Monday, January 5, 2015

Country Profile: The Languages of Colombia

This week in our country profile we're heading back to South America for the first time since we looked at the languages of Brazil way back in September. This time our focus is on Colombia, a country located just northwest of Brazil that is home to approximately 47 million people.

The Official Language

It should come as no surprise that the official language of Colombia is Spanish given that the Romance language also has official status in 17 countries throughout South America, Central America, and the Caribbean. Spanish is spoken by over 99% of the country's population. A number of distinct dialects are used throughout Colombia, including the relatively prestigious Bogotá dialect spoken in the country's capital.

Other Languages

Despite the linguistic dominance of Spanish throughout the Colombian population, the Ethnologue lists 100 other languages that are spoken in the country. The majority of these languages are indigenous languages belonging to the Chibchan, Arawak, and Cariban language families native to Central and South America.

Nevado del Ruiz volcano in Colombia, as seen from space.
While we don't have the time to discuss all 100 of these indigenous languages today, we can look at a few of the most spoken indigenous languages such as Cubeo. A member of the Tucanoan language family, Cubeo is used as a lingua franca by approximately 6,000 people in the Vaupés Department of Colombia.

Colombia is also home to a number of closely-related language varieties that belong to the Choco language family. These include Emberá and Epena, both spoken in northwestern Colombia. In Colombia's nearby mountainous Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta region, there are also approximately 8,000 speakers of Arhuaco, a member of the Chibchan language family. The Curipaco language has a similar number of speakers in Colombia, though it belongs to the Arawak language family. 

Finally, we'll mention the Guambiano language, which is spoken by over 20,000 people in Colombia. The number of native speakers of Guambiano is currently thought to be increasing, and the language is even taught in some primary schools.