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Wichi dictionary published

Bob Lunt with Wichi colleague in the Chaco

Translator and dictionary creator Bob Lunt (right) on a visit to northern Argentina.

Bob Lunt with the Wichi Bible which he helped translate and which led to the development of the new dictionary.

Church Mission Society mission partner completes Wichi language Bible dictionary after 40 years

After 40 years’ work, former Church Mission Society mission partner Bob Lunt has completed and published a new Wichi–Spanish language dictionary to complement the Wichi Bible translation, which was first published in 2002.

The Wichi language, spoken by up to 50,000 people in parts of Argentina and Bolivia, is the most common language of the Mataco-Mataguayan language family.

A ceremony to herald the new dictionary took place at the Güemes Museum in Salta and attendees included CMS mission partner Bishop Nick Drayson, CMS mission associate Chris Wallis and CMS local partner Demóstenes Toribio.

Work on the dictionary began as a word list on 5”x3” index cards back in 1977 and grew over the years. Following the completion of the Wichi Bible translation project Bob Lunt was able to devote more time to producing the dictionary and the finished book has now been published by Sociedad Bíblica Argentina (Argentine Bible Society), who also published the Wichi Bible.

Bob Lunt explained the benefits the new dictionary will bring: “The aim of the project was to provide a corpus of words for the translation of the Wichi Bible and then, as this corpus grew, to provide a comprehensive listing of the rich vocabulary of the Wichi language, especially that of its northern and south-western areas.” The finished dictionary is the result of many people’s contributions.

The new dictionary will help standardise the Wichi alphabet, which was agreed upon by a representative group of Wichi in 1998, and facilitate communication between Wichí and others, especially mainstream Argentines working professionally alongside the Wichí. 

Initial reports have indicated that the dictionary has proved more popular among Argentines than anticipated. The Chamber of Deputies of the Province of Salta described the work as “a contribution to the affirmation of the Wichi language”.

Paul Thaxter, director of international mission at Church Mission Society, said: “This dictionary is a testament to the dedication and commitment of Bob and his team, that has enabled the Wichi people to both hear and understand the love of God.”

Bob Lunt is now collaborating on a project to revise and publish the Wichi grammar he wrote in 1999.

Bob served as a mission partner with South American Mission Society (SAMS) from 1977 to 2002. SAMS integrated with Church Mission Society in 2010.