Mapudungun (from mapu 'earth, land' and dungun 'speak, speech') is a language isolate spoken in central Chile and west central Argentina by the Mapuche (from mapu and che 'people') people. It is also known as Mapudungu, Mapuche, and Araucanian (Araucano). The latter was the name given to the Mapuche by the Spaniards but nowadays both the Mapuche and their academic circles, avoid this usage. Its speakers possibly number 240,000, with 200,000 in the Central Valley of Chile and 40,000 in several Argentinian provinces. Some 150,000 people use the language regularly.

Mapudungun lacks substantive protection or promotion, despite the Chilean government's commitment to improve the situation and provide full access to education in Mapuche areas in southern Chile.


Mapudungun, also formerly known as the Araucanian language, has been classified by some authorities as being related to the Penutian languages of North America. Others group it among the Andean languages (Greenberg 1987, Key 1978), and yet others postulate an Araucanian-Mayan relationship (Stark 1970, Hamp 1971); Croese (1989, 1991) has advanced the hypothesis that it is related to Arawak. Other authorities regard it as an isolate language. It has had some lexical influence from Quechua (pataka 'hundred', warangka 'thousand') and Spanish.

When the Spanish arrived in Chile, they found four groups of Mapuche, one of which were the Picunche (from pikum 'north' and che 'people') who were conquered quite rapidly. In the Andes Mountains were the Pehuenche. Since the 18th century the southern group or Huilliche (from willi 'south' and che 'people') has lost its specific identity, but the central group in Araucania, the Moluche called Araucanos by the Spanish and now commonly the Mapuche, retains it.

The term Araucano is nowadays avoided by scholars and Mapuche alike.

Regional variation

Two varieties of Mapudungun are still spoken. The most widely spoken is Mapudungun (also Araucano, Mapuche), the language of the Mapuche people. There are an estimated 275,000 active users of the language, 200,000 in Chile and 75,000 in Argentina.

Mapudungun has a number of dialects. In Chile in the region of old Araucania are the Moluche speaking the Moluche or Nguluche dialect. The Pehuenche dialect is spoken by the Pehuenche living in the Andes Mountains. Huillice (also Huilliche, Veliche) was spoken south of the Tolten River. It now has several thousand speakers, most of whom speak Spanish as a first language, south of the Mapuche in Chile's Valdivian Coastal Range, Osorno Province and on Chiloé Island.

Due to the migration of Mapudungun speaking peoples and the subsequent Araucanization in Argentina, the Pehuenche dialect is spoken in Neuquén (from Valdivia to Neuquén); the Moluche or Nguluche dialect is spoken from the Limay River to Lake Nahuel Huapi; the Huilliche or Veliche dialect is spoken in the Lake Nahuel Huapi region as well, and also in Valdivia, Chile; and the Ranquenche dialect is spoken in the Chalileo and General Acha Departments in the La Pampa Province, and in the Río Colorado region.


  • Prosody: Unlike Spanish, Mapudungun has fairly predictable, non-contrastive stress. The stressed syllable is generally the ultima if this is closed (awkán 'game', tralkán 'thunder'), and the penult if the ultima is open (rúka 'house', lóngko 'head'). There is no phonemic tone.
  • Vowels: Mapudungun has six vowel phonemes: /a/, /e/, /i/, /o/, /u/ and a high central unrounded vowel, /ɨ/. The last sound is spelled ï, ü or v depending on the alphabet used, and is pronounced as a schwa /ə/ when unstressed.
  • Consonants: Mapudungun does not distinguish between voiceless and voiced plosives. There are three approximants (or glides). Liquids consist of the three lateral sounds and what is phonetically close to a retroflex approximant. Some authors do not recognize /s/ as a separate phoneme; rather, they class it as an allophone of /ʃ/. /tʂ/ (spelled as "tr", "tx" or even "x") is often described as a /ʧ/ sound followed by a /ɻ/ sound; it is similar to the sound of English tr in tree, but without aspiration. Particularly interesting are the relatively rare interdental sounds t̟, n̟ and l̟, which contrast with their dentoalveolar counterparts; roots may have either only interdental ([l̟afken̟] 'sea, lake') or only dentoalveolar ([lwan] 'guanaco') consonants.

bilabial labiodental interdental dento-alveolar postalveolar retroflex palatal velar
plosive p t k
nasal m n ɲ ŋ
fricative f θ s ʃ
approximant w j ɰ
affricate ʧ
liquid l ɻ ʎ

  • Spelling: The Mapuche are not believed to have had a writing system when the Spanish arrived. Historically, there have been a number of proposals for Mapudungun spelling, all of them using the Latin alphabet. The alphabet used in this article is the one used by Chilean linguists and other people in many publications in the language ("alfabeto mapuche unificado"). This alphabet consists of the following letters: a, ch, d (for /θ/), e, f, g (for /ɰ/), i, k, l, l (for /l̟/), ll (for /ʎ/), m, n, n (for /n̟/), ñ (for /ɲ/), ng (for /ŋ/), o, p, r, s(h), t, t (for /t̟/), tr (for /tʂ/), u, ü (for /ɨ/), w, and y.


  • Nouns in Mapudungun are grouped in two classes, animate and inanimate. This is e.g. reflected in the use of pu as a plural indicator for animate nouns and yuka as the plural for inanimate nouns. Chi (or ti) can be used as a definite animate article as in chi wentru 'the man' and chi pu wentru for 'the men'. The number kiñe 'one' serves as an indefinite article.
  • The personal pronouns distinguish three persons and three numbers; they are as follows: iñche 'I', iñchiw 'we (2)', iñchiñ 'we (more than 2)'; eymi 'you', eymu 'you (2)', eymün 'you (more than 2)'; fey 'he/she/it', feyengu 'they (2)', feyengün 'they (more than 2)'.
  • Possessive pronouns are related to the personal forms: ñi 'my; his, her; their', yu 'our (2)', 'our (more than 2)'; mi 'your', mu 'your (2)', mün 'your (more than 2)'. They are often found with a particle ta that does not seem to add anything specific to the meaning, e.g. tami 'your'.
  • Interrogative pronouns include iney 'who', chem 'what', chumül 'when', chew 'where', chum(ngechi) 'how' and chumngelu 'why'.
  • Numbers from 1 to 10 are as follows: 1 kiñe, 2 epu, 3 küla, 4 meli, 5 kechu, 6 kayu, 7 regle, 8 pura, 9 aylla, 10 mari; 20 epu mari, 30 küla mari, 110 (kiñe) pataka mari.
  • Verbs can be finite or non-finite (non-finite endings: -n, -el, -etew, -lu, -am, etc.), are intransitive or transitive and are conjugated according to person (first, second and third), number (singular, dual and plural), voice (active, agentless passive and reflexive-reciprocal, plus two applicatives) and mood (indicative, imperative and subjunctive). In the indicative, the present (zero) and future (-(y)a) tenses are distinguished. There are a number of aspects: the progressive, resultative and habitual are well established; some forms that seem to mark some subtype of perfect are also found. Other verb morphology includes an evidential marker (reportative-mirative), directionals (cislocative, translocative, andative and ambulative, plus an interruptive and continuous action marker) and modal markers (sudden action, faked action, immediate action, etc.). There is productive noun incorporation, and the case can be made for root compounding morphology.

The indicative present paradigm for an intransitive verb like konün 'enter' is as follows:

Singular Dual Plural
Person First konün (< kon-n) koniyu (< kon-i-i-u) koniyiñ (< kon-i-i-n)
Second konimi (< kon-i-m-i) konimu (< kon-i-m-u) konimün (< kon-i-m-n)
Third koni (< kon-i-0-0) koningu (< kon-i-ng-u) koningün (< kon-i-ng-n)

What some authors have described as an inverse system (similar to the ones described for Algonquian languages) can be seen from the forms of a transitive verb like pen 'see'. The 'intransitive' forms are the following:

Singular Dual Plural
Person First pen (< pe-n) peyu (< pe-i-i-u) peiñ (< pe-i-i-n)
Second peymi (< pe-i-m-i) peymu (< pe-i-m-u) peymün (< pe-i-m-n)
Third pey (< pe-i-0-0) peyngu (< pe-i-ng-u) peyngün (< pe-i-ng-n)

The 'transitive' forms are the following (only singular forms are provided here):

First Second Third
Patient First pewün (< pe-w-n) peen (< pe-e-n) peenew (< pe-e-n-mew)
Second peeyu (< pe-e-i-u) pewimu (< pe-w-i-m-u) peeymew (< pe-e-i-m-i-mew)
Third pefiñ (< pe-fi-n) pefimi (< pe-fi-i-m-i) DIR pefi / INV peeyew / REFL pewi (< pe-fi-i-0-0 / pe-e-i-0-0-mew / pe-w-i-0-0)

When a third peson interacts with a first or second person, the forms are either direct (without -e) or inverse (with -e) and the speaker has no choice. When two third persons interact, two different forms are available: the direct form (pefi) is appropriate when the agent is topical (i.e., the central figure in that particular passage). The inverse form (peenew) is appropriate when the patient is topical. Thus, chi wentru pefi chi domo means 'the man saw the woman' while chi wentru peeyew chi domo means something like 'the man was seen by the woman'; note, however, that it is not a passive construction; the passive would be chi wentru pengey 'the man was seen; someone saw the man'.

Studies of Mapudungun

Older works

The formalization and normalization of Mapudungun was effected by the first Mapudungun grammar published by the Jesuit priest Luis de Valdivia in 1606 (Arte y Gramatica General de la Lengva que Corre en Todo el Reyno de Chile). More important is the Arte de la Lengua General del Reyno de Chile by the Jesuit Andrés Febrés (1765, Lima) composed of a grammar and dictionary. In 1776 three volumes in Latin were published in Westfalia (Chilidúgú sive Res Chilenses) by the German Jesuit Bernardo Havestadt. The work by Febrés was used as a basic preparation from 1810 for missionary priests going into the regions occupied by the Mapuche people. A corrected version was completed in 1846 and a summary, without a dictionary in 1864. A work based on Febrés' book is the Breve Metodo della Lingua Araucana y Dizionario Italo-Araucano e Viceversa by the Italian Octaviano de Niza in 1888. It was destroyed in a fire at the Convento de San Francisco in Valdivia in 1928.

Modern works

  • Gramática mapuche bilingüe, by Félix José de Augusta, Santiago, 1903. [1990 reprint by Séneca, Santiago.]
  • Idioma mapuche, by Ernesto Wilhelm de Moesbach, Padre Las Casas, Chile: San Francisco, 1962.
  • El mapuche o araucano. Fonología, gramática y antología de cuentos, by Adalberto Salas, Madrid: MAPFRE, 1992.
  • El mapuche o araucano. Fonología, gramática y antología de cuentos, by Adalberto Salas, edited by Fernando Zúñiga, Santiago: Centro de Estudios Públicos, 2006. [2nd (revised) edition of Salas 1992.] ISBN 9567015414
  • A Mapuche grammar, by Ineke Smeets, Ph.D. dissertation, Leiden University, 1989.
  • Mapudungun, by Fernando Zúñiga, Munich: Lincom Europa, 2000. ISBN 3895869767
  • Mapudungun: El habla mapuche. Introducción a la lengua mapuche, con notas comparativas y un CD, by Fernando Zúñiga, Santiago: Centro de Estudios Públicos, 2006. ISBN 9567015406
  • A Grammar of Mapuche, by Ineke Smeets. Berlin / New York: Mouton de Gruyter, 2008. ISBN 9783110195583


  • Diccionario araucano, by Félix José de Augusta, 1916. [1996 reprint by Cerro Manquehue, Santiago.] ISBN 9567210179
  • Diccionario lingüístico-etnográfico de la lengua mapuche. Mapudungun-español-English, by María Catrileo, Santiago: Andrés Bello, 1995.
  • Diccionario comentado mapuche-español, by Esteban Erize, Bahía Blanca: Yepun, 1960.
  • Ranquel-español/español-ranquel. Diccionario de una variedad mapuche de la Pampa (Argentina), by Ana Fernández Garay, Leiden: CNWS (Leiden University), 2001. ISBN 9057890585
  • Diccionario ilustrado mapudungun-español-inglés, by Arturo Hernández and Nelly Ramos, Santiago: Pehuén, 1997.
  • Mapuche: lengua y cultura. Mapudungun-español-inglés, by Arturo Hernández and Nelly Ramos. Santiago: Pehuén, 2005. [5th (augmented) edition of their 1997 dictionary.]

Mapudungun language courses

  • Mapudunguyu 1. Curso de lengua mapuche, by María Catrileo, Valdivia: Universidad Austral de Chile, 2002.
  • Manual de aprendizaje del idioma mapuche: Aspectos morfológicos y sintácticos, by Bryan Harmelink, Temuco: Universidad de la Frontera, 1996. ISBN 9562360776

The most comprehensive works to date are the ones by Augusta (1903, 1916). Salas (1992, 2006) is an introduction for non-specialists, featuring an ethnographic introduction and a valuable text collection as well. Zúñiga (2006) includes a complete grammatical description, a bilingual dictionary, some texts and an audio CD with text recordings (educational material, a traditional folktale and six contemporary poems). Smeets (1989) and Zúñiga (2000) are for specialists only. Catrileo (1995) and the dictionaries by Hernández & Ramos are trilingual (Spanish, English and Mapudungun).

On Computing

  • In 2006, Microsoft Chile launched a version of the Windows operating system in Mapudungun.

Microsoft lawsuit

In late 2006, Mapuche leaders threatened to sue Microsoft when the latter completed a translation of their Windows operating system into Mapudungun. They claimed that Microsoft needed permission to do so and had not sought it.

External links


  • Aprueban alfabeto mapuche único (Oct 19, 1999). El Mercurio de Santiago.
  • Campbell, Lyle (1997) American Indian languages: The historical linguistics of Native America. New York: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-509427-1.
  • Gordon, Raymond G., Jr. (ed.) (2005) Ethnologue: Languages of the world. 15th ed. Dallas, TX: SIL International. ISBN 1-55671-159-X. (Online version:
  • Instituto Nacional de Estadística y Censos (2005) Encuesta Complementaria de Pueblos Indígenas (ECPI), 2004-2005 - Primeros resultados provisionales. Buenos Aires: INDEC. ISSN 0327-7968.


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