Language in South America

Most who view South America from the outside undoubtedly think of the Spanish language first when picturing the continent, with the obvious exception of Brazil.

While Spanish is obviously the most common official language, the fact is that more individuals in South America speak Portuguese than Spanish. Portuguese speakers currently outnumber Spanish speakers 196 million to 193 million.

Additionally, the range of languages used in South America is staggering. English is the official language of Guyana. Dutch is the official language of Suriname. French is the official language of French Guiana.

Aside from the languages brought during the colonization of the Americas, a wide range of native languages is still used by a large number of South Americans.

Quechua is spoken in Bolivia, Peru, and Ecuador. Guaraní is still widely used in Paraguay, and also in small areas of Bolivia. Aymara is used in Bolivia, Peru, and somewhat in northern Chile, while Mapudungun is more often heard in Chile, and in some small pockets of Argentina.

Bolivia’s newest constitution defined 36 unique indigenous languages (as well as Spanish) as national languages and requires all departmental governments to use an indigenous language as well as Spanish.

Similarly, Colombia recognizes more than 60 indigenous languages in their respective territories. In Peru, Quechua, Aymara, and other languages are used officially along with Spanish in territories where they are predominant.

Brazil alone has a staggering 180 confirmed indigenous languages.

Estimates place the number of native languages still spoken at 350.

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