Arawak languages

South American Languages

Native American languages ​​spoken in South America including south of Panama. Due to unclear or missing classifications, great grammatical variation and a dramatic reduction rate, they offer approximately 430-480 existing South American languages ​​a particular challenge to linguistics.

Although in pre-Columbian times there were probably 3-4 times as many languages ​​as today, the language situation is still complex; there were almost 200 languages in Brazil alone in the 1990’s, 50 of which were spoken by less than 100. This adds to the complexity that the name of one and the same language can have varying spellings and that it can have several different names; for example, one of the languages ​​in the northwestern Amazon region is called both waikino — perhaps the ethnic group’s original name for itself — and pira-tapuyo, where the last part of the name is from the language tupí and means ‘enemy’.

Uncertainty in classifications is also due to the fact that comparisons of languages ​​are predominantly based on short glossaries. Several researchers have suggested that all South American languages ​​should be related, but this hypothesis is far from confirmed. Opposite this is a conservative, well-documented theory, according to which the South American languages ​​make up more than 50 tribes and as many isolates.

Languages in South America

The South American languages ​​can traditionally be divided into more than 118 language genitals and isolates, but the classification is controversial and for several languages ​​unresolved. The statistics on how many people speak the languages ​​are predominantly from 1990 or later. Based on COUNTRYAAH, Uruguay is the only South American country where Native American languages ​​are no longer spoken.

· Arawak languages

The geographically most widespread language genus in Central and South America; includes more than 100 languages ​​and is spoken by approximately 200,000 from Central Central America in the north to Paraguay in the south and from the Andes Mountains in the west to the mouth of the Amazon River in the east. The largest of the languages ​​in South America is guajiro, spoken by approximately 170,000 in Venezuela and Colombia.

Arawak languages

· Páez

Central and South American language groups, which includes the language family chocó, whose largest language emberá is spoken by over 40,000 in Colombia, as well as the language páez, spoken by approximately 45,000 in Colombia.

· Yanoama

Includes approximately 4 languages; largest is yanomami, spoken by approximately 15,000 in southern Venezuela and the state of Roraima in Brazil.

· Caribbean languages

Includes approximately 50 languages, of which 30 are still spoken by approximately 50,000 preferably in the northeastern corner of South America; largest is makushi, spoken by approximately 12,000 in Venezuela, Guyana, Suriname, French Guiana and Brazil.

Caribbean languages

· Chibcha

Central and South American language group, which in South America includes approximately 10 languages, the largest of which is ica, spoken by over 5000 in Colombia.

· Jivaro

Includes 5 languages, it is spoken by approximately 70,000 in Ecuador and Peru. The largest is shuar, spoken by approximately 30,000 in Ecuador, and aguaruna, spoken by approximately 25,000 on the Marañon River in Peru.

· Tukano

Includes approximately 30 languages ​​widely spoken in the Amazon, Colombia, Ecuador and Peru; largest is cubeo, spoken by approximately 6000 in Colombia, and tukano spoken by approximately 4000 in Colombia and Brazil and is widespread as a lingua franca in the Río Vaupés area.

· Pano-tacano

Includes two language families pano, which includes approximately 30 living languages, including shipibo, spoken by approximately 15,000 in eastern Peru, and tacano, where the language tacana is spoken by approximately 3500 in Bolivia.

· Quechumara

Consists of two language families, Quechua and Jaqui, spoken by a total of approximately 12 million Quechua includes approximately 10 languages, it is spoken by approximately 10 million; greatest is the language Quechua, the ancient language of the Incas, spoken by approximately 3.6 million in Peru, Bolivia and Argentina. Jaqui includes the languages jaqaru, spoken by approximately 2000 in Peru, and aymará, spoken by approximately 2 million in Bolivia, Argentina, Peru and Chile.

· Tupí

Includes approximately 10 language families, the largest of which is tupí-guaraní, with a total of approximately 30 languages, of which about 15 are still spoken by over 5 million. in central and eastern South America. Guaraní is widely used as a lingua franca and is spoken as a mother tongue by more than 4 million people. in Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil and especially Paraguay, where approximately 90% of the population speaks this language. The very language of tupí is spoken in the Amazon region by quite a few.

· Ge

Includes approximately 10 languages; largest is shavante, spoken by approximately 2000 in Mato Grosso in Brazil, while the language group kayapó is spoken by approximately 4000 in Brazil.

· Samuko

Includes 2 languages; largest is ayoré, spoken by approximately 4000 in southeastern Bolivia and northern Paraguay.

· Mataco

Includes approximately 10 languages; largest is mataco, spoken by approximately 25,000 in Argentina, Colombia and Paraguay.

· Chon

Now includes only tehuelche spoken by quite a few in Patagonia, Argentina.

· Isolate

  • Mapudungun is spoken by the Native American people Mapuche or the Araukans, who make up approximately 300,000 in the southern part of central Chile and approximately 40,000 in adjacent parts of Argentina, where the dialect is called huiliche.
  • Chiquitano is spoken by approximately 40,000 east of the city of Santa Cruz in Bolivia.
  • Ticuna is spoken by an estimated 20,000 in Brazil, Peru and Colombia.
  • Warajo or guarauno are spoken by approximately 18,000 in the Amacuro Delta in Venezuela.
  • Nadëb is spoken by a few hundred in the northeastern regions of the state of Amazonas in Brazil.

The great richness of language has in some areas led to extensive use of contact language or lingua franca. Around the Vaupés river in the western Amazonland, tukano is thus lingua franca for approximately 20 different language groups, and the use of tupí-guaraní as a lingua franca, also among Indians, was introduced by Portuguese missionaries in Brazil as early as the 1600’s.


Since for the South American languages, unlike many of the Central American, there were no scriptural traditions at the time of colonization, the documentation did not begin until the work of the Spanish and Portuguese Catholic missionaries in the 17th century. Even today, however, missionaries who are most active in the language description are now predominantly Protestant. Based on ABBREVIATIONFINDER, the contact with South American languages ​​has given loanwords like condor and pampa from quechua.

South American languages


The number and types of consonants and vowels generally do not differ from the languages ​​of other continents, but there is a tendency for the number of consonants to be greater in western South America and gradually decrease towards the Atlantic coast. In turn, the number of vowels grows in the same direction. A small handful of languages ​​completely lack nasal consonants, which is extremely rare in the rest of the world.


As in North and Central America, polysynthesis is a widespread phenomenon; see language typology. Polysynthesis, for example, characterizes one of the largest South American languages, Quechua, as well as the languages ​​of the geographically most widespread language family, Arabic.

In South American languages, the number of suffixes is almost always greater than the number of prefixes. Suffixes include distinctions such as tempus, aspect, modality, direction, type of movement, and position.

The different poster types usually have a fixed order. Until the mid-1980’s, OS-type languages ​​that place the object in front of the subject were considered rare, and OSV languages ​​with the order object-subject-verb verb were non-existent. But South America offers more than a dozen well-documented examples of Olympic languages, such as nadëb and warao.

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