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Guaraní language

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Guaraní (avañe'ẽ)
Spoken in: Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Paraguay
Total speakers: 7 million
Ranking: Not in top 100
Genetic classification: Tupian

  Guaraní (I)

Official status
Official language of: Paraguay, Bolivia, and the province of Corrientes (Argentina)
Regulated by: -
Language codes
ISO 639-1 gn
ISO 639-2 grn
SIL Various:

GNW for Western Bolivian Guarani
GUG for Paraguayan Guarani
GUI for Eastern Bolivian Guarani
GUN for Mbya Guarani
GUQ for Ache
KGK for Kaiwa
NHD for Chiripa
PTA for Pai Tavytera
TAI for Tapiete
XET for Xeta

See also: LanguageList of languages

Guaraní [gwaraˈni, ɣwaraˈni] (local name: avañe'ẽ [aʋaɲẽˈʔẽ]) is an Amerindian language of South America that belongs to the Tupí-Guaraní subfamily. It is still spoken by 94% of the population of Paraguay (95% of whom are mestizos) and the nearly one million Paraguayan emigrants and their descendants residing in Buenos Aires, as well as by indigenous people and their neighbours in northern Argentina, Bolivia and southwestern Brazil.

It is the only indigenous language of the Americas whose majority of speakers are non-indigenous people.

It is estimated that there are approximately 7 million Guaraní speakers worldwide.



Guaraní in Paraguay

Guaraní is, alongside Spanish, one of the official languages of Paraguay. Thus, for example, Paraguay's constitution is bilingual, and its state-produced textbooks are typically half in Spanish and half in Guaraní. This policy seems to suggest that the two languages are "separate but equal".

Nonetheless, the two languages have a very complicated relationship. In practice, almost nobody in Paraguay speaks "pure Spanish" or "pure Guaraní". The more educated, more urban, and more European-descended population tends to speak Argentine-influenced Spanish with short phrases of Guaraní thrown in, while the less educated, more rural, and more native population tends to speak a Guaraní with significant vocabulary-borrowing from Spanish. This latter mix is known as Jopará [dʒopaˈɾa].

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


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

Writing system

Main article: Guaraní Writing System

Guaraní became a written language relatively recently. It uses a largely phonetic orthography. It is written using a Latin alphabet with several additions. All vowels can take an acute accent (´) to mark stress (Á/á É/é Í/í Ó/ó Ú/ú), but the resulting graphemes are not letters of the alphabet. Tilde marks nasalisation and is used with many letters, that are considered part of the alphabet: Ã/ã Ẽ/ẽ G̃/g̃ Ĩ/ĩ Ñ/ñ Õ/õ Ũ/ũ Ỹ/ỹ. (Note that G/g with tilde is not available as a precomposed glyph in Unicode).


Guaraní 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", see Guaraní Writing System) are not possible. This is represented (C)V(V).

  • Vowels: [a], [e], [i], [o], [u] correspond to Spanish and to the IPA symbols for them, although sometimes the allophones [ɛ], [ɔ] are used more frequently; y is close central unrounded vowel [ɨ].

All these vowels have nasalized counterparts.

  Bilabial Labiodental Alveolar Alveo-palatal Palatal Velar Glottal
Plosives p   t   ɟ (j) k ʔ   (')
Nasals m   n   ɲ   (ñ) ŋ   (g̃)  
Nasals & Plosives mb   (mb)   nt nd   (nt nd)     ŋg   (ng)  
Trill     r   (rr)        
Tap or Flap     ɾ   (r)        
Fricatives     s ɕ   (ch) ɣ   (g) h
Approximant   ʋ   (v)          
Lateral     l        

ɕ, ɣ, ʋ are allophones with ʃ, g and v respectively.

ʝ is being substituted with , notably in bilingual speakers.

The glottal stop is only found between vowels.

The alveolar trill (r) and alveolar lateral approximant (l) are not sounds native to Guaraní.

Nasal Sandhi

To promote euphony the words are grouped in oral and nasal. A word is nasal having at least one of these nasal letters: ã - ẽ - ĩ - õ - ũ - ỹ - g̃ - m - mb - n - nd - ng - nt - ñ , and all the rest being oral. A nasal word acquires different versions of prefixes and postpositions. For example, the postpositions pe, ta turn into me, nda respectively after nasal words.


Guaraní is highly agglutinative. It's 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 it's not specified.

The language lacks gender, distinction between singular and plural, and has no definite article.


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

first second third
singular che nde ha'e
plural ñande (inclusive),
ore (exclusive)
peẽ ha'ekuéra

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


The verb is conjugated in every person and number incorporating prefixes.

Verb root guata ("walk").

Pronoun Preposition Conjugated Form
che a- aguata
nde re- reguata
ha'e o- oguata
ñande ja- jaguata
ore ro- roguata
peẽ pe- peguata
ha'ekuéra o- oguata

The prefix for the third person is the same in singular and plural. Ja turns into ña before nasal verbs.


In Guaraní, like in Japanese, the verb is differently conjugated to indicate negation. This is made basically adding nd- and -i, thus n- in nasal verbs and -ri instead of i when the verb already end in an "i". This latter is an unstressed suffix.

Oral verb

japo (do, make)

Nasal verb

kororõ (roar, snore)

With ending in "i"

jupi (go up, rise)

ndajapói nakororõi ndajupíri
nderejapói nderekororõi nderejupíri
ndojapói nokororõi ndojupíri
ndajajapói ndañakororõi ndajajupíri
ndorojapói norokororõi ndorojupíri
ndapejapói ndapekororõi ndapejupíri
ndojapói nokororõi ndojupíri

The negated form can be merged with the immediate future suffix ta, resulting in mo'ãi. Ndajapomo'ãi, "I won't do it".

Tense and Aspect Morphemes

  • -kuri: marks proximity of the action. Ha'ukuri, "I just ate" (ha'u irregular first person singular form of u, "to eat"). 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. Okañyva'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 ejoguara'e peteĩ ta'angambyry pyahu, "so then you bought a new television after all"
  • -raka'e: expresses the uncertainty of a perfect-aspect fact. Peẽ peikoraka'e Asunción-pe, "I think you lived in Asunción for a while". Nevertheless nowadays this morpheme has lost some of its meaning, having a correspondence with ra'e and va'ekue

The verb form without suffixes at all is a present somewhat aorist: Upe ára resẽ 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. Oujeýta ag̃aite, "he/she'll come back soon".
  • -ma: has the meaning of "already". Ajapóma, "I already did it".

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

  • -va'erã: indicates something not inminent or something that must be done for social or moral reasons, in this case corresponds to the German modal verb sollen. Péa ojejapova'erã, "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. Mitãnguéra ág̃a og̃uahéne hógape, "the children are probably coming home now"
  • -hína, ína after nasal words: continual action at the moment of speaking, present and pluperfect continuous or emphatic. Rojatapyhína, "we're making fire"; che ha'ehína, "it's ME!"
  • -vo: it has a subtle difference with hína in which vo indicates not necessarily what's being done at the moment of speaking. amba'apóvo, "I'm working (not necessarily now)"
  • -pota: indicates proximity inmediately before the start of the process. Ajukapota, "I'm near the edge in which I will start to kill". (A particular sandhi rule is applied here: if the verbs ends in "po", the sufix changes to mbota; ajapombota, "I'll do it right now")
  • -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 páma: ñande jaikuaapáma nde remimo'ã, "now we became to know all your thought" These are unstressed suffixes: ta, ma, ne, vo; so the stress go upon the last syllable of the verb

Guaraní loans to English

The words that English has borrowed from Guaraní are mostly names of animals. "Jaguar" is maybe the most known, it came from jaguarete. Other words are: "agouti" from akuti and "tapir" from tapira. Also "piranha" is derived from pira aña or devil fish.

See also

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