The sociopolitical linguistic landscape in Paraguay is unique, complex, and even contradictory. Unlike many languages indigenous to Latin America, the bulk of which have disappeared since European colonization, the Guaraní language has survived for centuries across various contexts and became an official language of Paraguay in 1992.a While other indigenous languages in the region have also gained legitimate status, most notably Quechua and Aymara in Peru and Bolivia, their use is largely limited to indigenous populations ([Gynan 2007]). By contrast, Guaraní is spoken by the majority (over 80%) of Paraguayans,b most of whom are mestizos, with a mixture of European and Amerindian ancestry. Despite Guaraní’s widespread use and official status, Spanish is dominant in official domains such as public administration, schooling, mass media, business, and commerce. In the context of education, although the majority of Paraguayan children, especially in rural areas, speak Guaraní natively, the language of instruction is predominantly Spanish. With Spanish being the dominant language in official domains, it is essential for Paraguayan children to learn Spanish. Yet, without Guaraní in the classroom, it is difficult for Guaraní-speaking children to learn Spanish and other academic content taught in Spanish as well as for the teachers to teach. Indeed, among language experts, it is generally agreed that education should be received in learners’ mother tongues to best enhance overall academic performance as well as second language acquisition ([Benson 2002]; [Brisk 2006]; Bühmann and [Trudell 2008]; [Cummins 2009]; [He 2012]; [Trudell 2012]). Several attempts have been made to implement Guaraní-Spanish bilingual education at the policy level, but these attempts have largely failed—Paraguayans are not bilingually educated yet for a variety of reasons.
Through interviews with 39 Paraguayan adults (16 parents, 16 teachers, 3 intellectuals, and 4 policy makers), this paper examines issues undermining the implementation of Guaraní-Spanish bilingual education in Paraguayan classrooms. With these issues in mind, a context is theorized wherein we might imagine an adequate implementation of Guaraní-Spanish bilingual education. To contextualize interviews, I provide a historical background, explain language ideologies and diglossia, discuss instrumental and integrative values of language, and review previous relevant studies in the following sections preceding my own analysis.
This section describes how Guaraní has survived for centuries across various contexts, through Spanish colonization and social exclusion, to finally become an official language. As depicted below, a number of factors and historical events have influenced Paraguay’s language policies as well as Guaraní’s survival.
Possible reasons for the survival of Guaraní
There are several explanations for the survival of Guaraní, one of which concerns Paraguayan geography. The country is surrounded by the Paraguayan and the Parana Rivers, running from the Atlantic to the eastern foothills of the Andes. This geographical factor has helped Paraguay avoid external invasions, massive immigration, and assimilative cultural influences, though the use of Guaraní has not been solely limited within the territories between the two rivers ([Fogelquist 1950]).
Another possible reason for the language’s survival is through the phenomenon of “mestizaje,” a blending of Spanish and Guaraní roots and culture as a result of unions between Spanish males and Guaraní females. In the initial period of Spanish settlement, Guaraní rooted itself as the principal language for the majority of the Paraguayan population as the mestizos born between Spanish fathers and indigenous mothers grew up with the language of the mother, Guaraní. In 1570, while the population of pure Spaniards was only 300, that of mestizos was 10,000 (Gómez ).
Concerning language and culture, most indigenous speakers within Latin America have had to do one of two things: (1) turn from their roots to culturally and linguistically assimilate into the dominant sociolinguistic hegemony or (2) cling to their roots and become culturally and linguistically isolated. Paraguayans have had to do neither. Having European blood, the Guaraní-speaking mestizos were regarded as more “white” than “indigenous,” and therefore, they were not discriminated against as much as other indigenous language speakers in Latin America (Gómez ). In fact, Guaraní has become very much a part of the dominant sociolinguistic hegemony as the language is widely spoken even in the capital of Asunción and amongst the upper class.
Apart from Paraguayan geography and mestizaje, the contribution of Franciscan and Jesuit missionaries is invariably noted as a critical element in the survival of Guaraní. The Franciscans initiated their work in 1575, constructing their “Reducciones” (Christian mission villages) in the territory near Asunción. In the villages, Guaraní was the dominant language. The Jesuits arrived in Paraguay in 1587 and also founded Reducciónes (Gómez ). The Jesuits studied and created a written form of Guaraní and made it the only official language in the Jesuit provinces. All communication was conducted exclusively in Guaraní: teaching, religious practice, administration, and literary work (Villagra-[Batoux 2002]). The presence of the Franciscans and the Jesuits was a major linguistic bulwark for supporting the use of Guaraní rather than Spanish.
Early political stances toward Guaraní
The political attitude toward Guaraní has fluctuated throughout Paraguayan history, largely dependent on ruling political leaders and prevailing sociopolitical contexts. Following the expulsion of the Jesuits in 1767, the Paraguayan government declared the enactment of “castellanización” (Spanishization/Hispanization). After independence from Spain in 1811, Fernando de la Mora, a political leader who had been inspired by a Rousseauian Enlightenment education, advocated for Spanish as the sole language of instruction. However, when the first President of Paraguay José Gaspar Rodríguez de Francia came to office in 1814, he expelled many Spanish-speaking elites, including Fernando de la Mora, and promoted primary education in Guaraní in order to unite the nation and secure his dictatorship ([Cooney 1983]). On the contrary, Carlos Antonio López, the next dictator and the first president after the 1844 constitution, reinstated Spanish as the official language in education and made obligatory the printing of all publications in Spanish. He considered Spanish language acquisition essential for Paraguay to introduce modern culture and advance national development, while he regarded Guaraní as a useless barbaric language (Villagra-[Batoux 2002]).
The sociolinguistic landscape changed during the War of the Triple Alliance against Argentina, Brazil and Uruguay from 1864 to 1870. The significance of Guaraní as a symbol of national identity and an information tool for transmitting secret orders in the war was reexamined. After the War of the Triple Alliance, the language policy shifted, and Guaraní was reframed as an obstacle to national development. In the postwar era, children in Asunción were prohibited to learn Guaraní at school ([Rubin 1968]). It was during the Chaco War against Bolivia in 1932–1935 that Guaraní once again attracted political attention. As was the case with the War of the Triple Alliance, the language was appreciated as a symbol of national identity as well as a strategic tool ([Engelbrecht and Ortiz 1983]). After the Chaco War, Paraguay’s language policies continued to vary, depending on the political regime and conditions.
Language policies from Stroessner’s dictatorship to the present day
During the Stroessner administration from 1954 through 1989, the Guaraní language was considered a national symbol of unification and patriotism. However, the language policy did not intend to promote Guaraní politically. Although the National Constitution in 1967 declared both Guaraní and Spanish as co-national languages, only Spanish received the prestigious status of an official language (Republic of [Paraguay 1967]). Guaraní was still discriminated against as it was excluded from administrative, judicial, and commercial spheres. In 1973, the Stroessner administration enacted transitional bilingual education called the Programa de Educación Bilingüe (Bilingual Education Program), which recommended oral instruction in Guaraní in the first cycle of primary education in rural areas. However, it was in reality a program of hispanicizing Guaraní monolingual children: it intended to quickly teach students Spanish which then became the principal language of learning (Corvalán ; [Engelbrecht and Ortiz 1983]; Gómez ; Pic-[Gillard 2004]).
After the fall of the Stroessner government in 1989, as part of the process of democratization, along with Spanish, Guaraní became recognized as an official language by the New National Constitution in 1992. The New Educational Reform of the same year requires the teaching of both Guaraní and Spanish in school. Later, Guaraní established its position as an official language by means of the Plan de Educación Bilingüe (Bilingual Education Plan) in 1994 and the Ley General de Educación (General Education Law) in 1998. Unlike the Bilingual Education Program in the 1970s, the 1994 Bilingual Education Plan aims to “bilingualize” instead of “hispanicize” all the Paraguayan population between 15 and 35 years old by 2020. The General Education Law assures that students receive education in their mother tongue. Paraguay’s Ministry of Education recognized that Spanish submersion or transitional programs for monolingual Guaraní students were ineffective, exacerbating problems of absenteeism and illiteracy ([Gynan 1999]).
Nonetheless, Paraguayan public education today has not much changed from decades past. As [López (2009)] describes, the national educational system is only partially bilingual and Spanish remains the predominant language of instruction. Pic-[Gillard (2004]) warns against the bilingual model proposed by Paraguay’s Ministry of Education being similar to the transitional bilingual model in 1973: teachers as well as parents continue to privilege and teach Spanish over Guaraní at school and home. Furthermore, many seem to believe that Paraguay should abandon Guaraní and focus on learning Spanish as a language of wider communication for Paraguay’s national development (Centurión ).
The issue is that the bilingual language policy, coupled with Spanish-only language practice in official realms, has failed to improve either the quality of education or Spanish proficiency (Pic-[Gillard 2004]). Despite the country’s 90% net enrolment rate at the primary education level (UNESCO, ), its dropout rate is high and less than 30% of students who enrol in the first grade of primary school complete high school due to linguistic as well as socioeconomic reasons (Peralta, Misiego, and [Prieto 2011]). This fact raises an interesting pair of interrelated questions: Do Guaraní speakers drop out of schools because the education system fails to properly teach them Spanish? Or, do they drop out because the education system fails to properly teach them in their native tongue? If, as [Gynan (2007]) argues, Paraguay’s high rates of absenteeism and early dropout are attributed to the dominant use of Spanish in the classroom (e.g., literacy instruction in Spanish), why do teachers not use more Guaraní as the language of instruction? Why, despite the officialization of Guaraní and the introduction of bilingual education, does Guaraní continue to have a low profile in the education system? Some scholars speculate the existence of an underlying ideology—Spanish is socioeconomically more important than Guaraní—that thwarts the use of Guaraní in classroom ([Caballero 2008]; [Hauck 2009]; [Ito 2010]; [Mortimer 2006]). This language ideology can be better understood through the lens of diglossia, the existence of two languages whereby one has a more privileged function in certain domains.
This section reviews relevant linguistic theoretical literature and previous research studies on Paraguay’s bilingual education system to situate my work with the larger context of language policy in education. I first touch upon the theories of diglossia, instrumental and integrative values of language, language legitimation and institutionalization, and second language acquisition (SLA) theory before reviewing other researchers’ prior studies.
In the theory of diglossia, the language with more formal functions and higher prestige is called the language of high variety (H) as opposed to the language of low variety (L), with informal functions and lower prestige. For instance, H is used in public administration, schooling, mass media, business, and commerce, while L is used within the context of home and family, social and cultural activities in the community, and correspondence with relations and friends ([Baker 2006]). Given that H is used in official domains, the speakers of H benefit socioeconomically from their ability to speak that language while the speakers of L are disadvantaged. Consequently, the speakers of L start favoring and learning H, usually to the detriment of L.
Paraguay’s bilingual situation is diglossic with Spanish being H and Guaraní being L ([Fishman 1967]; [Hudson 2002]); albeit Guaraní has obtained the same official status as Spanish. Hence, Spanish speakers will continue to use Spanish in official contexts while Guaraní speakers will strive to learn and support Spanish as well. These circular processes from diglossia to ideology and vice versa through language use and attitudes perpetuate asymmetrical power relations between H, Spanish (and its speakers) and L, Guaraní (and its speakers). How do we interpret this peculiar diglossia in the context of the Paraguayan sociolinguistic climate?
Instrumental and integrative values of languages
There are two language values that may influence language use and attitudes: instrumental value and integrative value. These language values are often unconscious. Although these two terms are not easily defined, the instrumental value of language is largely socioeconomic, while integrative value is principally sociocultural. As [Brisk (2006], 83) explains, “[I]ndividuals with integrative motivation want to learn the language to socialize and share in the culture of the speakers of that language. Learners with instrumental motivation have practical reasons for learning language.” Yet, these definitions are variable, and the boundary between them is often unclear. For instance, [Wright (2004], 5) argues that, while indigenous languages “can still rightly be regarded as carriers of traditional affect, it would be a serious distortion to view them as the sole repositories of emotional attachment, or social and cultural allegiance.” In other words, indigenous languages (e.g., Guaraní) can have instrumental values. In Latin America, for example, despite its sociopolitical prestige and functions, former colonial languages, such as Spanish and Portuguese, may already be detached from the colonial context in many respects, possibly because Latin America gained independence in the early nineteenth century and the majority of Latin Americans have spoken the former colonial languages for generations. That is to say, Spanish and Portuguese have become engrained in Latin American cultures. Likewise, indigenous languages, especially those with millions of speakers like Guaraní, can possess instrumental value. [Wright (2004], 6) argues that indigenous languages “are obviously languages of commercial interaction, intellectual debate, and social aspiration within their own speech communities. There is also the commercial utility of multilingualism to consider both within and across speech.” It is, therefore, inappropriate to claim that only some languages have instrumental value, whereas other languages have integrative values because languages can, and usually do, possess both values.
Despite its potential instrumental value, Paraguayans tend to disassociate Guaraní with socioeconomic development because Guaraní monolinguals are often academically and socioeconomically disadvantaged. This is a typical argument in the debate over Guaraní’s importance. While many Guaraní proponents tend to emphasize the language’s integrative value as a symbol of national identity, Guaraní opponents point out its lack of instrumental value (Centurión ). As the Japan International Cooperation [Agency (2004]) reports, many Paraguayan parents and teachers in both rural and urban areas feel that education in Guaraní is inferior to education in Spanish. Parents are particularly concerned that learning Guaraní or learning in Guaraní could be detrimental to Spanish language acquisition, which will disadvantage their children educationally and socioeconomically. This suggests their preference for languages with instrumental value over languages with integrative value. In the context of Paraguay, Spanish’s instrumental value over Guaraní has perpetuated Spanish’s superordination, despite Paraguayans’ cultural affinity toward Guaraní.
Legitimation and institutionalization of language
Legitimation of language refers to giving a language legal status as part of language policy, while institutionalization of language is to translate the language policy into practice. The aforesaid Quechua and Aymara, for example, have been granted official status and thus are legitimized but have not been institutionalized. [May (2008]) explains that for a language to be institutionalized, it has to be perceived as a common language used in a wide range of socio-cultural contexts and both official and unofficial domains. French in Canada is an example of the institutionalization of a language. What about Guaraní in Paraguay? Guaraní has been given legitimate status as an official language. Given its widespread use and official status, some say that Guaraní has become institutionalized while others say that the language remains to be institutionalized. From my perspective, Guaraní is “stuck” somewhere between legitimation and institutionalization. As the diglossia in Paraguay reveals, Guaraní has not yet been fully used in official domains. Despite Guaraní’s government-recognized status and the enactment of Guaraní-Spanish bilingual education plan, governmental documents and textbooks are still predominantly written in Spanish. According to May’s definition, Guaraní has not become institutionalized.
Second language acquisition (SLA) theory
As is the case with the issue of Spanish-English bilingual education in the United States, bilingualism is often viewed as a problem rather than a resource (Ruíz; ; [Brisk 2006]). Immigrants to the United States, for example, often decide not to teach their children their native languages, and talk to them in English out of concern that the knowledge of their native language will be detrimental to the children’s English acquisition ([Brisk 2006]; Tse 1999; [Wiley 2005]). [Tse (2001]) states that this assumption of a first language competency preventing the acquisition of a second “is based upon the widely held belief that knowing one language will hamper the learning of a second. This myth is based perhaps on the popular notion that individuals have a limited capacity for knowing language” (45). She continues to argue that “many believe in the myth that simultaneous development of two languages will result in inferior learning of both, the proposed solution is for students to forget or at least put aside” (71) their native language while learning their second language. Conversely, SLA theory recommends the use of the mother tongue as the language of instruction for enhancing the academic performance as well as second language acquisition ([Benson 2002]; [Brisk 2006]; Bühmann and [Trudell 2008]; [Cummins 2009]; [He 2012]; Trudell 2012). This theory gained popularity through a series of Cummins’ works in the early 1980s, and has been influential until now. For instance, [Cummins and Scheter (2003], 6) explain that instruction through native language is “promoting overall conceptual development and other forms of academic knowledge that are transferable across languages.” The idea that education in one’s native language enhances academic performance and second language acquisition is not new. In Paraguay, Cummins’ bilingual theory in support of education in one’s native language once grew popular in the mid-1990s ([Gynan 2005]). Yet, the theory’s popularity soon diminished for various reasons, one of which resulted from the theory failing to convince Paraguayans how education in one’s native language would benefit them socioeconomically.
Several scholars, including [Rubin (1968]), [Choi (2005]), García (), and [Gynan (2005]), have conducted empirical sociolinguistic research in Paraguay. Rubin’s () qualitative study analyzed language use and attitudes, such as loyalty and pride, through questionnaires and interviews in Luque (a town located approximately ten miles from Asunción) and Itapuami (one of the suburban areas of Luque). Rubin noted that the choice of language depended upon the situation at hand. If the location was rural or the situation was informal, the language choice was Guaraní. For instance, none of the participants in Itapuami used Spanish when they spoke with their spouses or grandparents or drank tea with their friends. On the contrary, if the situation was formal, the language choice was Spanish. Likewise, if the relationship was not intimate, the language choice was Spanish. According to Rubin, there were certain social identities that required formal behavior, and thus the use of Spanish in some situations such as patient-doctor relationships and student-teacher relationships was the norm. Even in Itapuami where Guaraní was predominantly used in most situations, 37 out of 40 participants claimed that they spoke Spanish with teachers. Rubin felt “the extraordinary pressure on students and teachers to use Spanish in the school. Teachers try to insist on the use of Spanish at all times even in rural areas” (104). Rubin’s study indicates Paraguayans’ ambivalent feelings toward Guaraní with a refusal and a feeling of love being mixed, while they esteem Spanish. Her study depicts the diglossic reality present in Paraguay.
In his longitudinal research on the sociolinguistic situation in Paraguay, [Gynan (2005]) analysed the shift of Guaraní and Spanish language use and attitudes between 1995 and 2001. He observed that Paraguayans developed more positive attitudes toward Guaraní and bilingualism between 1995 and 2001 as a result of the officialization of Guaraní in 1992 and the implementation of Guaraní-Spanish bilingual education that started in 1994. For instance, a higher percentage of the research sample population in 2001 claimed that children should develop literacy in their native language first, which is “a consequence of a shift in the attitude toward Guaraní literacy, which was notably lower than for Spanish in 1995, and which by 2001 was equal to that of Spanish” (27). On the contrary, the studies of [Choi (2005]) and García () show that Paraguayans have increasingly come to favor Spanish over Guaraní.
To determine this, [Choi (2005]) conducted a longitudinal study from 2000 to 2001 that compared her data to Rubin’s data from 1960 to 1961 in the same location (i.e., Luque and Itapuami). Choi’s study suggested that while preference for Spanish only and Guaraní only declined, and the preference for both languages in turn notably increased, the promotion of bilingualism came along with the loss of Guaraní and the increased use of Spanish, a phenomenon “observed in almost all of the situations and types of interactions examined in this study” (242). Despite some advancement of Guaraní, she argues, Spanish maintains its dominant position in administrative and educational functions. Even in familiar and informal settings, she concludes, more Paraguayans are now showing preference for Spanish.
García’s () research also indicates that the vast majority of her sample population considered Spanish to be more important than Guaraní for socioeconomic reasons. Her research attempts to answer the question of whether Paraguayans “still compartmentalize language use” (i.e., the different use of Spanish and Guaraní according to domains) (333). She interviewed 27 families, including parents and their children, and reported that 11 families gave Spanish a higher status than Guaraní, but none of them claimed that Guaraní is more important than Spanish, though some parents believe that Guaraní is also important because it is implemented in the school system. García concluded her research by stating that some “parents follow diglossic theory, favoring the prestigious language of Spanish over Guaraní. Diglossia seems to be present at the societal level of beliefs for the majority of parents” (340).
The above-cited literature illustrates that while Paraguayans may have “more” positive attitudes toward Guaraní now due to the officialization of Guaraní and the introduction of Guaraní-Spanish bilingual education in the early 1990s, they may still have “even more” positive attitudes toward Spanish because Spanish remains dominant in official domains and is considered socioeconomically more beneficial that Guaraní.
Given its official status and the introduction of Guaraní-Spanish bilingual education, however, I argue that Guaraní is privileged and receives political support at least to some extent. Then, how has the Guaraní-Spanish bilingual policy and education been thwarted? How do Paraguayan parents, teachers, intellectuals, and policy makers feel differently about Guaraní and Spanish, and the bilingual education policy? What are the technical and practical as well as ideological issues that may have hindered an adequate implementation of Guaraní-Spanish bilingual education? It is in this context and within this framework that my research was conducted and my data were analyzed.
For the purpose of my sociolinguistic research, interviews were employed, as sociolinguistic analysis requires individuals’ opinions that may reflect their attitudes toward languages. Parents, teachers, intellectuals, and policy makers were selected because they form a socio-political pyramid in education from the policy level to the operational level. Language policies are decided at the policy level, rendering opinions of officials from the Ministry of Education very important. Intellectuals are mediators that play a critical role in transmitting and/or translating information from the policy level to the public (e.g., parents and teachers) where language policy is actually applied. At the policy level, Guaraní became an official language and Guaraní-Spanish bilingual education was introduced in the 1990s. At the operational level, however, bilingual policy has often been invisible without having materialized properly. In order to examine the process of how language policy has been transmitted (or not) to the public, interviews with actors at each level are considered essential, but no extant empirical research includes all of them.
I conducted interviews with 39 individuals: 16 parents and 16 teachers from three schools in the Department of Centrald and three schools in the Department of Caaguazúe along with three intellectuals and four policy makers in Asunción. All of the policy makers and intellectuals are experts and specialists with expertise in language-of-instruction policy/practice and bilingual education. The policy makers interviewed were Gloria Franco, Bilingual Education Specialist; Luz Aranda, Early Childhood Education Expert; Juan Martínez, Education Supervisor and Nancy Benitez, Director of Curriculum, Evaluation, and Orientation. All of them were officials of the Ministry of Education. The intellectuals interviewed were: José Silvero, Professor of Philosophy at the National University of Asunción; David Galeano, Director of ATENEO (Institute of Culture and the Guaraní Language); and Fátima Rodríguez, Journalist. While pilot studies were conducted through observations and questionnaires during my stay in Paraguay between 2004 and 2007,f the interviews included in this paper took place from February to March 2010. The interview questions were as follows:
Which language do you speak to your children at home and why? If you do not have children, which language would you teach them and why?
Have you noticed any changes in school or in class since the officialization of Guaraní in 1992 and the introduction of bilingual education in 1994?
How do you think Paraguayan children in rural areas can learn Spanish best?
What is your opinion about “pure Guaraní” and “Jopará”?
The first question concerning which language is spoken to children was intended to examine the language attitudes of the interviewees. With the second question, I sought to examine how the process of the government’s language-of-instruction policy and its implementation has been perceived. The third question was posed to explore how children in rural areas who have no exposure to Spanish should learn to use the language properly because as [Galeano (2002]) argues, acquiring both Guaraní and Spanish competencies would be essential for the bilingual education policy to be implemented adequately. The last question addresses the issue of normalization or standardization of the Guaraní language, which has been a matter of urgency in its implementation in formal schooling. The use of pure Guaraní (also called scientific or academic Guaraní) or Jopará (colloquial Guaraní with mixed elements of Spanish) as the language of instruction has been discussed among policy makers and intellectuals (Corvalán ; [Valadez 2002]; [Mortimer 2006]; García ) but no consensus has been reached. These questions were developed based on my pilot studies as well as consultations with various scholars in the field and were adapted as necessary. The interviews were conducted in both Guaraní and Spanish.