Wayuu language

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Native toVenezuela, Colombia
Ethnicity790,000 Wayuu people (2011 & 2019 censuses)[1]
Native speakers
420,000 (2008–2012)[1]
Latin script
Official status
Regulated byCentro Etnoeducativo Kamusuchiwoꞌu
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 400,000 indigenous Wayuu people in northwestern Venezuela and northeastern Colombia on the Guajira Peninsula and surrounding Lake Maracaibo.

There were an estimated 300,000 speakers of Wayuu in Venezuela in 2012 and another 120,000 in Colombia in 2008, approximately half the ethnic population of 400,000 in Venezuela (2011 census) and 400,000 in Columbia (2018 census).[1] Smith (1995) reports that a mixed Guajiro–Spanish language is replacing Wayuu in both countries.[full citation needed] However, Campbell (1997) could find no information on this.[full citation needed]

Recent developments[edit]

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

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.


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. The extinct Guanebucan language may actually have been a dialect of Wayuu.[citation needed]


Front Central Back
Close i ⟨i⟩ ɨ ⟨ü⟩ u ⟨u⟩
Mid ɛ ⟨e⟩ ɔ ⟨o⟩
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⟩ t͡ʃ ⟨ch⟩ k ⟨k⟩ ʔ ⟨ꞌ⟩
Fricative s ⟨s⟩ ʃ ⟨sh⟩ h ⟨j⟩
Flap ɺ ⟨l⟩
Trill r ⟨r⟩
Semivowel w ⟨w⟩ j ⟨y⟩

⟨l⟩ 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 of Wayuu are[5]

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

shia (she)


Vocabulary examples[edit]

The following are examples of Wayuu.[6]

  • Anaas wattamaꞌat 'good morning'
  • Anaas alikaa 'good afternoon'
  • Anaas aipaꞌa 'good night'
  • Jamaya piia? 'how are you (singular)?'
  • Jamaya jiia? 'how are you (plural)?'
  • Atpanaa 'rabbit'
  • Alama 'grass'
  • Amüchi 'clay jar'

Wayuunaiki itself comes from wayuu 'human being' and the suffix -naiki, from anüiki 'speech' ('word' or 'language').


  1. ^ a b c Wayuu at Ethnologue (25th ed., 2022) closed access
  2. ^ "El Wayuunaiki impreso". Semana.com (in Spanish). Archived from the original on 22 October 2006. Retrieved 1 December 2006.
  3. ^ "Fundación Wayuu Tayá y Microsoft Venezuela presentan Diccionario de Computación en Wayuunaiki". UniversoTek (in Spanish). 5 December 2011. Archived from the original on 26 April 2012. Retrieved 7 December 2011.
  4. ^ Chang, Tatiana (27 December 2011). "Venezuela: New computing dictionary enriches Wayuu language". Infosur hoy. Archived from the original on 8 December 2012. Retrieved 5 August 2012.
  5. ^ Mansen, Karis; Mansen, Richard A. (1984). Aprendamos guajiro: Gramática pedagógica de guajiro (in Spanish). Bogotá: Editorial Townsend. p. 44.
  6. ^ Tutorial I - ¿Cómo saludar en Wayuunaiki? – via YouTube.

External links[edit]