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Documentation and description of paraguayan Ayoreo, a language of the Chaco

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Language Ayoreo (ISO639-3:ayo)
Depositor Santiago Gabriel Durante
Affiliation CAICYT – CONICET
Location Paraguay
Collection ID 0296
Grant ID IGS0205
Funding Body ELDP
Collection Status Collection online
Landing Page Handle


Blog posts

A Day in the Field- Santiago Durante 

Project Highlight: Ayoreo Publication 


Summary of the collection

Ayoreo [ayo] is a Zamucoan language with approximately 4,000 speakers in Bolivia and 2,600 speakers in Paraguay. The language remains underdescribed, specially the Paraguayan varieties.

This project will initiate a documentation of the Ayoreo spoken in Campo Loro, Paraguay by recording and annotating a range of culturally significant text materials in collaboration with the community. The main outcome will be completion of my doctoral thesis, which will include an Ayoreo sketch grammar with a detailed analysis of its clause structure and the production of materials for community use.


Group represented

This collection represents members of Campo Loro community, Boquerón Department, Paraguay.
The Ayoreo have been historically divided in numerous partialities: Garaigosode (‘people of the palm grove’), Tiegosode (‘people of the lake’), Totobiegosode (‘people of the wood’) and Ducodegosode (the translation of this ethnonym is lost). Once great enemies, in present days they live together in communities like Campo Loro. There are about 4000 speakers in Bolivia and 2600 in Paraguay (Fabre 2005). The community of Campo Loro is composed by 350 families. It represents the largest Ayoreo settlement in Paraguay.

There is evidence of contact with Ayoreos since the 18th century. Jesuit Father Ignacio Chomé wrote a text called Arte de la Lengua Zamuca near 1745 (the text is not dated) based on his experience in the reservation San Ignacio de Zamucos, founded in 1717 (Bartolomé 2000). This is considered not to be clearly Ayoreo or Chamacoco, it is often referred as Ancient Zamuco (Bertinetto 2009). From the departure of the Jesuits in late 18th century until the 20th century very few contacts have been attested.

The forced contacts between the members of Campo Loro community and non-Ayoreo religious groups are very recent (between the late 1960’s and the early 1980’s), which means that the elders have a vivid memory of life before contact with the cojñone (white men). The majority of Campo Loro’s elder population belongs ancestrally to Cerro León, in the current Department of Alto Paraguay. This community is facing deep religious and cultural changes that threaten their own identity.


Language information

Ayoreo [ayo] is a Zamucoan language with approximately 4,000 speakers in Bolivia and 2,600 in Paraguay.

Whereas there is a large production of anthropological work on the Ayoreos (Perasso 1987, Von Bremen 1994, Bartolomé 2000, etc), the linguistic bibliography is rather scarce. Two publications appear in the sixties: a vocabulary based on the already mentioned work of Father Chomé (Lussagnet 1961) and a paper called La lengua de los ayoweos-moros (Susnik 1963). In 1980 a simplified grammar was published by the religious group New Tribes Mission (VV.AA. 1980). It is based on the Ayoreo language spoken in Bolivia.

Ayoreo is spoken in the Gran Chaco area, a large territory of almost one million kilometres between Argentina, Paraguay, Bolivia and a small part of Brazil (Bartolomé 2000). It has various natural environments (Chaco oriental húmedo, Chaco central semiárido and Chaco occidental árido) and is rich in terms of biodiversity. Almost 40 indigenous groups inhabit this space. They belong to the following families: Guaycuru, Mataco-mataguayan, Lule-Vilela, Tupi-Guaraní, Lengua-Mascoy, and Zamuco (Golluscio & Vidal 2009-10).

The only two Zamucoan languages, Chamacoco [cgo] and Ayoreo [ayo], are spoken in the northeastern Chaco. Ayoreo people are settled in Bolivia and Paraguay, between Grande river and Paraguay river. In Bolivia they live in Santa Cruz de la Sierra Department and in Paraguay they are located in the Departments of Alto Paraguay and Boquerón (Fabre 2005).

The language is classified as ‘definitely endangered’ by the UNESCO’s Atlas of the World’s Languages in Danger (Moseley 2010). Almost everyone in Campo Loro speaks Ayoreo as their first language but the presence of Spanish in the community is spreading, due to an ongoing process of transculturisation. Young people tend to prefer Spanish over their native language because of the better socioeconomic opportunities of the near cities (Filadelfia, Loma Plata and Neuland). Today it is still possible to find some monolingual elders. These subjects still remember and sometimes engage in old rituals and say prayers. It is extremely important to document these cultural practices since they are gradually being lost.

Newer generations often do not understand this practices or the possibly previous state of language they show. Formal education in the community is another problem for the maintenance of their native language. Primary school is divided in two classes: one of children between six and eight years and another with children between nine and eleven years. The first class is held in Ayoreo but the second is exclusively in Spanish. This has a negative effect on the language use and self-appreciation of younger generations.


Collection contents

When completed, the collection will include

  • audio and video formats, including ancestral songs sung by elders, childhood and youth stories from elders, and everyday social interactions
  • transcriptions and translations into Spanish and English
  • time-aligned transcriptions, with morpheme-by-morpheme glossing and a free translation for part of recordings
  • a book of stories for community use and a bilingual (Ayoreo and Spanish) book of childhood and youth memories to help with the maintenance of the community’s memory
  • a PhD thesis based on a variety of natural textual productions in Ayoreo and including a sketch grammar of Ayoreo as well as a detailed analysis of the syntax of Ayoreo with emphasis on clause combining and multi-verb constructions
  • metadata


Collection history

The materials in this collection were gathered and prepared between 2013 and 2016 by Santiago Gabriel Durante during his PhD research funded by an ELDP Individual Graduate Scholarship.


Acknowledgement and citation

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

Durante, Santiago Gabriel. 2014. Documentation and description of paraguayan Ayoreo, a language of the Chaco. Endangered Languages Archive. Handle: Accessed on [insert date here].

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