Languages of South America

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Main European languages spoken in South America.

The languages of South America can be divided into three broad groups:

  • the languages of the (in most cases, former) colonial powers
  • many indigenous languages, some of which are co-official alongside the colonial languages
  • and various pockets of other languages spoken by immigrant populations that have survived assimilation by the majority languages

The languages introduced by the process of the European colonization of the Americas are chiefly European, some of whom have given rise to the formation of creoles.

Main languages

Main native languages in Latin America, legend:
     Quechua      Guarani      Aymara
     Nahuatl      Maya languages      Mapudungún

Portuguese is the majority language of South America[1], by a small margin[2]. Spanish, with slightly fewer speakers than Portuguese, is the second most spoken language on the continent.

Other official and majority languages in specific countries are:

Indigenous languages

Main language families of South America (other than Quechuan, Aimaran and Mapudungun, which expanded after the Spanish Conquest).

Indigenous languages of South America include, among several others, the Quechua languages in Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador and to a lesser extent in Argentina, Chile and Colombia; Guaraní in Paraguay and to a much lesser extent in Argentina and Bolivia; Aymara in Bolivia, Peru and to a lesser extent in Chile; Wayuu in northern Colombia and northwest Venezuela; and Mapudungun in small pockets of southern Chile and Argentina.

In Bolivia, Quechua, Aymara, and Tupi Guarani are co-official alongside Spanish. In Paraguay, Guarani shares joint official status with Spanish. In Colombia, the languages of the country's ethnic groups are constitutionally recognized as official languages in their territories; more than 60 such aboriginal languages exist today. In Ecuador, Spanish, Northern Quechua and Shuar are official for intercultural relations. In Peru, Quechua, Aymara, and other indigenous languages are co-official in the areas where they are predominant. There are many other languages once spoken in South America that are extinct today (such as the extinct languages of the Marañón River basin).

In Brazil, there are around 135 indigenous languages confirmed. The regions with the most speakers are northern and southern Brazil, where there is a larger concentration of native people. Indigenous populations have been trying to keep their traditions of their homeland, with the help of Funai, the agency responsible for the protection of the native people.

Language Speakers Countries
Quechua 8,900,000[3] Peru, Bolivia, Ecuador, Argentina, Chile, Colombia
Guarani 4,900,000[4] Paraguay, Bolivia, Argentina
Aymara 2,800,000[5] Bolivia, Peru

Linguistic Classification of Central and South America


Other languages

Italian is spoken by communities in Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Uruguay, Peru, and Venezuela.[citation needed]

German is used by some in Brazil, Argentina, Guyana, Suriname, Chile, Colombia, Venezuela, Peru, Bolivia, and Paraguay.[citation needed]

Speakers of Arabic (chiefly of Lebanese, Syrian or Palestinian descent), are commonly found in parts of in Brazil, Colombia, Guyana, Suriname, Argentina, Paraguay, Chile (largest Palestinian colony outside the Middle East) and Venezuela.[citation needed]

Welsh is spoken and written in the historic towns of Trelew and Rawson in the Argentine Patagonia.[citation needed]

There are small Croatian, Greek, Polish, Ukrainian and Russian-speaking communities in Brazil, Chile, and Argentina.[citation needed]

There are also many Romani-speakers, originating in Eastern Europe, throughout South America particularly in Colombia, Chile, Brazil, and Argentina.[citation needed]

There are Eastern European Romanian speakers, especially in Argentina, Brazil, Chile and Colombia, where Romanian populations live.[citation needed]

There are also small clusters of Japanese-speakers in Brazil, Peru, Bolivia (including Okinawans from the island of Okinawa), Colombia, Paraguay, and Ecuador. Brazil currently holds the largest Japanese community outside Japan [7]

Hindustani and other Indian languages are commonly found in Guyana, Suriname, and French Guiana.[citation needed]

Javanese is commonly found in Guyana, Suriname, and French Guiana.[citation needed]

The Rapa Nui Language is a Polynesian origin found in Easter Island, Chile and Maori is also found in Easter Island.[citation needed]

Most South American countries mandate the regular study of one or more of English, French, German or Italian. These countries often have advanced cultural language institutes for those respective languages centered in their major cities.[citation needed]

In Brazil, Italian and German dialects, specifically Talian, East Pomeranian and Riograndenser Hunsrückisch, have co-official status alongside Portuguese in about a dozen cities, and are mandatory subjects in schools in other municipalities. Brazil's largest city Sao Paulo has large numbers of German, Italian, Japanese and Levantine Arabic speakers.[citation needed]


  1. ^ {{cite web |url=
  2. ^ {{cite web |url=
  3. ^ Mikael Parkvall, "Världens 100 största språk 2007" (The World's 100 Largest Languages in 2007), in Nationalencyklopedin
  4. ^ Guarani at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015)
  5. ^ Central Aymara at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015), Southern Aymara at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015)
  6. ^ Greenberg, Joseph H. "The general classification of Central and South American languages", in: Men and cultures; selected papers of the 5th international congress of anthropological and ethnologicalsciences, Philadelphia, September 1956 PP. 791-4
  7. ^ "Japan, Brazil mark a century of settlement, family ties | The Japan Times Online". 2008-01-15.

External links

  • SAPhon – South American Phonological Inventories
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