Cabécar language

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Native toCosta Rica
RegionTurrialba Region (Cartago Province)
EthnicityCabécar people 9,300 (2000)[1]
Native speakers
8,800 (2000)[1]
80% monolingual (no date)[2]
Language codes
ISO 639-3cjp

The Cabécar language is an indigenous American language of the Chibchan language family which is spoken by the Cabécar people in Costa Rica. Specifically, it is spoken in the inland Turrialba Region of the Cartago Province. 80% of speakers are monolingual;[2] as of 2007, it is the only indigenous language in Costa Rica with monolingual adults.[1] The language is also known by its dialect names Chirripó, Estrella, Telire, and Ujarrás.[1]


Cabécar is considered to be one of a few "Chibcha-speaking tribes," categorized by similarities in the languages that they speak. Other Chibcha speaking tribes include the Bribri and the Boruca, also of Costa Rica. It is believed that the languages of the Chibcha speaking tribes shared a common ancestor around 8,000 years ago. However, differences in the languages are thought to have come about from the influence of outside people, including influences from Mesoamerica. [4]

Geographic Distribution[edit]

Cabécar is an endangered language spoken in Costa Rica. It is spoken by the Cabécar people, an indigenous group located near the Talamancan mountains of Costa Rica. [4]


There are two different dialects of Cabécar, each of which has more narrow dialects within it. One of these is spoken in the north, while the other is spoken in southern parts of Costa Rica. [5]


Cabécar uses a Latin alphabet with umlauts for (ë, ö), and tildes for (ã, ẽ, ĩ, õ, ũ).[6] Cabécar has twelve vowels, five of which are nasalized.[6]


Bilabial Dental Alveolar Retroflex Postalveolar Velar Glottal
Plosive plain p t t͡ʃ k
voiced b d d͡ʒ
Fricative s ʃ h
Affricate t͡k t͡s
Flap ɺ
Nasal ŋ


Oral Nasal
Close i ĩ
Mid e
Open a ã
Back-mid o õ
Back-close u ũ



Cabécar has a canonical word order of subject–object–verb.[1]


  1. ^ a b c d e Cabécar at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015)
  2. ^ a b Cabécar language at Ethnologue (10th ed., 1984). Note: Data may come from the 9th edition (1978).
  3. ^ Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds. (2017). "Cabécar". Glottolog 3.0. Jena, Germany: Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History.
  4. ^ a b Barrantes, R.; Smouse, P.E.; Mohrenweiser, H.W.; Gershowitz, H.; Azofeifa, J.; Arias, T.D.; Neel, J.V. (1990). "Microevolution in Lower Central America: Genetic Characterization of the Chibcha-Speaking Groups of Costa Rica and Panama, and a Consensus Taxonom Based on Genetic and Linguistic Affinity". American Journal of Human Genetics. 43: 63–84.
  5. ^ Margery-Peña, Enrique; Constenla-Umaña, Adolfo (16 February 2010). "Cabécar, Costa Rica". University of Costa Rica.
  6. ^ a b
  7. ^ Peña, Enrique Margery (1989). Diccionario cabécar-español, español-cabécar. Editorial Universidad de Costa Rica.


  • Quesada, J. D. (2007). The Chibchan Languages. Editorial Tecnologica de CR. 259pp
  • Gavarrete, M. E. (2015). The challenges of mathematics education for Indigenous teacher training. Intercultural Education, 26(4), 326-337.
  • Quesada, D. J. (2000). On Language Contact: Another Look at Spanish-speaking (Central) America. Hispanic Research Journal, 1(3), 229-242.
  • Umaña, A. C. (2012). Chibchan languages. The indigenous languages of South America: A comprehensive guide, 2, 391.
  • Instituto Clodomiro Picado: Tkäbe tso Costa Rica ska Tkäbe te sa shkawe wätkewaklä (serpientes de Costa Rica y prevención de mordeduras). San José: Instituto Clodomiro Picado; 2009:20.
  • Lamounier Ferreira, A. (2013). ¿ En cabécar o español?: bilingüismo y diglosia en Alto Chirripó. Centro de Investigación e Identidad y Cultura Latinoamericana. Universidad de Costa Rica. Cuadernos Inter.c.a.mbio sobre Centroamérica y el Caribe Vol.10, no.12 (2013, segundo semestre) 105-119 páginas "Miradas sobre la diversidad indígena"
  • González Campos, G. (2015). Nuevas consideraciones sobre la morfología verbal del cabécar. LETRAS; Vol 1, No 51 (2012); 33-58. Escuela de Literatura y Ciencias del Lenguaje
  • Pacheco, M. Á. Q. (2013). Estado de la lengua cabécar en el poblado de San Rafael de Cañas, Buenos Aires (Puntarenas). Estudios de Lingüística Chibcha.
  • Solórzano, S. F. (2010). Teclado chibcha: un software lingüístico para los sistemas de escritura de las lenguas bribri y cabécar. Revista de Filología y Lingüística de la Universidad de Costa Rica, 36(2).
  • Potter, E. (1998). The primary education of bilingual indigenous children on the Talamanca Bribri Reservation in Limón Province of Costa Rica/by Elsa Potter. Texas A&M University-Kingsville.
  • Anderson, W. D. (2006). Medical Education: What Would the Shamans and Witches Think?*. Academic Medicine, 81(10), S138-S143.
  • Margery Peña, Enrique. 1989. Diccionario Cabécar-Español, Español-Cabécar. Editorial de la Universidad de Costa Rica. 676pp. Reprint 2003.
  • Cervantes Gamboa, Laura. 1991. Observaciones etnomusicológicas acerca de tres cantos de cuna cabécares. Estudios de Lingüística Chibcha 10. 143-163.
  • Elisabeth Verhoeven. 2012. Cabécar – a Chibchan language of Costa Rica. In Jeanette Sakel and Thomas Stolz (eds.), Amerindiana: Neue Perspektiven auf die indigenen Sprachen Amerikas, 151-169. Berlin: Akademie. [1]

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