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Man keeps alive language thought to be extinct

The Chaná language, a native language of Argentina and Uruguay, was thought to be extinct for over 200 years. However, it has now been discovered that one man has been keeping it alive.

Unbeknown to the world Blas Jaime, an 89 year old Argentinian man, had kept the language from dying out. Thanks to the efforts of linguist Jose Pedro Viegas Barros, Jaime was discovered, and the pair have now authored a book together, dedicated to restoring the language.

I am here, I exist

Blas learnt the Chaná language from his mother, whose family has passed the language down through the generations. Growing up Blas’s mother would teach him the Chaná language and stories which she urged him to keep secret in order to ‘protect’ them. Decades later when Blas retired he sought out other Chaná people to chat and share the stories with he made the shocking discovery that no one else appeared to know the language. In fact scholars had actually considered the language extinct since 1815.

Blas who is now 89 said, “I exist. I am here,” which kicked off a new mission to preserve and resurrect the Chaná language, whilst also helping to placing the Indigenous group back on the map.

Over the past two decades Blas has worked closely with UNESCO, who helps preserves languages. Together with Viegas Barros, the pair have created a dictionary with over 1,000 words.

A country reconnecting with its roots

Argentina has a complex history that involves colonization, political upheaval, and cultural transformation that has led to a disconnect between modern-day Argentinians and their Indigenous roots. However Blas’s work has inspired many other Indigenous people in Argentina to to connect to their ancestry and history.

“Language is what gives you identity… If someone doesn’t have their language, they’re not a people.” said Blas

Blas Jaime has had his share of time in the spotlight along the way. From delivering a TED Talk to partnering with a coffee brand. There is also a recording of him bellowing in Chaná in downtown Buenos Aires as part of an artist project to honor Argentina’s Indigenous history.

“Chaná Language: From One Generation to the Next”

Image of Blas Jaime's daughter Evangelina Jaime
Evangelina Jaime, has learned Chaná from her father and is teaching it to others. Source: The New York Times

Blas Jaime’s daughter, Evangelina Jaime (46), has taken up the mantle of preserving the Chaná language and culture learned from her father, ensuring that this vital piece of cultural heritage is not lost. Although the exact number of Chaná people remaining in Argentina is uncertain, the efforts of Evangelina and others like her are helping to keep the Chaná language and culture alive and thriving.”

The Chaná are an Indigenous people who have lived along the Paraná River in what is now Argentina and Uruguay for approximately 2,000 years, according to archaeological evidence. The Chaná people cherished silence, viewing it as a source of wisdom and contemplation. They believed birds to be their spiritual guardians, embodying the link between the heavens and earth. They sang lullabies to their babies, such as ‘Utalá tapey-’é, uá utalá dioi,’ which translates to ‘sleep little one, the sun has gone to sleep.’

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