Monday, March 14, 2016

Country Profile: The Languages of Costa Rica

Last week we checked out the incredible linguistic diversity of the Central African Republic. Today, we're moving across the Atlantic to focus on Costa Rica, which may not be home to nearly as many languages, but is equally interesting.

The Official Language

Just like many other Latin American countries, the sole official language of Costa Rica is Spanish, which was introduced to the area during Spanish colonization in the 1500s. Nearly 4.5 million Costa Ricans are native Spanish speakers, which encompasses the vast majority of the country's population. In addition, most of those who have a different native language still use Spanish as a second language.

Other Languages

The ruins of Iglesia de Nuestra Señora de la Limpia Concepción,
one of the oldest churches in Costa Rica.
The second most spoken language in Costa Rica is Limón Creole English, an English-based creole. Also known as Mekatelyu, it is a dialect of Jamaican Creole English that was first used in the country by Jamaican migrant workers. There are currently about 55,000 speakers in Costa Rica, primarily in Limón Province.

Costa Rica is also home to several indigenous languages, all of which belong to the Chibchan language family. The most prominent of these languages are the closely related Cabécar and Bribri languages, which have 11,000 and 7,000 speakers respectively. There are also nearly 3,000 speakers of the Ngäbere language in Costa Rica. It is also known by the name Guaymí, and is spoken in neighboring Panama as well.

There are three more Chibchan languages that are spoken in Costa Rica, albeit in very small numbers. First, there's the language called Maléku Jaíka or Guatuso, which has about 750 speakers. It is followed in number of speakers by Teribe, which is nearly extinct in Costa Rica since it only has about 100 speakers. However, it is also used by a couple thousand people in Panama. Finally, there's Boruca, which is also nearly extinct. There were about 140 speakers left as of 2011, but unfortunately very few of them were fluent in the language.

The Ethnologue also lists one Germanic language in Costa Rica: Plautdietsch. As we mentioned last December in our post on Paraguay, it is the language of the Russian Mennonites, a group who founded settlements all over Latin America in the early 1900s. There are currently about 2,000 speakers of Plautdietsch in Costa Rica.