Two languages hold official status in Paraguay: Spanish and Guaraní. Spanish is an Ibero-Romance language that uses a 27-letter latin alphabet, including the extra ñ letter and the use of accent marks over vowels in certain words. Guaraní is an indigenous language that belongs to the Tupian language family. Its alphabet is primarily based on the Latin alphabet, although it excludes the letter “w”. Additionally, this language uses tildes over vowels in some words to express a nasal sound.

Approximately 87% of the population of Paraguay speaks Spanish as either a first or second language. In contrast, a larger percentage of the population speaks Guaraní, at 90%. Interestingly, Guaraní is the only native language in the Americas that is spoken by a large percentage of non-indigenous individuals. Generally speaking, native languages are used almost exclusively by indigenous peoples and not by those of European descent. At least half of the rural population in Paraguay uses Guaraní exclusively for their communication needs.

Because of the large number of Spanish-Guaraní bilingual individuals in Paraguay, many expressions used in this country tend to mix the two languages. For example, the Guaraní expression “haku etere’i” means “it’s hot”, whereas in Spanish the phrase would be “que calor”. One example of how Spanish and Guaraní may be mixed in everyday language is use of the phrase: tranquilopa. This phrase mixes the Spanish word “tranquilo” (meaning “calm”) and the Guaraní word “pa” (meaning everything) to say: “everything’s fine”.

In addition to Spanish and Guaraní, several other indigenous languages can be heard throughout Paraguay. In fact, linguists have identified at least 13 other native languages here, including: Maka, Nivaclé, Ayoreo, Aché, Toba-Maskoy, Toba Qom, Guana, Chamacoco, Sanapaná, Iyo’Wujwa Chorote, Lengua, Pai Tavytera, and Ñandeva. Researchers estimate that a combined total of approximately 50,000 individuals speak at least one of these languages. Other minority languages in Paraguay are primarily immigrant languages and include: Italian, Portuguese, Plautdietsch, and German.

This page was last modified on May 1st, 2018

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