“Celebrating Paraguay’s Indigenous Language”
Maitei, che réra Cecilia Andrea Pick Gómez, che paraguaigua ha che ahayhu Guarani ñe’ê. Che temimbo’e tetã Kansas State University-gua.
Are you curious about what the previous sentences mean? They are in Guarani, one of the two mother tongues of my country.
I said, “Hello, my name is Cecilia Andrea Pick Gómez, I am Paraguayan, and I love Guarani. I am an international student at Kansas State University.” More specifically, I am a junior majoring in English Literature and Elementary Education.
Already my name reveals that, as many Paraguayans, I am a child of multiple languages and cultures. One of my grandmothers was Italian hence my name is an Italian one. Usually people from Latin America have two last names, the first is from the father and the second from their mother. I have a grandfather from Germany, which is why Pick is one of my last names. My other grandparents are from Paraguay, which is why my Hispanic last name is Gómez. Moving to the United States to study allowed me to appreciate the multi-cultural and multi-linguistic archive of my country and family, as I speak Spanish, English, and Guarani. Although I am not as fluent in Guarani as I am in Spanish, but I can read, write, and communicate in the Indigenous language pretty well.
However, I find that multilingualism is under-encouraged and underappreciated. According to the United Nations, at least 43% of all languages in the world are endangered. Every two weeks a language disappears, along with its cultural and intellectual heritage (“International Mother Language Day 21 February”). Paraguay is a bilingual country where Spanish is spoken along with Guarani. In fact, bilingualism has been politically and culturally enforced, which in my opinion is a positive step towards the preservation and promotion of Guarani. As a result, Paraguay is the country with the largest population of non-native speakers of an Indigenous language. To Paraguayans, Guarani is more than a language— it is crucial to our identity. For that reason, we celebrate it and want to prevent it from becoming endangered.
The Guaranies are a South American Indigenous tribe who currently live in Paraguay. Archaeological remains date the Guaranies to the Fifth Century in Uruguay, from where they migrated north by the twelfth century. Two different theories exist about the origin of the name Guarani. The first suggests it derived from the war cry “guará-ny” that the Spanish heard and recorded, and which can be translated to “fight them.” The second holds that the name comes from the word “guairini” which means “war,” stressing again the tribe’s warrior attitudes.
Approximately 90% of the Paraguayan population speaks Guarani, and 27% are monolingual in Guarani. The country has been able to preserve the Native language because it is taught in every school. However, Guarani was not always as appreciated as it is today. With the European conquest, the language suffered as the Spanish monarchy ordered the Franciscan missionaries to begin a process of Castilianization, which forced Native people to give up their language and adopt Spanish instead. Even after Paraguay’s independence in 1811, the Indigenous language failed to receive the recognition it deserved. The government chose Spanish as the official language, so Guarani was not taught in schools and Native children were forced to speak, read and write in Spanish.
Finally, in 1967, Guarani was declared a national language. Making Guarani a national language was not enough, however. In 1992 Guarani became one of the official languages of Paraguay alongside Spanish. As a result, Guarani became a mandatory subject in every school. In fact, my journey with Guarani started at a young age, probably in first grade. Hearing Paraguayans speak Spanish can therefore be an unusual experience because we love to mix Spanish and Guarani. This code-meshing is common and socially encouraged. Before colonization, Guarani was an oral language without an alphabetic script. The Jesuit missionaries were the pioneers in writing Guarani by using the Latin alphabet. However, Native speakers developed their own “acheguety” (alphabet) based on Latin that fits the needs of the language better. This alphabet fascinates me: it has twelve vowels and some consonants consist of two combined consonants. Our alphabet was officially adopted in 1950 and used to read and write in Guarani:
Thanks to these radical language politics today, Guarani is not limited to certain geographic or social regions and groups, but almost every Paraguayan is able to speak it. Yet even if both official languages are promoted, Guarani still does not hold the same social position as Spanish. Spanish is mostly used by the government, the press, the educational system, and the upper classes. Although some of the most important government documents are translated to Guarani, many are still written exclusively in Spanish. Mostly spoken in casual settings, Guarani has stronger roots in rural areas and among the lower class. Celebrating Indigenous languages like Guarani is a way to appreciate cultural differences and promote historical awareness. While European languages often dominate our worlds, it is important to value and fight for Indigenous languages. I am proud to be Paraguayan, and that means that che ahayhu Guarani (I love Guarani).