Bribri language

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Native toCosta Rica.
RegionLimón province: Talamanca cantón, along Lari, Telire, and Uren rivers; Puntarenas province: Buenos Aires cantón
Ethnicity12,200 Bribri people (2000)[1]
Native speakers
7,000 (2011)[1]
11,000 (2000)
Language codes
ISO 639-3bzd
Costa-rica bribri.png

Bribri, also known as Bri-bri, Bribriwak, and Bribri-wak, is a Chibchan language, from a language family indigenous to the Isthmo-Colombian Area, which extends from eastern Honduras to northern Colombia and includes populations of those countries as well as Nicaragua, Costa Rica, and Panama. As of 2002, there were about 11,000 speakers left.[2] An estimate by the National Census of Costa Rica in 2011 found that Bribri is currently spoken by 54.7% of the 12,785 Bribri people, about 7,000 individuals.[3] It is a tonal language whose word order is subject–object–verb.

There are three traditional dialects of Bribri: Coroma (in the western region of the Talamanca mountain range), Amubre (in the eastern region of the Talamanca mountain range) and Salitre (in the South Pacific area). Bribri is a tribal name, deriving from a word for "mountainous" in their own language. The Bribri language is also referred to as Su Uhtuk, which means "our language."[4] Bribri is reportedly most similar to sister language Cabécar as both languages have nasal harmony, but they are mutually unintelligible.[5]



Bilabial Dental Alveolar Palatal Postalveolar Velar Glottal
Plosive p b t d k ʔ
Affricate t͡k t͡s ɟ͡ʝ t͡ʃ
Nasal m n ɲ
Flap ɾ
Fricative s ʃ h
Approximant w j
  • /b/ can have allophones of [β, m].
  • /d/ can have an allophone of [ɽ], as well as nasal allophones of [ɽ̃, n].
  • /ɟ͡ʝ/ can have an allophone of [ɲ].
  • /ɾ/ can have an allophone of [r].
  • /w, j/ can have nasalised allophones of [w̃, j̃].[6]


I, u and a are pronounced in the same manner as they would be in Spanish. E and o are more open than in Spanish. The sound of ë is between i and e, in the same manner as ö is between u and o. The nasal vowels are pronounced similarly to the corresponding orals, with the addition of some air exiting through the nose.

Oral Vowels

Front Central Back
High i u
Near-high ɪ ʊ
Mid-low ɛ ɔ
Low a

Nasal Vowels

Front Central Back
High ĩ ũ
Mid-low ɛ̃ ɔ̃
Low ã
Spanish examples of oral vowels:




padre, papá






Spanish examples of nasal vowels:

madre, mamá




eso, ese



en; para


The Linguistics Department at the University of Costa Rica has conceived a standardized spelling system that is based on several earlier attempts.[7]

Bribri sign in a restaurant in Bribrí in Talamanca, Costa Rica. Translation: "I'm hungry, I'm going to eat."
Bribri Alphabet
a b d ch e ë i j k l m n ñ o ö p pp r rr s sh t tt tch ts u y

Nasal vowels are indicated by a tilde: ⟨ã, ẽ, ĩ, õ, ũ⟩ (Previously indicated with a macron below: a̱, e̱, i̱, o̱, u̱), except after a nasal consonant (already indicating nasalisation of the vowel).

Tones are indicated by the grave accent for the high tone and the acute accent for the low tone; these can also be placed on the nasal vowels.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Bribri at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015)
  2. ^ "Ethnologue". Archived from the original on 28 June 2011. Retrieved 22 February 2011.
  3. ^ "Vista de Morfología verbal de la lengua bribri". Retrieved 2020-01-29.
  4. ^ "Bribri Language and the Bribri Indian Tribe (Bri-Bri, Talamanca, Coroma)". Retrieved 2020-01-29.
  5. ^ "Bribri". Ethnologue. Retrieved 2020-01-29.
  6. ^ Chevrier, Natacha (2017). Analyse de la phonologie du bribri (chibcha) dans une perspective typologique: Nasalité et géminée modulée.
  7. ^ Jara & García 2013.


External links[edit]