Southern South America
Geographic location: Brazil, Paraguay, Argentina
Number of Languages: 48
Number of Genetic Units: 20
Genetic Index: .417
Endangerment Index: 3.28
Research Index: to be determined
Threat Level: high
map of SSA


The Southern South America Hotspot holds a large number of indigenous languages from different genetic units. These languages are threatened by government policies that force tribes to leave traditional ways of life, settling nomadic groups on reservations and destroying natural ecosystems for economic gain. Speakers of small indigenous languages in this Hotspot are shifting to speaking Spanish or larger indigenous languages, such as Guaraní.

One small language is Aché, spoken in eastern Paraguay. This language is related to Guaraní, which is one of the two official languages of Paraguay; the other official language is Spanish. Aché, though, is a separate language spoken by a distinct group of people. Aché speakers lived as hunter-gatherers until the 1970s, before contact with outsiders led to epidemics that killed half their population.  Shortly after that, the Paraguayan government forced the Aché people to settle on reservations.  Aché speakers today continue to forage in the woods for food. Due to their close interaction with the natural world, Aché speakers have a rich vocabulary of words about forest life. These words could be lost as the Aché life loses its connection to the forest.

Languages and genetic units in this hotspot:

  1. Arawakan
  2. Aymaran
  3. Bororô
  4. Botocudo
  5. Chapacuran
  6. Ge-Kaingang
  7. Germanic
  8. Guaicuruan
  9. Guato
  10. Mascoian
  11. Matacoan
  12. Maxakalí
  13. Nambiquara
  14. Opaye
  15. Quechuan
  16. Romance
  17. Tupi-Guaraní
  18. Uru-Chipaya
  19. Vilela
  20. Zamucoan
  1. Aché
  2. Aymara
  3. Ayoreo
  4. Bororô
  5. Cafundo Creole
  6. Chamacoco
  7. Chipaya
  8. Chiripá
  9. Guana
  10. Guaraní Paraguayan
  11. Guaraní, Eastern Bolivian
  12. Guaraní, Western Bolivian
  13. Guato
  14. Guarayu
  15. Iyo’wujwa Chorote
  16. Iyowa’ja Chorote
  17. Kabixi
  18. Kadiweu
  19. Kaingang
  20. Kaiwa
  21. Krenak
  22. Lengua
  23. Maca
  24. Maxakalí
  25. Mbyá Guaraní
  26. Mocovi
  27. Nambiquara, Southern
  28. Nivaclé
  29. Ofayé
  30. Parecis
  31. Pai Tavytera
  32. Pilaga
  33. Plautdietsch
  34. Portuguese
  35. Quechua, Santiago del Estero
  36. Quechua, South Bolivian
  37. Sanapaná
  38. Spanish
  39. Tapieté
  40. Terêna
  41. Toba
  42. Toba-Maskoy
  43. Vilela
  44. Wichí Lhamtés Güisnay
  45. Wichí Lhamtés Nocten
  46. Wichí Lhamtés Vejoz
  47. Xetá
  48. Xokleng

Click here to download list of languages

Endangered languages include:

  • Chorote, Iyojwa’ja ( < 800 speakers, Matacoan, spoken in Argentina, Bolivia, and Paraguay)
  • Guató ( < 50 speakers, Guato, spoken in Brazil)
  • Kabixi (100 speakers, Chapacuran, spoken in Brazil)
  • Krenak ( < 80 speakers, Botocudo, spoken in Brazil)
  • Maxakalí ( < 750 speakers, Maxakalí, spoken in Brazil)
  • Ofayé ( < 20 speakers, Opaye, spoken in Brazil)
  • Tapiéte ( < 200 speakers, Tupi-Guaraní, spoken in Paraguay, Argentina and Bolivia)
  • Vilela ( < 2 speakers, Vilela, spoken in Argentina)
  • Xokleng ( < 250 speakers, Ge-Kaingang, spoken in Brazil)

Some features of languages include:


  • Nempeyveescamoo means 'to do something correctly' in Lengua (Paraguay, 6,705 speakers)

  • Lengua (Paraguay, 6,705 speakers) uses a counting system with words for one, two, and three, and hands and feet.


Lengua dice game

Lenguas of Paraguay playing the dice game Hstáwa. Reproduced from Hawtrey, Seymour H. C. (1901). The Lengua indians of the Paraguayan Chaco. Journal of the Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland 31: 280-299.


Hawtrey, Seymour H. C. 1901. The Lengua indians of the Paraguayan Chaco. Journal of the Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland. 31: 280-299.

Kim, Hill A. and Magdalena Hurtado. 1996. Ache Life History: the Ecology and Demography of a Foraging People. New Jersey: Aldine Transaction.