Monday, June 1, 2015

Country Profile: The Languages of Chile

In previous months we've looked at the linguistic landscapes of South American countries such as Colombia, Argentina, and Peru. Today we're shifting our focus to the continent's southernmost country, Chile.

The Official Language

Torres del Paine National Park, Chile
Chile's sole official language is Spanish, the Romance language that dominates most of South America. It is the native language of the vast majority of the country's population, though there are several indigenous languages that are spoken by small numbers of Chileans.

The variety of Spanish spoken in Chile is known as Chilean Spanish. It can be distinguished from other varieties of Spanish due to phonetic differences and the use of distinctive vocabulary, especially slang. Chilean Spanish contains a large number of loanwords from Quechua, as well as several expressions from French, German, and English. Many of the features of Chilean Spanish are thought to have evolved from Castúo or Andaluz, the varieties used in the Spanish autonomous communities of Extremadura and Andalusia.

Indigenous Languages

As we mentioned earlier, several indigenous languages are spoken in Chile, albeit by small percentages of the country's population. The most spoken indigenous language in Chile is Mapudungun, a language isolate. Also known as Mapuche, it is spoken by approximately 250,000 people in Chile. The closely related Huilliche language is also used in Chile, though the number of speakers is unknown.

Other indigenous languages spoken in Chile include Aymara, Quechua, and Rapa Nui. There are approximately 8,000 speakers of Quechua in Chile as well as 19,000 speakers of Aymara, which are the two most widely used indigenous languages in the Americas.

Finally, there's Rapa Nui or Pascuense, an Austronesian language spoken on the island of Rapa Nui, which you probably know by the name Easter Island. The island is home to approximately 6,000 people, though the number of speakers of Rapa Nui is currently unknown. Sadly, the language is threatened since most children on the island grow up speaking Spanish.