Wednesday, August 7, 2013

The Languages of Bolivia, Part 2

Yesterday we looked at the first 18 of Bolivia's 37 official languages in honor of Bolivian Independence Day. We're continuing today with the final 19 languages, so let's get started!

Tupian Languages

Four of Bolivia's official languages are members of the Tupian language family, which includes Guaraní and the extinct Tupí language, which has provided some interesting loanwords to English

Guarayu's name comes from a Bolivian term that means "savage" and boasts about 5,000 speakers, while the Sirionó language only has about 500 speakers. Tapieté is so closely related to Guaraní that it is thought to be a dialect of it. It has over 2000 speakers, while Yuki, also related to Guaraní, has around 100 speakers.

The Legislative Palace of Bolivia in La Paz.
Arawakan Languages

The Arawakan language family is thought to cover the largest geographical area of any language group in Latin America. Three official Bolivian languages are Arawakan. Machineri, also known as Machiguenga, has about 10,000 speakers in both Bolivia and Peru. Mojeño-Iguaciano and Mojeño-Trinitario are both also known as Moxos. It is unknown if they are separate languages or merely distinct dialects. 

Panoan and Tacanan Languages

Bolivia has six official languages that belong to the closely related Panoan and Tacanan language families. Chácobo is a Panoan language with about 500 speakers. The children of the tribe are currently taught it as a first language, which is important to its survival. Yaminawa is also Panoan, and boasts around 2,300 speakers.

The four Tacanan languages include the aptly named Tacana, spoken by about 1,800 indigenous people who live in the forest. Cavineño is spoken by a similar number of people in the Amazonian plains. Araona, also known as Cavina, is spoken by around 100 members of an indigenous tribe living at the headwaters of a Bolivian river, and has its own dictionary. Finally, Ese Ejja is spoken by over 1,000 members of an indigenous group of the same name known to be hunter-gatherers, fishermen, and farmers. 

The Secret Language

It turns out that Machajuyai-Kallawaya, also known by the shorter name Kallawaya, is a secret language. It has no native speakers because it is only learned as a second language by select members of the Kallawaya people who become traditional healers. In general, the language is passed through the generations to direct male descendants, but occasionally a daughter may learn it if a healer has no sons. The language is generally only spoken for ritual purposes, and currently only has about a dozen speakers. 

Valle de la Luna near La Paz, Bolivia.
The Final Five

The final five official languages of Bolivia don't fit into any of our other categories, so we've grouped them together here. There's Moré, also known as Itene, which has about 75 speakers. On the other hand, Zamuco, also known as Ayoreo, boasts a huge 4,000 speakers and is spoken by an indigenous group mainly known as farmers and hunter-gatherers.

We also have Chimán and Mosetén, with a combined 5,000 speakers. Some say they're related languages, while others claim that Mosetén is a dialect. They're both written using a Spanish-based alphabet, with the addition of the letters , ć, q́u, , ćh, , , and ä.

Last but not least, we have the interestingly named Weenhayek, more commonly known as Wichí Lhamtés Nocten. What a mouthful! This indigenous language is spoken by nearly 2000 members of the Wichí people in Bolivia and Argentina.