Photo Credit: Maurizio Costanzo.
Of course, you’ll hear Spanish when you come to Ecuador — but the country also recognizes 14 indigenous languages, all protected by the Constitution.
Since humans began to speak, some 30,000 languages have disappeared. Every year at least 10 languages disappear worldwide. A language is considered to be endangered when fewer than 100,000 people speak it. Of the 7,000 languages around the globe, some 3,000 are endangered.
Ecuador recognizes, encourages and protects 14 indigenous languages, nationalities and peoples in its Constitution. Article 2 states that Castilian Spanish is the official language of Ecuador and that Castilian, Kichwa and Shuar are official languages for intercultural relations.
The same article also states that indigenous peoples have the right to promote the use of their respective languages to preserve their core identity and general philosophy of life. Indigenous languages often can’t be translated literally into Spanish, as elements of each language represent a particular worldview.
For example, Tsa’fiquí, the language spoken by the Tsáchila, means “true word, tell the truth, speak the truth.” The words have a moral value; misuse of the language is considered grievous. The identity of this people is rooted in their language, and the Tsáchila say that if their language dies, their culture dies.
Here are the 14 languages of Ecuador, in bold. The list has been divided by region.
- the Awa nationality: Awapit
- the Chachi: Cha palaa
- the Epera: Siapede
- the Tsáchila: Tsa’fiquí
- the Cofan nationality: Ingae
- the Secoya and Siona: Paicoca
- the Huaorani: Huao Tedeo
- the Shiwiar: Shiwiar Chicham
- the Zápara: Zapara
- the Achuar: Achuar Chicham
- the Andoa: Andoa
- the Kichwa: Kichwa
- the Shuar: Shuar Chicham
The Kichwa nationality speak the Quechua language. Quechua is also spoken in Peru and Bolivia, but the Ecuadorian version is softer. The Kichwa say you can know the soul of a person by the way they speak the language.
There is a concern that even though indigenous languages are protected in Ecuador, they still may disappear. According to studies by the International Center for Advanced Studies in Communications for Latin America (CIESPAL), in 1950 14% of the Ecuadorian population spoke ancestral languages, while in 1990 only 3.7% still spoke those languages.
Originally published in El Tiempo on November 23, 2015. Translated and edited for length with permission.