The unknown treasure heritage

Although we know that in almost all the Latin American countries Spanish is spoken, what is not so well known is the fact that in these places, from Mexico to Argentina, many other native languages are spoken. Let’s take a look at these languages and cultures that compose our Latin American heritage. 

The population of Latin America is very varied. In many nations, indigenous people make up more than half of the population, such as Guatemala and Bolivia.

To the surprise of many, in all Ibero-American countries, more than one language is spoken. In some of them, as in Colombia, about 70 languages are used, in Peru about 60, in Mexico about 50, in Bolivia about 30, in Guatemala about 20, and in Chile about 10.

The most talked about in the Latin American region today are the Nahuátl or Aztec, the Quiché (a Mayan language), Quechua, Aymara, Guarani and Mapuche.

The Nahuatl was the language used daily by the Aztecs and, before the arrival of the Spaniards, it was used as a lingua franca or common language within their empire. Today, 2 million people in Mexico, Guatemala and El Salvador speak it.

Quiché, for its part, is the best-known Maya language and is used by more than half a million people in southern Mexico, Guatemala and Honduras.

As far as South America is concerned, the most recognized and most prevalent languages today are Quechua, Aymara, Elguaran, and Mapuche.

Quechua was the official language of the Inca empire and is currently spoken from southern Colombia, through Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia and even north of Argentina, by about seven million people.

Aymara is also used in Bolivia and Peru, although for less inhabitants than Quechua (about three million) and Guaraní is spoken mainly in Paraguay.

Finally, the Mapuche is the most spoken native language of Chile. Its meaning is 'people of the earth', although those who use it prefer to call it mupudungu (earth language). This is one of the languages of the region with less speakers today, since it is estimated that half a million people speak it.

Although the official language of most Latin American countries is Spanish, some others known as 'indigenous' are also official because of the great linguistic variety that exists in the region.

Quechua and Aymara are official, along with Spanish, in Peru, Bolivia and Ecuador, but are not taught in schools. This has to do, in part, to the social reality that exists in these places, where the Indians are usually the poorest inhabitants.

However, Guarani is a separate case since it is an official language in Paraguay, in addition to Spanish, and it is taught in schools. This language, like the others in Latin America, was transmitted by oral tradition. As the Jesuit religious used it to educate and evangelize the population, it became one of the few written languages with a certain social status. Thanks to this, most Paraguayan citizens speak or understand Guarani.

As a consequence of this linguistic richness, today there are many words that were adopted from these languages. Some examples are the words like caníbal, canoa, hamaca, colibrí, iguana, cacao, coyote, chile or chocolate, words that take part of our Latino every day life.

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