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Documention of the Pilagá language


Language Pilagá
Depositor Alejandra Vidal
Affiliation Consejo Nacional de Investigaciones Científicas y Técnicas
Location Argentina
Collection ID 0092
Grant ID FTG0015
Funding Body ELDP
Collection Status Collection online
Landing Page Handle


Summary of the collection

This collection is the result of a language documentation project investigating the lexicon of a language without written tradition. Based on recordings, glossed texts and an extensive lexical database, the collection contains a Pilagá-Spanish bilingual dictionary with grammatical information, usage examples and audio recordings for each entry. For Pilagá, a language at risk of shift, the dictionary will serve as a tool to empower Pilagá speakers and help with the revitalization of their native languages in their minority community.


Group represented

 This collection represents members of the Pilagá-speaking community. There are about 4,000 Pilagá speakers in the Patiño and Bermejo districts in the province of Formosa. They are distributed into two separate areas with dialectal differences: the Pilagá of the Bañado and the Pilagá of Navagán.

In 1988, when Alejandra Vidal began her research, Pilagá was the language used among the adult population. In the early 2000s, Pilagá still enjoyed a good level of vitality, being the first language children acquired before starting school. However, Formosa’s Ministry of Education had not developed key bilingual educational programs or curriculum for the Pilagá. Moreover, only a few schools had Pilagá-speaking aides working together with certified teachers as translators. In addition to team teaching, one school offered Pilagá for one hour every day. However, the program was rather ineffective for lack of scope or sequence for Pilagá instruction and for lack of didactic material.

Even though Pilagá use in daily communication between adults connoted solidarity, younger speakers code-switch between Pilagá and Spanish, apparently to fill gaps in their knowledge of Pilagá. One reason for their performance in Pilagá is the largely monolingual Spanish education. Another reason might be the potential discrepancy between what people think about their language and what they actually do with it. For example, adults pass Pilagá on to young children and explicitly acknowledge that Pilagá is central to their identity. Yet, linguistic pride and transmission is contradicted by many adults’ decision to send their children not to their own community school but to the town’s elementary school, attended dominantly by mestizos or criollos. Some Pilagá parents also believe that their children do not need to learn Pilagá at school to cope in a society with totally different values and disregard for indigenous languages.


Language information

The Argentine Chaco languages are linguistically diverse and show differing degrees of vitality. They are distributed among the Guaraní, Mataco-Mataguaya, and Guaycuruan families. Pilagá belongs to the Guaycuruan family, together with Mocoví, Toba, and Caduveo. All are spoken in the Greater Chaco region: Mocoví, Toba, and Pilagá in Argentina; and, Caduveo in Brazil. The Greater Chaco extends over almost one million square kilometres – half of it in Argentinian territory and the rest in Paraguay, Bolivia, and Brazil.

Anthropologists and linguists began to study the Pilagá language and culture in the 1950s. The anthropologist Idoyaga Molina carried out ethnological studies between 1985 and 1995. The first lexicographical study compares Toba and Pilagá vocabulary (Bruno and Najlis, 1965) although their linguistic and cultural information was scarce. Dell’Arciprete and Messineo (1993a) conducted a comparative study of the Toba and Pilagá lexicon based on kinship terms and toponyms. Kirtchuk (1992) first attempted to explore the Pilagá grammar. This contains various verbal and nominal paradigms and sentences in Pilagá but is not an overall view of the grammar. The first systematic study of grammar in all of its subsystems (phonological, morphological, and syntactical) is in Vidal (1994a, 1994b, 1995, 1996, 1997a, 1997b, 1997c, 2001). Vidal and Klein (1998, 2002) discuss specific topics in the grammar of southern Guaykuruan languages.


Collection contents

This collection contains a bilingual Pilagá-Spanish dictionary with grammatical, dialectal and usage information as well as audio examples and illustrations. It is based on a collection of texts and two databases created by Alejandra Vidal in her previous research. In addition, Alejandra Vidal together with community member research assistants and consultants added new lexical entries and expanded existing lexical entries with ethnographic information. The lexical entries contain the following information:

  • lexeme
  • part of speech
  • verb class
  • classifier type
  • lexical gender (for nouns and adjectives)
  • alternative forms
  • lexical field
  • glosses in Spanish
  • example
  • example translation
  • cross reference (to other lexical entries)
  • additional grammatical and/or pragmatic information
  • dialectal information
  • ethnographic information
  • audio file


Collection history

Alejandra Vidal previously conducted linguistic research on Pilagá as part of her doctoral research. Between 1997 and 1999, she carried out long-term research in several Pilagá communities, collecting eighty-six texts, word lists, and sentences totalling fifty hours of recording during fourteen workshops and elicitation sessions. After completing her doctoral degree, she returned to Argentina, where she holds a research and teaching position divided between the National Council of Research and Technology of Argentina (CONICET) and the University of Formosa. She continued to do research on Pilagá. In 2004, she started preparing a pedagogical grammar of Pilagá with financial support from the Foundation of Endangered Languages.


Other information

Copies of the dictionary were distributed in the Pilagá communities, local schools, and libraries. Additional copies of the digital tapes are archived at the University of Formosa library. Analog copies of the dictionary were given to the Federación Pilagá organization.


Acknowledgement and citation

To refer to any data from the collection, please cite as follows:

Vidal, Alejandra. 2009. Documention of the Pilagá language. Endangered Languages Archive. Handle: Accessed on [insert date here].

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