Wayuu language

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Native toVenezuela, Colombia
Ethnicity793,000 Wayuu people (2011 & 2019 censuses)
Native speakers
420,000 (2008–2012)[1]
Latin script
Official status
Regulated byCentro Etnoeducativo Kamusuchiwo’u
Language codes
ISO 639-3guc
Extent of the Wayuu people and language
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Wayuu (Wayuu: Wayuunaiki [waˈjuːnaiki]), or Guajiro, is a major Arawakan language spoken by 305,000 indigenous Wayuu people in northwestern Venezuela and northeastern Colombia on the Guajira Peninsula. The two main dialects are Wüinpümüin and Wopumüin spoken in the northeast and southwest of the peninsula respectively. These dialects are mutually intelligible, as they are minimally distinct. Most of the younger generations speak Spanish fluently, much more so in the southern areas of the peninsula. The extinct Guanebucan language may actually have been a dialect of Wayuu.

To promote bilingual education among Wayuu and other Colombians, the Kamusuchiwo’u Ethno-educative Center or Centro Etnoeducativo Kamusuchiwo’u came up with the initiative of creating the first illustrated Wayuunaiki–Spanish, Spanish–Wayuunaiki dictionary.[2]

Less than 1% of Wayuu speakers are literate in Wayuu while 5 to 15% are literate in Spanish. There are 200,000 speakers in Venezuela and 120,000 in Colombia. Smith (1995) reports that a mixed Guajiro-Spanish language is replacing Wayuu in both countries. However, Campbell (1997) could find no information on this.

Recent developments[edit]

In December 2011, the Wayuu Tayá Foundation and Microsoft presented the first ever dictionary of technology terms in the Wayuu language,[3][4] after having developed it for three years with a team of technology professionals and linguists.



Front Central Back
Close i [i] ü [ɨ] u [u]
Mid e [ɛ] o [ɔ]
Open a [a]

Note: ⟨e⟩ and ⟨o⟩ are more open than in English.[clarification needed] ⟨a⟩ is slightly front of central, and ⟨ü⟩ is slightly back of central. All vowels can either occur in short or long versions, since vowel length is distinctive.


Labial Alveolar Palatal Velar Glottal
Nasal m [m] n [n]
Plosive p [p] t [t̪] ch [t͡ʃ] k [k] ʼ [ʔ]
Fricative s [s] sh [ʃ] j [h]
Flap l [ɺ]
Trill r [r]
Approximant w [w] y [j]

⟨lr⟩ is a lateral flap pronounced with the tongue just behind the position for the Spanish ⟨r⟩, and with a more lateral airflow.


The personal pronouns are:[5]

singular plural
1st person taya waya
2nd person pia jia
3rd person nia (he)

shia (she)


Vocabulary examples[6][edit]

  • Anaas wattamaʼat - good morning
  • Anaas Alikaa - good afternoon
  • Anaas Aipaʼa - good night
  • Jamaya piia? - how are you (singular)?
  • Jamaya jiia? - how are you (plural)?
  • Atpanaa - rabbit
  • Alama - grass
  • Amüchi - clay jar


  1. ^ Wayuu at Ethnologue (24th ed., 2021)
  2. ^ (in Spanish) El Wayuunaiki impreso
  3. ^ Fundación Wayuu Tayá y Microsoft Venezuela presentan Diccionario de Computación en Wayuunaiki (in Spanish)
  4. ^ Tatiana Chang (2011-12-27). "Venezuela: New computing dictionary enriches Wayuu language". Infosur hoy. Retrieved 2012-08-05.
  5. ^ Mansen, Karis; Mansen, Richard A. (1984). Aprendamos guajiro: Gramática pedagógica de guajiro. Bogotá: Editorial Townsend.
  6. ^ https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4jMXXXgkfeI&feature=youtu.be

External links[edit]