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Chibchan languages are a language family indigenous to Colombia and Central America. The name is derived from the name of an extinct language called Chibcha or Muisca, spoken by the people who lived in the city of Bogotá at the time of European invasion. However, genetic and linguistic data now indicate that the original hearth of Chibchan languages and Chibchan-speaking peoples may not have been in Colombia at all, but in Costa Rica and Panama, where one finds the greatest diversity in Chibchan languages.
The Costa Rican linguist Adolfo Constenla Umaña (1981, 1991, 1995) has created a detailed classification of Chibchan languages. Most of these fall into the Southern Chibchan subgroupings of Votic, Isthmic, and Magdalenic. The following list is a slight modification of Constenla's groupings.
- Pech (Paya, Taya, Tawka, Seco) north-central Honduras
Votic Subgroup (named for the extinct Votos of northern Costa Rica)
- Rama southeastern Nicaragua
- Voto Costa Rica, extinct
- Maleku (Guatuso), north-central Costa Rica
- Corobicí northwestern Costa Rica
- Hüetar (Güetar), Costa Rica, extinct
- Bribri (Talamanca), Costa Rica
- Cabécar (Talamanca), Costa Rica
- Boruca (Brunca, Brunka), Costa Rica, nearly extinct
- Chánguena Costa Rica & Panama, extinct
- Teribe (Térraba, Tiribi, Teribe, Norteño, Quequexque, Naso), Panama and Costa Rica
- Movere (Move), central Panama
- Ngabere (Western - Guaymí, Valiente, Chiriquí, Ngábere; Eastern - Tolé, Chiriquí, Ngobere, Ngäbere'), Costa Rica and Panama
- Buglere (Bokota, Bogotá, Bofota, Bobota, Bukueta, Buglé, Nortenyo, Murire, Sabanero, Veraguas Sabanero), Panama
- Dorasque Panama, endangered
- Kuna (Cuna, San Blás Kuna, Paya-Pucuro Kuna, Caiman Nuevo, Dulegaya), Panama and Colombia
- Chibcha (Muisca, Mosca) Colombia, extinct
- Tunebo Colombia
- Guamaca (Guamaka, Malayo, Marocacero, Marocasero, Maracaserro, Sancá, Sanja, Sanka, Arosario, Arsario, Wiwa, Huihua) Colombia
- Damana Colombia
- Atanques Colombia
- Ica (Arahuaco, Aruaco, Bintuk, Bíntukua, Bintucua, Ica, Ijca, Ijka, Ika, Ike, Bíntucua, Bintuk, Bíntukua, Pebu) Colombia
- Cogui (Coghui, Cagaba, Kogi , Kogui, Kaggaba, Kagaba) Colombia
- Malayo (Arsario) Colombia and Venezuela
- Bari (Motilón, Motilone, Dobocubi), Colombia and Venezuela
- Chimila (Caca Weranos, San Jorge, Shimizya), Colombia
- Cueva Panama, extinct
- Zenú (Sinú), northern Colombia
- Cofán (Kofán, Kofane, A'i), Ecuador and Colombia
- Yanomam Venezuela
Constenla argues that Cueva, the extinct dominant language of pre-Colombian Panama, was Chocoan, not Chibchan, but there is little evidence to support its classification either way. Constenla also disagrees with Greenberg's (1987) classification of Yanomam as Chibchan.
Cofán has been included in Chibchan due to borrowed vocabulary.
Bogotá speakers assert that their language is different from Buglere and wish to be seen as a separate people (meeting of the Coordinadora Nacional de Pueblos Indigenas de Panama, 2003).
A family called Macro-Chibchan is also hypothesized, which would contain the Misumalpan languages, Lenca languages , Tarascan languages , Xinca languages , Cuitlatec language , and Yanoama languages ; it is argued by Joseph Greenberg to fall together with the Paezan languages in what he terms the Chibchan-Paezan subfamily of Amerind. However, many linguists regard the concept of "Macro-Chibchan" (let alone higher-level groupings) as overly hypothetical and therefore of limited value. The most significant neighboring linguistic groups, with which there are important relationships, are Misumalpan languages (to the north) and Chocoan languages (to the south).
Needless to say, most of these indigenous languages are severely endangered and all of them require greater study and documentation.
Constenla Umaña, A. (1981). Comparative Chibchan Phonology. Ph.D. dissertation, Department of Linguistics, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia.
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 University Press, Stanford.
A journal of Chibchan linguistics Estudios de Lingüistica Chibcha is published by the Universidad de Costa Rica.
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