In my last post about interesting facts, I told you all about Colombian flower exports. Today, I want to tell you about languages. Did you know that in Colombia there are more than fifty languages spoken? Granted the majority of Colombians speak Spanish, according the Colombian Ministry of Culture (Ministerio de Cultura), there are approximately sixty eight languages spoken in Colombia, of which sixty-five are indigenous or Indo-American languages, two are creole-African languages, and one (Spanish) is from the romance language family.1 Of these, I’d like to mention three that I find particularly unique.
The first one I’d like to mention is Palenquero. Palenquero is one of the two creole languages spoken in Colombia. It was formed through a morphing of the Spanish lexicon with the “morpho-syntactical” elements of African languages such as Bantu.3 In fact, it’s the only creole language in the world that mixes Spanish and African elements. For instance, the word “escuela” (Spanish for “school”) is very similar in Palenquero, “ekuela.”6 However, Palenquero words like ”ngobbé” (meaning “to return”) is very different from its Spanish equivalent, “devolver,” and is clearly more influenced by the African elements.6 Palenquero is spoken in only one part of Colombia, the town of Palenque de San Basilio, a UNESCO heritage site about an hour outside of Cartagena. Escaped slaves founded the town of Palenque de San Basilio in the 17th century, and there they preserved not only their African cultural heritage, but also their African linguistic heritage.2 Today, there are still around 3,500 descendants of these escaped slaves living in Palenque de San Basilio who continue to speak Palenquero and honor their African traditions.
Another interesting language in Colombia, and probably the most spoken after Spanish, is Wayuunaiki. Wayuunaiki is an indigenous, Indo-American language spoken by around 300,000 Colombians and Venezuelans belonging to the Wayuu indigenous group. The Wayuu inhabit the Guajira Peninsula that covers the Colombian department of la Guajira and the Venezuelan state of Zulia. Wayuunaiki, unlike Palenquero, does not have any Spanish elements, but is much more recognized than Palenquero. For instance, there are several versions of Spanish-Wayuunaiki dictionaries, and there are schools where children, in the Guajira Peninsula, learn in Wayuunaiki.4 Something unique about Wayuunaiki is that, unlike Spanish, there are no definite gender distinctions—instead, things are classified as “masculine,” “not masculine,” or “unspecified.”4
The third language I want to mention today is Emberá. Emberá, like Wayuunaiki, is an indigenous language. It is spoken by the Emberá people who live in the Colombian departments of Chocó, Cauca, Antioquia, Risaralda, Valle de Cauca, Córdoba, Putumayo, Nariño, Caldas, and Quindío as well as in different parts of Ecuador and Panama.5 According the Bank of the Republic (el Banco de la República), there are approximately 46,000 speakers of Emberá, as of 1989.5 Emberá belongs to its own independent family of languages called the Chocó (Chocoan) family of languages, and is not related to any other Colombian languages.5 It is interesting to note that in Emberá there is no difference when speaking of “men” and “women,” and there is no proper written form.5
Thanks for checking in!
Until next time,
Paige M. Poole
About the author:
“Paige M. Poole is an Alabamian and traveler at heart who has settled, for now, in Barranquilla, Colombia, and earns her living as an English professor at the Instituto de Idiomas (Language Institute) at la Universidad del Norte (University of the North). When not teaching English, she enjoys blogging, traveling, relaxing on the beach, and spending time with her partner and two cats, Milo and Sophie. You can see more of Paige’s traveling experiences in her personal blog www.trotamunda.wordpress.com
- Interesting Facts about Colombia: Part I (www.uncovercolombia.com)
- La Guajira: A truly off the beaten track destination in Colombia (www.uncovercolombia.com)
- Colombia, a melting pot of cultures (www.uncovercolombia.com)