Monday, January 11, 2016

Country Profile: The Languages of Nicaragua

After exploring the linguistic landscape of Sierra Leone last week, our second country profile of the year is going to focus on the languages of Nicaragua, the largest country in Central America. Let's get started!

The Official Language

It probably won't come as a surprise that the official language of Nicaragua is Spanish, which was first introduced to the region when it was colonized by Spain in the 1500s. Today, over 5.3 million Nicaraguans, which equals about 90% of the country's population, speak Spanish as their native language. Most of these speakers use Nicaraguan Spanish, a dialect that is also known by the name Nicañol. 

Other Languages

While Spanish may be Nicaragua's most important language, the country is also home to several indigenous languages, including the thriving Miskito language. Miskito is the language of the Miskito ethnic group, which primarily resides in northeastern Nicaragua. It is the most spoken indigenous language in Nicaragua with approximately 150,000 native speakers, as well as nearly 30,000 more in neighboring Honduras.

Cathedral of León, a UNESCO World Heritage Site
When it comes to the number of native speakers, Miskito is followed by Nicaragua Coastal Creole, which is natively spoken by about 30,000 Nicaraguans. Also known as Miskito Coast Creole, the English-based creole developed due to the British presence in the country's coastal areas throughout the 1700s and 1800s. 

Two other indigenous languages of Nicaragua belong to a group known as the Sumo languages. The most used of these languages is Mayangna, which is spoken by about 8,000 Nicaraguans. Ulwa, on the other hand, only has around 350 remaining speakers. Both of these languages, along with Miskito, belong to the Misumalpan language family.

Finally, there are the Raman and Garifuna languages. Rama is a Chibchan language that is spoken by around 900 members of the Rama ethnic group. Sadly, it is thought to be approaching extinction. While Garifuna, an Arawakan language, has even fewer native speakers in Nicaragua, it has a more promising future since it is widely spoken in Honduras, where it is the largest minority language.