Lee este artículo en español.
I was very much oblivious to the existence of the Mapuche people. I didn’t care at all or, worse, I repudiated the attacks on farmers, generally of German descent, that live in Chile, in areas that were mapuche.
I only began to have some interest because I began a new relationship and my boyfriend happened to be mapuche. He wasn’t interested in his culture either, but then he told me something that intrigued me: his grandparents didn’t speak spanish, just a few words; his parents were bilingual; he didn’t speak mapudungun at all, just a few scattered words.
Of course, that’s a well known fact to linguists, but to me it was new and shocking. The rapid loss of languages is a phenomenon that has happened all over the world and, with the exception of a few successes, it is generally irreversible. Can it be reversed in this case? I hope it can, but my hope is not without apprehension. Part of that apprehension comes from the fact that many people learning mapudungun do so in their twenties. It’s a lot harder to learn a language at that age, and more so taking into account the tremendous difference between mapudungun1 and Spanish grammar.
Also, it seems to me that many people do not know the inherent danger of the current situation, in which older people are now bilingual, middle age people are monolingual Spanish speakers, some younger people are learning, but it is unknown if in large enough numbers, and precious few children learn mapudungun.