Over a thousandIndigenous languages are spoken by the Indigenous peoples of the Americas. These languages cannot all be demonstrated to be related to each other and are classified into a hundred or solanguage families (including a large number of language isolates), as well as a number of extinct languages that are unclassified due to a lack of data.
Many proposals have been made to relate some or all of these languages to each other, with varying degrees of success. The most notorious is Joseph Greenberg's Amerind hypothesis,which however is rejected by nearly all specialists due to severe methodological flaws, spurious data and a failure to distinguish cognation, contact and coincidence. Nonetheless, there are indications that some of the recognized families are related to each other, such as widespread similarities in pronouns (n/m being a common pattern for 'I'/'you' across western North America, and similarly ch/k/t for 'I'/'you'/'we' in a more limited region of South America.)
According to UNESCO, most of the Indigenous languages of the Americas are critically endangered, and many are dormant (without native speakers, but with a community of heritage-language users) or entirely extinct.The most widely spoken Indigenous languages are Southern Quechua, spoken primarily in southern Peru and Bolivia, and Guarani, centered in Paraguay, where it is the national language, with perhaps six or seven million speakers apiece (including many of European descent in the case of Guarani). Only half a dozen others have more than a million speakers. These are Aymara of Bolivia and Nahuatl of Mexico, with a bit under two million apiece, the Mayan languages Kekchi, Quiché and Yucatec of Guatemala and Mexico, with about 1 million apiece, and perhaps one or two additional Quechuan languages in Peru and Ecuador. In the United States, 372,000 people reported speaking an Indigenous language at home to the 2010 census, and similarly in Canada 133,000 people reported speaking an Indigenous language at home in the 2011 census. In Greenland, about 90% of the population speaks Greenlandic, the most widely spoken Eskimo–Aleut language.
Over a thousand known languages were spoken by various peoples in North and South America prior to their first contact with Europeans. These encounters occurred between the beginning of the 11th century (with the Nordic settlement of Greenland and failed efforts in Newfoundland and Labrador) and the end of the 15th century (the voyages of Christopher Columbus). Several Indigenous cultures of the Americas had also developed their own writing systems,the best known being the Maya script. The Indigenous languages of the Americas had widely varying demographics, from the Quechuan languages, Aymara, Guarani, and Nahuatl, which had millions of active speakers, to many languages with only several hundred speakers. After pre-Columbian times, several Indigenous creole languages developed in the Americas, based on European, Indigenous and African languages.
The European colonizers and their successor states had widely varying attitudes towards Native American languages. In Brazil, friars learned and promoted the Tupi language.In many Latin American colonies, Spanish missionaries often learned local languages and culture in order to preach to the natives in their own tongue and relate the Christian message to their Indigenous religions. In the British American colonies, John Eliot of the Massachusetts Bay Colony translated the Bible into the Massachusett language, also called Wampanoag, or Natick (1661–1663); he published the first Bible printed in North America, the Eliot Indian Bible .
The Europeans also suppressed use of Indigenous languages, establishing their own languages for official communications, destroying texts in other languages, and insisting that Indigenous people learn European languages in schools. As a result, Indigenous languages suffered from cultural suppression and loss of speakers. By the 18th and 19th centuries, Spanish, English, Portuguese, French, and Dutch, brought to the Americas by European settlers and administrators, had become the official or national languages of modern nation-states of the Americas.
Many Indigenous languages have become critically endangered, but others are vigorous and part of daily life for millions of people. Several Indigenous languages have been given official status in the countries where they occur, such as Guaraní in Paraguay. In other cases official status is limited to certain regions where the languages are most spoken. Although sometimes enshrined in constitutions as official, the languages may be used infrequently in de facto official use. Examples are Quechua in Peru and Aymara in Bolivia, where in practice, Spanish is dominant in all formal contexts.
In North America and the Arctic region, Greenland in 2009 adopted Kalaallisutas its sole official language. In the United States, the Navajo language is the most spoken Native American language, with more than 200,000 speakers in the Southwestern United States. The US Marine Corps recruited Navajo men, who were established as code talkers during World War II.
In American Indian Languages: The Historical Linguistics of Native America (1997), Lyle Campbell lists several hypotheses for the historical origins of Amerindian languages.
Roger Blench (2008) has advocated the theory of multiple migrations along the Pacific coast of peoples from northeastern Asia, who already spoke diverse languages. These proliferated in the New World.
Countries like Mexico, Bolivia, Venezuela, Guatemala, and Guyana recognize all or most Indigenous languages native to their respective countries, with Bolivia and Venezuela elevating all Indigenous languages to official language status according to their constitutions. Colombia delegates local Indigenous language recognition to the department level according to the Colombian Constitution of 1991. Countries like Canada, Argentina, and the United States, allow their respective provinces and states to determine their own language recognition policies. Indigenous language recognition in Brazil is limited to their localities.
|Language||Number of speakers||Official Recognition||Area(s) Language is spoken||Source|
|Guaraní||6.5 million||Paraguay (Official Language)||Paraguay, Bolivia, Argentina, Brazil|
|Southern Quechua||5 million (outdated figure)|| Bolivia (Official Language) |
Peru (Official Language)
|Bolivia, Peru, Argentina, Chile|
|Aymara||1.7 million|| Bolivia (Official Language) |
Peru (Official Language)
|Bolivia, Peru, Chile|
|Qʼeqchiʼ||1.1 million||Guatemala||Guatemala, Belize, Mexico|
|Kʼicheʼ||1.1 million||Guatemala||Guatemala & Mexico|
|Yucatec Maya||890,000||Mexico||Mexico & Belize|
|Ancash Quechua||700,000 (outdated figure)||Peru|
|Mam||600,000||Guatemala||Guatemala & Mexico|
|Kichwa||450,000||Ecuador||Ecuador & Colombia (Cauca, Nariño, Putumayo)|
|Wayuu (Guajiro)||420,000||Venezuela||Venezuela & Colombia|
|Kaqchikel||410,000||Guatemala||Guatemala & Mexico|
|Mapuche||260,000||Cautín Province, La Araucanía, Chile (Galvarino, Padre Las Casas)||Cautín Province, La Araucanía, Chile (Galvarino, Padre Las Casas)|
|Qʼanjobʼal||170,000||Guatemala||Guatemala & Mexico|
|Navajo||170,000||Navajo Nation , United States||Southwestern USA|
|Miskito||140,000 (outdated figure)||North Caribbean Coast Autonomous Region , Nicaragua||Nicaragua, Honduras|
|Ixil||120,000||Guatemala||Guatemala & Mexico|
|Yaru Quechua||ca. 100,000 (outdated figure)||Peru|
|Cree||96,000 [incl. Naskapi, Montagnais]||Northwest Territories , Canada||Canada|
|Kuna||61,000||Colombia (Chocó & Antioquia)||Colombia (Chocó & Antioquia)|
|Paez||60,000||Colombia (Cauca, Huila, Valle del Cauca)||Colombia (Cauca, Huila, Valle del Cauca)|
|Chuj||59,000||Guatemala||Guatemala & Mexico|
|Garífuna||ca. 50,000 (outdated figure)||Guatemala||Guatemala, Belize, Nicaragua, Honduras|
|Ojibwe||48,000||Canada||Canada & United States|
|Tikuna||47,000||Colombia (Leticia, Puerto Nariño, Amazonas)||Amazonas regions of Brazil and Colombia|
|Inuktitut||39,475||Nunavut , Canada||Northern Canada|
|Wichi||36,135||Chaco, Argentina||Chaco, Argentina|
|Blackfoot||34,394||Alberta, Canada & Montana, USA|
|Sikuani||34,000||Colombia (Meta, Vichada, Arauca, Guainía, Guaviare)||Colombia (Meta, Vichada, Arauca, Guainía, Guaviare)|
|Jakaltek||33,000||Guatemala||Guatemala & Mexico|
|Kom||31,580||Chaco, Argentina||Chaco, Argentina|
|Kaiwá||26,500||Mato Grosso do Sul, Brazil|
|Sioux||25,000||South Dakota, United States||USA|
|Oʼodham||23,313||Tohono Oʼodham Nation, United States||Arizona, USA|
|Guambiano||21,000||Cauca, Colombia||Cauca, Colombia|
|Yanomamö||20,000||Venezuela||Brazil & Venezuela|
|Nheengatu||19,000||São Gabriel da Cachoeira , Amazonas, Brazil||Brazil, Colombia, Venezuela|
|Yup'ik (Central Alaskan) & Siberian)||18,626||Alaska , United States||Alaska, United States|
|Piaroa||17,000||Vichada, Colombia||Vichada, Colombia|
|Western Apache||14,012||San Carlos Apache Nation, United States||Arizona, USA|
|Xavante||13,300||Mato Grosso, Brazil|
|Keresan||13,073||New Mexico, USA|
|Awa Pit||13,000||Nariño, Colombia||Nariño, Colombia|
|Cherokee||12,320||Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, NC, United States||USA (Oklahoma & North Carolina)|
|Karu||12,000||Venezuela||Guaviare, Colombia & Amazonas, Brazil, (Baníwa language)|
|Chipewyan||11,325||Northwest Territories, Canada||Northwest Territories, Canada|
|Wounaan||10,800||Colombia (Chocó, Cauca, Valle del Cauca)||Colombia (Chocó, Cauca, Valle del Cauca)|
|Choctaw||10,368||Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma, United States||Oklahoma & Mississippi, USA|
|Kogi||9,900||Magdalena, Colombia||Magdalena, Colombia|
|Zuni||9,620||New Mexico, USA|
|Sumo||9,000||North Caribbean Coast Autonomous Region , Nicaragua||North Caribbean Coast Autonomous Region, Nicaragua|
|Mopan||9,000–12,000||Guatemala||Guatemala & Belize|
|Mawé||8,900||Brazil (Para & Amazonas)|
|Terena||8,200||Mato Grosso do Sul, Brazil|
|Ika||8,000||Colombia (Cesar & Magdalena)||Colombia (Cesar & Magdalena)|
|Tukano||7,100||São Gabriel da Cachoeira , Amazonas, Brazil||Mitú , Vaupés, Colombia||Amazonas, Brazil & Vaupés, Colombia|
|Minica Huitoto||6,800||Amazonas, Colombia||Amazonas, Colombia|
|Piapoco||6,400||Colombia (Guainía, Vichada, Meta)||Colombia (Guainía, Vichada, Meta)|
|Cubeo||6,300||Vaupés, Colombia||Vaupés, Colombia|
|Kayapo||6,200||Brazil (Pará & Mato Grosso)|
|Chiquitano||5,900||Bolivia||Brazil & Bolivia|
|Macushi||5,800||Venezuela||Brazil, Venezuela, Guyana|
|Tewa||5,123||New Mexico, USA|
|Timbira||5,100||Brazil (Maranhão, Tocantins, Pará)|
|Sanumá||5,100||Venezuela||Brazil & Venezuela|
|Muscogee||5,072||Muscogee (Creek) Nation , OK, United States||USA (Oklahoma, Alabama, Florida)|
|Chontal of Oaxaca||5,039||Mexico||Mexico|
|Barí||5,000||Colombia (Cesar & Norte de Santander)||Colombia (Cesar & Norte de Santander)|
|Camsá||4,000||Putumayo, Colombia||Putumayo, Colombia|
|Kulina||3,900||Brazil (Amazonas) & Peru|
|Mohawk||3,875||Mohawk Nation of Akwesasne , Canada||Canada (Ontario & Quebec) and USA (New York)|
|Kashinawa||3,588||Brazil & Peru|
|Munduruku||3,563||Pará & Amazonas, Brazil|
|Tunebo/Uwa||3,550||Boyacá, Colombia||Boyacá, Colombia|
|Wapishana||3,154||Bonfim, Roraima, Brazil||Bonfim, Roraima, Brazil|
|Moquoit||3,000||Chaco, Argentina||Chaco, Argentina|
|Inupiat||3,000||Alaska , United States||Alaska, United States & Northwest Territories, Canada|
|Puinave||3,000||Guainía, Colombia||Guainía, Colombia & Venezuela|
|Cuiba||2,900||Colombia (Casanare, Vichada, Arauca)||Colombia (Casanare, Vichada, Arauca)|
|Wanano||2,600||Vaupés, Colombia||Vaupés, Colombia|
|Bora||2,400||Amazonas, Colombia||Amazonas, Colombia|
|Cofán||2,400||Colombia (Nariño, Putumayo)||Colombia (Nariño, Putumayo)|
|Fox (Mesquakie-Sauk-Kickapoo)||2,288||Sac and Fox Nation, United States||USA & Mexico|
|Slavey||2,120||Northwest Territories , Canada||Northwest Territories, Canada|
|Koreguaje||2,100||Caquetá, Colombia||Caquetá, Colombia|
|Pakaásnovos (wari)||1,854||Rondônia, Brazil|
|Wiwa||1,850||Cesar, Colombia||Cesar, Colombia|
|Tłı̨chǫ Yatıì||1,735||Northwest Territories , Canada||Northwest Territories, Canada|
|Jupda||1,700||Amazonas, Colombia||Amazonas, Colombia|
|Seneca||1,453||Six Nations of the Grand River First Nation, ON, Canada||Ontario, Canada|
|Tlingit||1,360||Alaska , United States||Alaska, United States|
|Inuinnaqtun||1,310||Nunavut , Canada||Alaska, United States & Northwest Territories, Canada|
|Aleut||1,236||Alaska , United States||Alaska, United States|
|Gwichʼin||1,217||Alaska , United States||Alaska, United States & Northwest Territories, Canada|
|Inuvialuktun||1,150||Nunavut , Canada||Nunavut, Canada & Northwest Territories, Canada|
|Macuna||1,032||Vaupés, Colombia||Vaupés, Colombia|
|Guayabero||1,000||Colombia (Meta, Guaviare)||Colombia (Meta, Guaviare)|
|Maricopa/Piipaash||800||Salt River Pima–Maricopa Indian Community, AZ, United States||Arizona, United States|
|Rama||740||North Caribbean Coast Autonomous Region , Nicaragua||North Caribbean Coast Autonomous Region, Nicaragua|
|Nukak||700||Guaviare, Colombia||Guaviare, Colombia|
|Oneida||574||Six Nations of the Grand River First Nation, ON, Canada||Ontario, Canada|
|Siona||500||Putumayo, Colombia||Putumayo, Colombia|
|Havasupai–Hualapai||445||Havasupai Indian Reservation, AZ, United States||Arizona, USA|
|Kumeyaay||427 (525 including Ipai and Tiipai languages)||Mexico||Baja California, Mexico & California, USA|
|Alutiiq/Sugpiaq||400||Alaska , United States||Alaska, United States|
|Tatuyo||400||Vaupés, Colombia||Vaupés, Colombia|
|Andoque||370||Caquetá, Colombia||Caquetá, Colombia|
|Chimila||350||Magdalena, Colombia||Magdalena, Colombia|
|Koyukon||300||Alaska , United States||Alaska, United States|
|Hitnü||300||Arauca, Colombia||Arauca, Colombia|
|Mikasuki||290||Georgia and Florida, USA|
|Quechan||290||California & Arizona, USA|
|Cabiyari||270||Colombia (Mirití-Paraná & Amazonas)||Colombia (Mirití-Paraná & Amazonas)|
|Achagua||250||Meta, Colombia||Meta, Colombia|
|Kakwa||250||Vaupés, Colombia||Vaupés, Colombia|
|Siriano||220||Vaupés, Colombia||Vaupés, Colombia|
|Ocaina||190||Amazonas, Colombia||Amazonas, Colombia|
|Haida||168||Alaska , United States||Alaska, USA and British Columbia, Canada|
|Muinane||150||Amazonas, Colombia||Amazonas, Colombia|
|Deg Xinag||127||Alaska , United States||Alaska, USA|
|Upper Tanana||100||Alaska , United States||Alaska, USA|
|Ahtna||80||Alaska , United States||Alaska, USA|
|Tsimshian||70||Alaska , United States||Alaska, USA|
|Tanacross||65||Alaska , United States||Alaska, USA|
|Cayuga||61||Six Nations of the Grand River First Nation, ON, Canada||Ontario, Canada, and New York, USA|
|Denaʼina||50||Alaska , United States||Alaska, USA|
|Onondaga||50||Six Nations of the Grand River First Nation, ON, Canada||Ontario, Canada|
|Upper Kuskokwim||40||Alaska , United States||Alaska, USA|
|Tanana||30||Alaska , United States||Alaska, USA|
|Hän||12||Alaska , United States||Alaska, USA|
|Holikachuk||12||Alaska , United States||Alaska, USA|
|Carijona||6||Colombia (Amazonas, Guaviare)||Colombia (Amazonas, Guaviare)|
|Tuscarora||3||Six Nations of the Grand River First Nation, ON, Canada||Ontario, Canada, and New York, USA|
|Nonuya||2||Amazonas, Colombia||Colombia, Peru|
|Taíno languages||0||Formerly all of the Caribbean|
|Cochimí||0||Mexico (Extinct, but retains recognition)|
|Kallawaya||0||Bolivia (Extinct, but retains recognition)|
|Eyak||0||Alaska , United States (Extinct, but retains recognition)|
There are approximately 296 spoken (or formerly spoken) Indigenous languages north of Mexico, 269 of which are grouped into 29 families (the remaining 27 languages are either isolates or unclassified).[ citation needed ] The Na-Dené, Algic, and Uto-Aztecan families are the largest in terms of number of languages. Uto-Aztecan has the most speakers (1.95 million) if the languages in Mexico are considered (mostly due to 1.5 million speakers of Nahuatl); Na-Dené comes in second with approximately 200,000 speakers (nearly 180,000 of these are speakers of Navajo), and Algic in third with about 180,000 speakers (mainly Cree and Ojibwe). Na-Dené and Algic have the widest geographic distributions: Algic currently spans from northeastern Canada across much of the continent down to northeastern Mexico (due to later migrations of the Kickapoo) with two outliers in California (Yurok and Wiyot); Na-Dené spans from Alaska and western Canada through Washington, Oregon, and California to the U.S. Southwest and northern Mexico (with one outlier in the Plains). Several families consist of only 2 or 3 languages. Demonstrating genetic relationships has proved difficult due to the great linguistic diversity present in North America. Two large (super-) family proposals, Penutian and Hokan, look particularly promising. However, even after decades of research, a large number of families remain.
North America is notable for its linguistic diversity, especially in California. This area has 18 language families comprising 74 languages (compared to four families in Europe: Indo-European, Uralic, Turkic, and Afroasiatic and one isolate, Basque).
Another area of considerable diversity appears to have been the Southeastern Woodlands;[ citation needed ] however, many of these languages became extinct from European contact and as a result they are, for the most part, absent from the historical record.[ citation needed ] This diversity has influenced the development of linguistic theories and practice in the US.
Due to the diversity of languages in North America, it is difficult to make generalizations for the region. Most North American languages have a relatively small number of vowels (i.e. three to five vowels). Languages of the western half of North America often have relatively large consonant inventories. The languages of the Pacific Northwest are notable for their complex phonotactics (for example, some languages have words that lack vowels entirely).The languages of the Plateau area have relatively rare pharyngeals and epiglottals (they are otherwise restricted to Afroasiatic languages and the languages of the Caucasus). Ejective consonants are also common in western North America, although they are rare elsewhere (except, again, for the Caucasus region, parts of Africa, and the Mayan family).
Head-marking is found in many languages of North America (as well as in Central and South America), but outside of the Americas it is rare. Many languages throughout North America are polysynthetic (Eskimo–Aleut languages are extreme examples), although this is not characteristic of all North American languages (contrary to what was believed by 19th-century linguists). Several families have unique traits, such as the inverse number marking of the Tanoan languages, the lexical affixes of the Wakashan, Salishan and Chimakuan languages, and the unusual verb structure of Na-Dené.
The classification below is a composite of Goddard (1996), Campbell (1997), and Mithun (1999).
In Central America the Mayan languages are among those used today. Mayan languages are spoken by at least 6 million Indigenous Maya, primarily in Guatemala, Mexico, Belize and Honduras. In 1996, Guatemala formally recognized 21 Mayan languages by name, and Mexico recognizes eight more. The Mayan language family is one of the best documented and most studied in the Americas. Modern Mayan languages descend from Proto-Mayan, a language thought to have been spoken at least 4,000 years ago; it has been partially reconstructed using the comparative method.
Although both North and Central America are very diverse areas, South America has a linguistic diversity rivalled by only a few other places in the world with approximately 350 languages still spoken and several hundred more spoken at first contact but now extinct. The situation of language documentation and classification into genetic families is not as advanced as in North America (which is relatively well studied in many areas). Kaufman (1994: 46) gives the following appraisal:
Since the mid 1950s, the amount of published material on SA [South America] has been gradually growing, but even so, the number of researchers is far smaller than the growing number of linguistic communities whose speech should be documented. Given the current employment opportunities, it is not likely that the number of specialists in SA Indian languages will increase fast enough to document most of the surviving SA languages before they go out of use, as most of them unavoidably will. More work languishes in personal files than is published, but this is a standard problem.
It is fair to say that SA and New Guinea are linguistically the poorest documented parts of the world. However, in the early 1960s fairly systematic efforts were launched in Papua New Guinea, and that area –much smaller than SA, to be sure –is in general much better documented than any part of Indigenous SA of comparable size.
As a result, many relationships between languages and language families have not been determined and some of those relationships that have been proposed are on somewhat shaky ground.
The list of language families, isolates, and unclassified languages below is a rather conservative one based on Campbell (1997). Many of the proposed (and often speculative) groupings of families can be seen in Campbell (1997), Gordon (2005), Kaufman (1990, 1994), Key (1979), Loukotka (1968), and in the Language stock proposals section below.
Hypothetical language-family proposals of American languages are often cited as uncontroversial in popular writing. However, many of these proposals have not been fully demonstrated, or even demonstrated at all. Some proposals are viewed by specialists in a favorable light, believing that genetic relationships are very likely to be established in the future (for example, the Penutian stock). Other proposals are more controversial with many linguists believing that some genetic relationships of a proposal may be demonstrated but much of it undemonstrated (for example, Hokan–Siouan, which, incidentally, Edward Sapir called his "wastepaper basket stock").Still other proposals are almost unanimously rejected by specialists (for example, Amerind). Below is a (partial) list of some such proposals:
Good discussions of past proposals can be found in Campbell (1997) and Campbell & Mithun (1979).
Amerindian linguist Lyle Campbell also assigned different percentage values of probability and confidence for various proposals of macro-families and language relationships, depending on his views of the proposals' strengths. [ clarification needed ] 0% probability or confidence would mean complete uncertainty.For example, the Germanic language family would receive probability and confidence percentage values of +100% and 100%, respectively. However, if Turkish and Quechua were compared, the probability value might be −95%, while the confidence value might be 95%.
|Almosan (and beyond)||−75%||50%|
|Keresan and Uto-Aztecan||0%||60%|
|Keresan and Zuni||−40%||40%|
|Quechua as Hokan||−85%||80%|
|Tlapanec–Subtiaba as Otomanguean||+95%||90%|
|Wakashan and Chimakuan||0%||25%|
It has long been observed that a remarkable number of Native American languages have a pronominal pattern with first-person singular forms in n and second-person singular forms in m. (Compare first-person singular m and second-person singular t across much of northern Eurasia, as in English me and thee, Spanish me and te, and Hungarian -m and -d.) This pattern was first noted by Alfredo Trombetti in 1905. It caused Sapir to suggest that ultimately all Native American languages would turn out to be related. In a personal letter to A. L. Kroeber he wrote (Sapir 1918):
Getting down to brass tacks, how in the Hell are you going to explain general American n- 'I' except genetically? It's disturbing, I know, but (more) non-committal conservatism is only dodging, after all, isn't it? Great simplifications are in store for us.
The supposed "n/m – I/you" pattern has attracted attention even from those linguists who are normally critical of such long-distance proposals. Johanna Nichols investigated the distribution of the languages that have an n/m pattern and found that they are mostly confined to the western coast of the Americas, and that similarly they exist in East Asia and northern New Guinea. She suggested that they had spread through diffusion.This notion was rejected by Lyle Campbell, who argued that the frequency of the n/m pattern was not statistically elevated in either area compared to the rest of the world. Campbell also showed that several of the languages that have the contrast today did not have it historically and stated that the pattern was largely consistent with chance resemblance, especially when taking into consideration the statistic prevalence of nasal consonants in all the pronominal systems of the world. Zamponi found that Nichols's findings were distorted by her small sample size, and that some n–m languages were recent developments (though also that some languages had lost an ancestral n–m pattern), but he did find a statistical excess of the n–m pattern in western North America only. Looking at families rather than individual languages, he found a rate of 30% of families/protolanguages in North America, all on the western flank, compared to 5% in South America and 7% of non-American languages – though the percentage in North America, and especially the even higher number in the Pacific Northwest, drops considerably if Hokan and Penutian, or parts of them, are accepted as language families. If all the proposed Penutian and Hokan languages in the table below are related, then the frequency drops to 9% of North American families, statistically indistinguishable from the world average.
Below is a list of families with both 1sg n and 2sg m, though in some cases the evidence for one of the forms is weak.
|Proto-Tsimshianic||*nə||*mə [but also *-n]|
|Proto-Chinookan||*nai..., *n-||*mai..., *m-|
|Klamath||ni 'I', ni-s 'my'||mi-s 'you' (object), mi 'your'|
|Molala||in- 'my', n- 'me'||im- 'your', m- 'you' (object)|
|Proto-Sahaptian||*(ʔî·-)n 'I'||*(ʔî·-)m 'you'|
|Takelma||àn ~ -n, -àʔn ~ -ʔn||ma ~ maː|
|Proto-Maiduan||*ni 'I', *nik 'me', *nik-k’i 'my'||*mi 'you', *min 'you' (obj), *min-k’i 'your'|
|Proto-Wintuan||*ni 'I', *ni-s 'me', *ne-r 'my', *ne-t 'my'||*mi 'you', *mi-s (obj.), *mar 'your', *ma-t 'your'|
|Proto-Yokutsan||*naʔ 'I', *nan 'me', *nam ~ *nim 'my'||*maʔ 'you', *man 'you' (obj), *mam ~ *min 'your'|
|Proto-Utian||*ka·ni 'I', *ka(·)na 'my'||*mi·(n)|
|Proto-Mixe-Zoquean||*n-heʔ 'mine', *n-||*mici, *min-|
|Chimariko||noʔot||mamot, m-, -m|
|Karok||ná· 'I', nani- ~ nini- 'my'||ʔí·m 'you', mi- 'your'|
|Coahuilteco||n(ami), n- ~ na-, nak-, niw-||mak-, may- ~ mi-|
|Proto-Yuman||*ʔnʸaː 'I', *nʸ-||*maː 'you', *m-|
|? Proto-Lencan||[*u(nani)], *-on ~ u(na)||*ama(nani), am-/ma-, -mi/-ma|
|Other North America|
|Proto-Uto-Aztecan||*(i)nɨ 'I', *(i)nɨ- 'my'||*ɨ(mɨ) 'you', *ɨ(mɨ) 'your'|
|Proto-Chibchan||nasal *dã or *na||nasal *bã or *ma|
|Proto-Aymaran||*na-ya 'I', *-Na 'my'||*hu-ma 'you', *-ma 'you(r)'|
|Mapuche||[iɲtʃé 'I'], -(ɨ)n 'I', nyi 'my' (also 'his/her')||eymi 'you', mi 'your', -m|
|? Puelche||nɨ-, -ɨn ~ -an||(kɨ-)ma-w, mu- ~ mɨ-|
|? Proto-Uru-Chipaya||(Chipaya only) -n||am|
|? Proto-Timotean||Timote-Cuica an, |
|Mucuchí-Maripú ma, |
Other scattered families may have one or the other but not both.
Besides Proto-Eskaleut and Proto-Na–Dene, the families in North America with neither 1sg n or 2sg m are Atakapan, Chitimacha, Cuitlatec, Haida, Kutenai, Proto-Caddoan, Proto-Chimakuan, Proto-Comecrudan, Proto-Iroquoian, Proto-Muskogean, Proto-Siouan-Catawba, Tonkawa, Waikuri, Yana, Yuchi, Zuni.
There are also a number of neighboring families in South America that have a tʃ–k pattern (the Duho proposal, plus possibly Arutani–Sape), or an i–a pattern (the Macro-Jê proposal, including Fulnio and Chiquitano, plus Matacoan,Zamucoan and Payaguá).
Several languages are only known by mention in historical documents or from only a few names or words. It cannot be determined that these languages actually existed or that the few recorded words are actually of known or unknown languages. Some may simply be from a historian's errors. Others are of known people with no linguistic record (sometimes due to lost records). A short list is below.
Loukotka (1968) reports the names of hundreds of South American languages which do not have any linguistic documentation.
Various miscellaneous languages such as pidgins, mixed languages, trade languages, and sign languages are given below in alphabetical order.
While most Indigenous languages have adopted the Latin script as the written form of their languages, a few languages have their own unique writing systems after encountering the Latin script (often through missionaries) that are still in use. All pre-Columbian Indigenous writing systems are no longer used.
|Writing System||Type||Language(s)||Region(s)||Date in usage||Status||Inventor|
|Quipu||N/A (string)||Aymara, Quechua, Puquina||Andean civilizations (Western South America)||3rd millennium BCE – 17th century||Extinct|
|Olmec hieroglyphs||Logogram||Mixe–Zoque languages||Isthmus of Tehuantepec||1500 BCE – 400 BCE||Extinct|
|Zapotec writing||unknown||Zapotec languages||Oaxaca||500 BCE – 700 CE||Extinct|
|Epi-Olmec/Isthmian script||Logogram||Zoque languages||Isthmus of Tehuantepec||500 BCE – 500 CE||Extinct|
|Abaj Takalik and Kaminaljuyú scripts||unknown||unknown Mixe–Zoquean language||Southern Guatemala||Extinct|
|Maya script||Logogram||Mayan languages||Maya civilization: Yucatán Peninsula of Mexico, Guatemala, & Belize||3rd century BCE – 16th century CE||Extinct|
|Mixtec script||Logogram||Mixtecan languages||Oaxaca, Puebla, Guerrero||13th century – 16th century CE||Extinct|
|Aztec script||Semasiogram||Nahuatl||Central Mexico||14th century – 16th century CE||Extinct|
|Komqwejwi'kasikl (Miꞌkmaw Hieroglyphs)||Logogram||Mi'kmaq||Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island, & New Brunswick||17th–19th century||Extinct|
|Cherokee syllabary||Syllabary||Cherokee||Cherokee Nation, United States||1820s–present||Active||Sequoyah ᏍᏏᏉᏯ|
|Canadian Aboriginal syllabics||Abugida||Algonquian languages (Cree, Naskapi, Ojibwe/Chippewa, & Blackfoot (Siksika))||Canada||1840s–present||Active||James Evans ᒉᐃᒻᔅ ᐁᕙᓐᔅ|
|Yugtun script||Syllabary||Central Alaskan Yup'ik||Alaska||1900–present||Endangered||Uyaquq|
|Afaka syllabary||Syllabary||Ndyuka||Suriname, French Guiana||1910–present||Endangered||Afáka Atumisi|
|Osage script||Alphabet||Osage||Osage Nation, United States||2006–present||Active||Herman Mongrain Lookout|
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Lacandon is a Mayan language spoken by all of the 1,000 Lacandon people in the state of Chiapas in Mexico. Within Chiapas, Lacandon is spoken in Betel, Lacanjá San Quintín, Lake Metzaboc, Metzaboc, and Najá.
The Chʼol (Chol) language is a member of the western branch of the Mayan language family used by the Chʼol people in the Mexican state of Chiapas. There are two main dialects:
This is a list of different language classification proposals developed for the indigenous languages of the Americas. The article is divided into North, Central, and South America sections; however, the classifications do not correspond to these divisions.
The Otomi are an indigenous people of Mexico inhabiting the central Mexican Plateau (Altiplano) region.
Amuzgo is an Oto-Manguean language spoken in the Costa Chica region of the Mexican states of Guerrero and Oaxaca by about 44,000 speakers. Like other Oto-Manguean languages, Amuzgo is a tonal language. From syntactical point of view Amuzgo can be considered as an active language. The name Amuzgo is claimed to be a Nahuatl exonym but its meaning is shrouded in controversy; multiple proposals have been made, including 'moss-in'.
Mayo is an Uto-Aztecan language. It is spoken by about 40,000 people, the Mexican Mayo or Yoreme Indians, who live in the South of the Mexican state of Sonora and in the North of the neighboring state of Sinaloa. Under the General Law of Linguistic Rights of the Indigenous Peoples"Law of Linguistic Rights, it is recognized as a "national language" along with 62 other indigenous languages and Spanish which all have the same validity in Mexico. The language is considered 'critically endangered' by UNESCO.
Fox is an Algonquian language, spoken by a thousand Meskwaki, Sauk, and Kickapoo in various locations in the Midwestern United States and in northern Mexico.
Many languages are spoken in Mexico, though Spanish is the de facto national language spoken by the vast majority of the population, making Mexico the world's most populous Hispanophone country. The indigenous languages are from eleven language families, including four isolates and one that immigrated from the United States. The Mexican government recognizes 68 national languages, 63 of which are indigenous, including around 350 dialects of those languages. The large majority of the population is monolingual in Spanish. Some immigrant and indigenous populations are bilingual, while some indigenous people are monolingual in their languages. Mexican Sign Language is spoken by much of the deaf population, and there are one or two indigenous sign languages as well.
Indigenous peoples of Mexico, Native Mexicans or Mexican Native Americans, are those who are part of communities that trace their roots back to populations and communities that existed in what is now Mexico prior to the arrival of the Spanish.
Awakatek is a Mayan language spoken in Guatemala, primarily in Huehuetenango and around Aguacatán. The language only has fewer than 10,000 speakers, and is considered vulnerable by UNESCO. In addition, the language in Mexico is at high risk of endangerment, with fewer than 2,000 speakers in the state of Campeche in 2010.
Tojolabal is a Mayan language spoken in Chiapas, Mexico. It is related to the Chuj language spoken in Guatemala. Tojolabal is spoken, principally in the departments of the Chiapanecan Colonia of Las Margaritas, by about 70,000 people.
Tlapanec, or Meꞌphaa, is an indigenous Mexican language spoken by more than 98,000 Tlapanec people in the state of Guerrero. Like other Oto-Manguean languages, it is tonal and has complex inflectional morphology. The ethnic group themselves refer to their ethnic identity and language as Me̱ꞌpha̱a̱.
The Triqui, or Trique, languages are a family of Oto-Manguean spoken by 30,000 Trique people of the Mexican states of Oaxaca and the state of Baja California in 2007. They are also spoken by 5,000 immigrants to the United States. Triqui languages belong to the Mixtecan branch together with the Mixtec languages and Cuicatec.
Cuicatec is an Oto-Manguean language spoken in Oaxaca, Mexico. It belongs to the Mixtecan branch together with the Mixtec languages and the Trique language. The Ethnologue lists two major dialects of Cuicatec: Tepeuxila Cuicatec and Teutila Cuicatec. Like other Oto-Manguean languages, Cuicatec is tonal.
Huave is a language isolate spoken by the indigenous Huave people on the Pacific coast of the Mexican state of Oaxaca. The language is spoken in four villages on the Isthmus of Tehuantepec, in the southeast of the state, by around 20,000 people.
Chatino is a group of indigenous Mesoamerican languages. These languages are a branch of the Zapotecan family within the Oto-Manguean language family. They are natively spoken by 45,000 Chatino people, whose communities are located in the southern portion of the Mexican state of Oaxaca.
Chichimeca or Chichimeca Jonaz is an indigenous language of Mexico spoken by around 200 Chichimeca Jonaz people in Misión de Chichimecas near San Luis de la Paz in the state of Guanajuato, Mexico. The Chichimeca Jonaz language belongs to the Oto-Pamean branch of the Oto-Manguean language family. The Chichimecos self identify as úza and call their language eza'r.
Kumeyaay (Kumiai), also known as Central Diegueño, Kamia, and Campo, is the Native American language spoken by the Kumeyaay people of southern San Diego and Imperial counties in California. Hinton (1994:28) suggested a conservative estimate of 50 native speakers of Kumeyaay. A more liberal estimate, supported by the results of the Census 2000, is 110 people in the US, including 15 persons under the age of 18. There were 377 speakers reported in the 2010 Mexican census, including 88 who called their language "Cochimi".
Amahuaca is an indigenous language of the Amazon Basin in Perú and Brazil. There around 220 speakers in Brazil, and around 328 speakers in Peru. It is also known as Amawaka, Amaguaco, Ameuhaque, Ipitineri, and Sayaco. Amahuaca is a Panoan language that is believed to be closely related to Cashinahua and Yaminawa. 30% are literate and 50% are literate in Spanish. Amahuaca uses a Latin-based script. There are some bilingual schools. A dictionary has been developed along with a grammatical description and bible portions.
The National Institute of Indigenous Peoples is a decentralized agency of the Mexican Federal Public Administration. It was established on December 4, 2018, though the earliest Mexican government agency for indigenous matters was created in 1948. It is headquartered in Mexico City and headed by Adelfo Regino Montes.