Tehuelche language

Native to Argentina
Ethnicity Tehuelche people
Native speakers
At least 1 fluent (2012)[1]
  • Chon proper

    • Continental Chon
      • Tehuelche
Language codes
ISO 639-3 teh
Glottolog tehu1242[2]

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.

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.

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. 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.


Main article: Chonan languages

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 tʃˀ
voiced b d ɡ b
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. "Recovering Process of the Tehuelche Language", aonekFILMS, 2012. Retrieved on 24 December 2013.
  2. Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin; Bank, Sebastian, eds. (2016). "Tehuelche". Glottolog 2.7. Jena: Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History.

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