The languages of South America can be divided into three broad groups: the languages of the (in most cases, former) colonial powers; many indigenous languages, some of which enjoy co-official status alongside the colonial languages; and various pockets of other languages spoken by immigrant populations that have survived assimilation by the majority languages.
The languages imposed by the process of European colonization of the Americas are mainly Indo-European. Portuguese is the majority language of South America, by a small margin. Spanish, with slightly fewer speakers than Portuguese, is the second most spoken language on the continent. Dutch is the official language of Suriname; English is the official language of Guyana, although there are at least 12 other languages spoken in the country, including Hindi, Arabic, and various indigenous languages. English is also spoken in the Falkland Islands. French is the official language of the French overseas department of French Guiana.
Indigenous languages of South America include, among several others, Quechua languages in Bolivia, Peru, and Ecuador; Guaraní in Paraguay and, to a much lesser extent, in Bolivia; Aymara in Bolivia, Peru, and less often in Chile; and Mapudungun is spoken in certain pockets of southern Chile and, more rarely, Argentina.
In Bolivia, Quechua, Aymara, and Tupi Guarani are co-official alongside Spanish. In Paraguay, Guarani shares joint official status with Spanish. In Colombia, the languages of the country's ethnic groups are constitutionally recognized as official languages in their territories; more than 60 such aboriginal languages exist today. In Peru, Quechua, Aymara, and other indigenous languages are co-official in the areas where they are predominant. There are many other languages once spoken in South America that are extinct today (such as the extinct languages of the Marañón River basin).
In Brazil, there are around 180 indigenous languages confirmed. The regions with the most speakers are northern and western Brazil, where there is a larger concentration of native people. Indigenous populations have been trying to keep their traditions of their homeland, with the help of Funai, the agency responsible for the protection of the native people.
Other languages found in South America include Hindi and Javanese in Guyana and Suriname; Italian in Argentina, Brazil, Uruguay, Chile, Venezuela and Colombia; and German in certain pockets in Brazil, Argentina, Chile, Venezuela, Colombia and Paraguay.
In Brazil, Italian and German dialects, specifically Talian, Pomeranian and Riograndenser Hunsrückisch, went as far as reaching co-official status alongside Portuguese in about a dozen cities, and becoming mandatory subjects in schools in other municipalities.
Welsh remains spoken and written in the historic towns of Trelew and Rawson in the Argentine Patagonia. There are small Croatian, Polish and Russian-speaking communities in Brazil, Chile, Peru and Argentina. There are also small clusters of Japanese-speakers in Brazil, Bolivia, Colombia, Paraguay, Peru and Ecuador. Arabic speakers, often of Lebanese, Syrian or Palestinian descent, can be found in Arab communities in Brazil, Colombia, Argentina, Paraguay and less frequently in Chile. The Rapa Nui Language is a Polynesian origin found in Easter Island, Chile and Maori is also found in Easter Island.
In most of the continent's countries, the upper classes and well-educated people regularly study English, French, German or Italian. In those areas where tourism is a significant industry, English and some other European languages are often spoken.
- List of unclassified languages of South America
- List of extinct languages of South America
- Extinct languages of the Marañón River basin
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