Chibchan languages

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Costa Rica, Panama and Colombia
Linguistic classificationMacro-Chibchan ?
  • Chibchan
ISO 639-5cba
Chibcha lang.png

The Chibchan languages (also Chibchan, Chibchano) make up a language family indigenous to the Isthmo-Colombian Area, which extends from eastern Honduras to northern Colombia and includes populations of these countries as well as Nicaragua, Costa Rica, and Panama. The name is derived from the name of an extinct language called Chibcha or Muysccubun, once spoken by the people who lived on the Altiplano Cundiboyacense of which the city of Bogotá was the southern capital at the time of the Spanish Conquista. However, genetic and linguistic data now indicate that the original heart of Chibchan languages and Chibchan-speaking peoples may not have been in Colombia at all, but in the area of the Costa Rica-Panama border, where one finds the greatest variety of Chibchan languages.

External relations[edit]

A larger family called Macro-Chibchan, which would contain the Misumalpan languages, Xinca, and Lenca, was found convincing by Kaufman (1990).[full citation needed]


  • A
  • B
    • Pech (Paya) – 990 speakers, endangered
    • Dorasque
    • Votic
      • Rama – 740 speakers, moribund
      • Voto
      • Maléku (Guatuso) – 750 speakers, endangered
      • Corobicí – northwestern Costa Rica †
    • Cuna–Colombian
      • Kuna (Dulegaya) – 60,600 speakers, vulnerable in Panama, endangered in Colombia
      • Chibcha–Motilon
        • Barí (Motilón) – 5,000 speakers, vulnerable
        • Chibcha–Tunebo
      • Arwako–Chimila
        • Chimila – 350 speakers, endangered
        • Arwako
          • Wiwa (Malayo, Guamaca) – 1,850 speakers, endangered
          • Kankuamo
          • Arhuaco (Ika) – 8,000 speakers, vulnerable
          • Kogi (Cogui) – 9,910 speakers, vulnerable

The extinct languages of Antioquia, Old Catío and Nutabe have been shown to be Chibchan (Adelaar & Muysken, 2004:49). The language of the Tairona is unattested, apart from a single word, but may well be one of the Arwako languages still spoken in the Santa Marta range. The Zenú AKA Sinú language of northern Colombia is also sometimes included, as are the Malibu languages, though without any factual basis.

Adolfo Constenla Umaña argues that Cueva, the extinct dominant language of Pre-Columbian Panama long assumed to be Chibchan based on a misinterpreted Kuna vocabulary, was actually Chocoan, but there is little evidence.

The Cofán language (Kofán, Kofane, A'i) of Ecuador and Colombia has been erroneously included in Chibchan due to borrowed vocabulary.

Jolkesky (2016)[edit]

Internal classification by Jolkesky (2016):[2]

(† = extinct)



Below is a full list of Chibchan language varieties listed by Loukotka (1968), including names of unattested varieties.[3]

Rama group
Guatuso group
  • Guatuso - spoken on the Frío River, Costa Rica, now perhaps extinct.
  • Guetar / Brusela - extinct language once spoken on the Grande River, Costa Rica.
  • Suerre / Camachire / Chiuppa - extinct language once spoken on the Tortuguero River, Costa Rica. (Benzoni 1581, p. 214, only five words.)
  • Pocosi - extinct language once spoken on the Matina River and around the modern city of Puerto Limón, Costa Rica. (Unattested.)
  • Voto - extinct language once spoken at the mouth of the San Juan River, Costa Rica. (Unattested.)
  • Quepo - extinct language once spoken in Costa Rica on the Pacuare River. (W. Lehmann 1920, vol. 1, p. 238, only one single word.)
  • Corobisi / Corbesi / Cueresa / Rama de rio Zapote - spoken by a few individuals in Costa Rica on the Zapote River. (Alvarez in Conzemius 1930, pp. 96–99.)
Talamanca group
  • Terraba / Depso / Quequexque / Brurán - extinct language once spoken in Costa Rica on the Tenorio River.
  • Tirub / Rayado / Tiribi - extinct language spoken once in Costa Rica on the Virilla River.
  • Bribri / Lari - spoken on the Coca River and Tarire River, Costa Rica.
  • Estrella - Spanish name of an extinct language, the original name of which is unknown, once spoken on the Estrella River, Costa Rica.
  • Cabecar - language spoken on the Moy River, Costa Rica.
  • Chiripó - language spoken in Costa Rica on the Matina River and Chirripó River.
  • Viceyta / Abiseta / Cachi / Orosi / Tucurrique - extinct language once spoken on the Tarire River, Costa Rica.
  • Brunca / Boruca / Turucaca - extinct language of Costa Rica, spoken on the Grande River and in the Boruca region.
  • Coto / Cocto - extinct language once spoken between the sources of the Coto River and Grande River, Costa Rica. (Unattested.)
Dorasque group
  • Chumulu - extinct language once spoken in El Potrero, Veraguas (Potrero de Vargas), Panama.
  • Gualaca - extinct language once spoken on the Chiriqui River, Panama.
  • Changuena - once spoken in Panama, on the Changuena River.
Guaymi group
  • Muoi - extinct language once spoken in the Miranda Valley of Panama.
  • Move / Valiente - now spoken on the Guaymi River and in the Veragua Peninsula.
  • Norteño - dialect without an aboriginal name, spoken on the northern coast of Panama, now perhaps extinct.
  • Penonomeño - once spoken in the village of Penonemé.
  • Murire / Bucueta / Boncota / Bogota - spoken in the Serranía de Tabasara by a few families.
  • Sabanero / Savaneric / Valiente - extinct dialect without aboriginal name, once spoken on the plains south of the Serranía de Tabasara.
  • Pariza - extinct dialect spoken in the Conquest days on the Veragua Peninsula. (G. Espinosa 1864, p. 496, only one single word.)
Cuna group
  • Coiba - extinct language once spoken on the Chagres River, Panama. (W. Lehmann 1920, vol. I, pp. 112–122; A. Santo Tomas 1908, pp. 124–128, only five words.)
  • Cuna / Bayano / Tule / Mandingo / San Blas / Karibe-Kuna / Yule - language spoken in eastern Panama, especially on the Bayano River, in San Blas and the small islands on the northern coast.
  • Cueva / Darien - extinct language Once spoken at the mouth of the Atrato River, Colombia.
  • Chochama - extinct language once spoken on the Suegro River, Panama. (Unattested.)
Antioquia group
  • Guazuzú - once spoken in the Sierra de San Jerónimo, department of Antioquia, Colombia. (Unattested.)
  • Oromina / Zeremoe - extinct language once spoken south of the Gulf of Urabá, Antioquia, Colombia. (Unattested.)
  • Catio - once spoken in the region of Dabaiba, Colombia. (only a few words.)
  • Hevejico - once spoken in the Tonusco and Ebéjico Valleys. (Unattested.)
  • Abibe - once spoken in the Sierra de Abibe. (Unattested.)
  • Buritaca - once spoken at the sources of the Sucio River. (Unattested.)
  • Caramanta - once spoken around the city of Caramanta.
  • Cartama - once spoken around the modern city of Cartama. (Unattested.)
  • Pequi - once spoken in the Pequi region. (Unattested.)
  • Arma - once spoken on the Pueblanco River. (Unattested.)
  • Poze - once spoken on the Pozo River and Pacova River. (Cieza de Leon 1881, p. 26, only one single word.)
  • Nutabé - once spoken in the San Andrés Valley.
  • Tahami - once spoken on the Magdalena River and Tora River. (Unattested.)
  • Yamesi - once spoken at the mouth of the Nechi River and on the Porce River. (Simon 1882-1892, vol. 5, p. 80, only one single word.)
  • Avurrá - once spoken in the Aburrá Valley. (Piedrahita (Fernandez de Piedrahita) 1688, cap. 2, f. 9, only one single word.)
  • Guamoco - once spoken around the modern city of Zaragoza, Antioquia. (Unattested.)
  • Anserma / Humbra / Umbra - once spoken on the Cauca River around the city of Anserma, Caldas. (J. Robledo 1865, pp. 389 and 392, only a few words.)
  • Amachi - once spoken in the San Bartolomé Valley. (Unattested.)
Chibcha group
  • Chibcha / Muisca / Mosca - extinct language once spoken on the upper plateau of Bogotá and Tunja, department of Cundinamarca, Colombia.
    • Duit dialect - once spoken on the Tunja River and Tundama River.
  • Tunebo / Tame - language now spoken by many tribes living in the area east of the Chibcha tribe. Dialects:
  • Chitarero - extinct language once spoken around the modern city of Pamplona, department of Santander. (Unattested.)
  • Lache - extinct language once spoken on the Chicamocha River and in the Sierra de Chita, department of Boyacá. (Unattested.)
Motilon group
Arhuaco (Arwako) group
Paya group


Proto-Chibchan reconstructions by Constenla (1981):[4]

gloss Proto-Chibchan
arm, hand, shoulder *ˈkuíkI, *ˈkuí-
ashes *bur-, *buˈrṹ
at, in *skA; *ki; *sə
at, in, towards *ka
big (size or quantity) *təˈĩ
bird *dù
blood *ApÍ
boat, craft *huˈLù
body *AˈpÀ
bone *ˈkàrə
breasts *kAʔ
breast *ˈtsúʔ, *ˈtsúʔtsú
brother *səˈkə
brother-in-law *ˈuba; *ˈduáʔ
butterfly *kuA-, *kuAʔ-
cedar (several trees of the Cedrela genus) *uˈru
ceiba *puLí, *puLíkI
child, young of an animal, egg *əˈrə̀
child, young of an animal *ˈuÁʔ-
cloth *ˈsuá-
cloud *ˈbõ̀, *bo-
cockroach *ˈsóx-
cocoa *kə́ˈhùʔ
come *ˈda-; *ˈdI-
cook *ˈdu-
cotton *suˈhí
cough, catarrh *ˈtóʔ
crocodile *ˈkú-
cultivated field *ˈtÌ
curassow (Crax rubra) *ˈdubÍ
deer *ˈsur, *ˈsurĩ̀
diminutive *-ˈaːrə
dog *ˈto
dove (common ground dove) *ˈÚtu-
dry *diˈsə-
dry season *ˈduá-
eagle, hawk *ˈpṹ
ear *ˈkuhkə́, *ˈkuhkuə́
eat, drink *ˈga-
egg, sprout, suckling *ˈpú
emerald toucanet *dəˈkər̃ə́
enter *ˈdok-
excrement *ˈgã́
eye *úb
face *uˈbə́
father *ˈkáka
feline *dəbə̃́; *kuLÁʔ
find *ˈkũ
finger, hand *ˈkU
firewood, fire, coal, live coal *ˈgÌ
first person prefix *də̃-
fish *ˈuA; *dibÃ̀
five *sAkẽ́
flesh *gAtA
fly *ˈkulu
foot *sAˈkə̃
four *bəhˈke
fruit *ubə́
give birth *ˈgU-
gnat (jején) *buˈr̃ṹʔ
go *ˈdA-
grease *ˈkiə́
grind *ˈuʔ
grindstone, to sharpen *ˈiáʔ
grow, widen *təˈlə-
guan (bird) *ˈkũ̀
hand *AtA; *guLÀ
head, hair *ˈtsã̀
house *ˈhu
how many *ˈbi
hunger *bAˈLi
I *ˈda
jocote (Spondias purpurea), jobo (Spondias mombin) *bəˈrə́ʔ
kill *ˈguə
know, see *sũ
lake *iAˈbÁ
laugh *ˈhaĩ
laurel (Cordia alliodora) *ˈBúʔ
leaf *ˈkə́
leg *kəˈrə
liquid *dí; *ˈli
lizard *ulíʔ
louse *ˈkṹ
maize *ˈIBI
make *gU
mayo (tree) *bèk
monkey: howler monkey *úriʔ
monkey: spider monkey *dõ̀, *do-
monkey: white-faced monkey *hòkI
moon, month *siˈhíʔ
mother-in-law *ˈgAkA
mouse *ˈsuhkÌ
mouth *ˈkahkə
mud *ˈdÚ; *oˈr̃i
name *ˈhaká
nape, neck *duˈkurə
neck *ˈgala
net *kAˈlÁʔ
nose *dəˈIkI
now *ˈBə
old *AˈkÍkI; *tAˈlá
one *ˈé ?
otter *doʔ
paca (Agouti paca) *ˈkuri
peachpalm (Bactris gasipaes, Guilelma utilis) *ˈsúbaʔ
peccary (Tayassu pecari spiradens) *siˈdĩ́ʔ
peel, undress *ˈsu-
person *ApÍ-
place, time, environment, land *ˈká
plant *ˈdi
poró tree, elequeme tree (synonyms) *baˈlò
pot, vessel, jar *ˈũ
pumpkin, squash *Apì
rattle, maraca, colander, gourd cup (= object elaborated from a gourd) *ˈtã́
reed *kəˈru
rotten *ˈdṹ
sand *ˈu; *ˈuBA
say *ˈguA-; *ˈgI
sea *dAgÌ
second person prefix *bi-
see *ˈguəkI
seek *ˈdí
seed, plant *ˈpkua
seize, hold *kaLUh-
seven *ˈkúh-
shark *tAˈLì
shrimp *ˈkUs
sing *ˈtA
six *ˈted
skin, bark *hukə́
sleep *kAp-
small *ˈ¢id
smell, odor *hALÀ
snake *tAkAbÌ
soil, earth, dirt, clay *ˈtÁBA
son *gAbÀ
spider *óhk
squirrel *kudã́
star *bÌ-
stick (a spear), insert, put in *ˈtsã
stone *ˈhákI
sun *dì; *ˈka; *dui
sweet *bəˈlóʔ
tail *ˈduhkI
tapir *dAĩ́ʔ
take *ˈgúʔ
tear *ˈubə́diə
that *ˈhéʔ; *ˈse; *ˈkue; *ˈdiÀ
third person *i-; *A
this *ˈdi-; *ˈhíʔ
three *ˈbai
tobacco *ˈdu, *ˈduə̀
tongue *pkúʔ, *ˈpkuə́
tooth *ˈtu; *aˈkə
toucan sp. *Biˈli
tray (made of wood, used to wash) *kuˈLIʔ
transitive verb marker *Bə-
tree *ˈkàr; *kaˈri
tree, trunk of a tree, wood *ˈkarə́
tuber *ˈtuʔ
turtle *kuÌ; *uˈli
two *ˈbU
uncle *kəˈru
vulva *ˈkÍ
water *ˈdíʔ
we (inclusive) *ˈsẽ́ʔ
weep *ˈbo
what *ˈhi
where *biə
white *buLu
wind *ˈBur-
with *uA; *tÁ
woodpecker *soˈr̃o
woods, firewood *ˈbUʔ
work *hiBA
worm *ˈgĩ́
you (sg.) *ˈbáʔ
yucca *ˈik

Proto-Chibchan horticultural vocabulary:[5]

  • *dihke ‘to sow’
  • *te1 ‘cultivated clearing’
  • *ike ‘manioc’
  • *tuʔ ‘tuber, yam’ (Dioscorea spp.; Xanthosoma sagittifolium)
  • *apì ‘pumpkin, squash’
  • *e, *ebe ‘maize’
  • *du, *dua1 ‘tobacco’
  • *tã1 ‘rattles from gourd’
  • *toka ‘gourd cup’


  1. ^ Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds. (2017). "Chibchan". Glottolog 3.0. Jena, Germany: Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History.
  2. ^ Jolkesky, Marcelo Pinho De Valhery. 2016. Estudo arqueo-ecolinguístico das terras tropicais sul-americanas. Ph.D. dissertation, University of Brasília.
  3. ^ Loukotka, Čestmír (1968). Classification of South American Indian languages. Los Angeles: UCLA Latin American Center.
  4. ^ Constenla Umaña, Adolfo (1981). Comparative Chibchan Phonology. Ph.D. dissertation, Department of Linguistics, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia.
  5. ^ Constenla Umaña, Adolfo. 2012. Chibchan languages. In Lyle Campbell and Verónica Grondona (eds.), The Indigenous Languages of South America: A Comprehensive Guide, 391-440. Berlin: Mouton.


  • Constenla Umaña, A. (1981). Comparative Chibchan Phonology. (Ph.D. dissertation, Department of Linguistics, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia).
  • Constenla Umaña, A. (1985). Las lenguas dorasque y changuena y sus relaciones genealógicas. Filologia y linguística, 11.2:81-91.
  • Constenla Umaña, Adolfo. (1991). Las lenguas del Área Intermedia: Introducción a su estudio areal. Editorial de la Universidad de Costa Rica, San José.
  • Constenla Umaña, Adolfo. (1995). Sobre el estudio diacrónico de las lenguas chibchenses y su contribución al conocimiento del pasado de sus hablantes. Boletín del Museo del Oro 38–39: 13–56.
  • Greenberg, Joseph H. (1987). Language in the Americas. Stanford: Stanford University Press.
  • Holt, Dennis (1986). The Development of the Paya Sound-System. (Ph.D. dissertation, Department of Linguistics, University of California, Los Angeles).
  • Quesada, J. Diego (2007). The Chibchan Languages. Editorial Tecnológica de Costa Rica, 259 pp. ISBN 9977-66-186-3.
  • A journal of Chibchan linguistics Estudios de Lingüistica Chibcha is published by the Universidad de Costa Rica.
  • Headland, E. (1997). Diccionario bilingüe con una gramatica Uw Cuwa (Tunebo). Bogotá: Summer Institute of Linguistics.
  • Margery Peña, E. (1982). Diccionario español-bribri, bribri-español. San José: Editorial Universidad de Costa Rica.
  • Margery Peña, E. (1989). Diccionario Cabécar-Español, Español-Cabécar. Editorial de la Universidad de Costa Rica.
  • Pinart, A. L. (1890). Vocabulario Castellano-Dorasque: Dialectos Chumulu, Gualaca y Changuina. (Petite Bibliothèque Américaine, 2). Paris: érnest Leroux.
  • Pinart, A. L. (1892). Vocabulario Guaymie: Dialectos Move-Valiente Norteño y Guaymie Penonomeño. (Petite Bibliothèque Américaine, 3). Paris: érnest Leroux.
  • Pinart, A. L. (1897). Vocabulario Guaymie: Dialectos Murıre-Bukueta, Mouı y Sabanero. (Petite Bibliothèque Américaine, 4). Paris: érnest Leroux.
  • Quesada Pacheco, M. A.; Rojas Chaves, C. (1999). Diccionario boruca-español, español-boruca. San José: Editorial de la Universidad de Costa Rica.

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