person ma: mkma: mšma:
3 person ta: tkta: tšta:




  1. https://globalvoices.org/2019/11/06/museums-of-the-mind-why-we-should-preserve-endangered-languages/
  2. Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds. (2017). "Tehuelche". Glottolog 3.0. Jena, Germany: Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History.
  • Fernández Garay, Ana V. (1997): Testimonios de los últimos tehuelches. Buenos Aires: Universidad de Buenos Aires.(Spanish)
  • Fernández Garay, Ana V. (1998): El tehuelche. Una lengua en vías de extinción. Valdivia: Universidad Austral de Chile [Anejos de Estudios Filológicos 15]. (Spanish)
  • Fernández Garay, Ana V. (2004): Diccionario tehuelche-español / índice español-tehuelche. Leiden: University of Leiden [Indigenous Languages of Latin America 4].(Spanish)
  • Viegas Barros, J. Pedro (2005): Voces en el viento. Raíces lingüísticas de la Patagonia. Buenos Aires: Mondragón.(Spanish)
  • Ana Fernandez Garay, La nominalizacion de lenguas indigenas de la Patagonia, Puebla, México,2006 (Spanish)

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