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Land of winds > The people > Language | Issue 06. Jul.-Ago.2011
By Edgardo Civallero | Sara Plaza

Languages of the Colombian Andes

Languages of the Colombian Andes
Unlike in the rest of the Andean territory, where the dominant languages belong to the Quechua or Aymara families, in Colombia there is a patchwork of different native languages that are mutually incomprehensible between them. Thus, Andean music in this country includes sounds and words that have little or none connection with either the common voices of Ecuador, Peru or Bolivia.
The Misak or Guambiano use the Namui Wam, a language of the Barbacoan family related to Awá Pit, fading Totoró and extinct Coconuco and Pasto. The Misak live in the municipality of Silvia (Cauca department) and its surroundings, which lie on the western side of the Cordillera Central of Colombia. Their language, according to Ethnologue, is spoken by over 23,500 people (2001).
The following Namui Wam-language example has been extracted from the legend “Conejoimpa urututukpa” (The toad and the rabbit):
Chukøsrøn conejo kan tul pip tsup tøkaik marøpik køn tan. Inchape urututukmerane conejope trenchipik køn tan:
— Yupe nato tsumik køn cha. Ñimpe yugutrimpe ampamik køn — cha.

[On a certain day a rabbit demarcated a square area and addressed several toads:
— This place belongs only to me, and you have to vacate from here — he said].
The Awá (also known as Malla, Telembí, Sindagua or Cuaiquer) speak Awá Pit or Awá (also known as Cuaiquer or Kwaiker). The Awá live in the border between Colombia and Ecuador, from the Telembí River (Nariño department) to Carchi and Esmeraldas (Ecuadorian provinces). They are over 30,000 people, of whom 90% are settled on the western slopes of the Colombian Cordillera. The following example is a passage in Awá Pit:
Kakua amna. Pittit putanashi’. Ap kushanitane kuhstit uzakin pashpa kuaitakimtu. I suasne “muya amti” kichkueshi’. Kuhskikin suta tichkultane, pichkuesi’ muyane.

[Midnight. We were (there) sleeping. My wife was up taking care of the child. Then she told me “the vixen comes”. I got up, jumped on the floor and caught the vixen].
In the past Awá Pit would have been influenced by the language of the Pasto people. Today they are some 70,000 persons located near the towns of Tulcán and Ipiales (Nariño department) and do not speak their own language anymore. Totoró would also be linked to Awá Pit and it is now spoken by a few elders of the Totoreño ethnic group who live in an indigenous reserve to the south of the municipality of Silvia (Cauca department).
Picture. Guambianos.

Barbacoan languages, in Wikipedia.
Misak people, in Wikipedia [es].
Guambiano language, in Wikipedia [es].
Project “En mi idioma” (In my language) for Namui Wam [es].
Awa-Kwaiker people, in Wikipedia.
Awa-Cuaiker language, in Wikipedia.
Pastos perople, in Wikipedia [es].
Pasto language, in Wikipedia [es].
Totoró language, in Wikipedia [es].

Languages of the Colombian Andes
The Nasa or Páez, settled in the department of Cauca, use Nasa Yuwe or Páez. It is an isolated language (with no links to any other linguistic family) spoken by over 100,000 people, of whom almost half are monolingual. At present, the use and teaching of Nasa Yuwe in the classroom has become a priority for indigenous authorities. It is one of the most important languages in the Colombian Andes and its structure and sound can be appreciated in the following example:
— Ma’nga pe’te? — Ewtju pe’te. Indya’c? — Andyva, ewrráa pe’tetj. Indy tata’ up’na’? — U’pqui. Mjiina usa’. — Mama’c? — Meea’, we’pencu u’j.

[— ¿How did you wake up this morning? — I woke up well. And you? — Me too. I woke up well. Is your father here? — Yes, he is. He is working. — And your mother? — No she isn’t, she went to the paramo].
Picture. Nasa musicians.

Paez people, in Wikipedia.
Páez language, in Wikipedia.
Spanish/Páez dictionary, in SIL.

Languages of the Colombian Andes
The Inga or Ingano are the Quechua speaking Andean ethnic group located most to the north. They are some 12,000 people distributed over an area that comprises the departments of Putumayo, Nariño, Caquetá and Cauca, and speak a variant of Quechua IIB (northern group). As shown in the example, Inga language displays certain similarities with Ecuadorian Quichua.
— Puanguicni. — Allisia. — Cam, ímate suti cangui? — Nuca suti canimi José Mera. — Cam saludolla? — Nuca saludolla. Camca? — Núcapas saludolla. Camca, ímatac suti cangui? — Núcac suti canimi Luis Tisoy. — Aja. Quipacama. — Quipacama.

[— Good morging. — Good morning. — What is your name? — My name is José Mera. — Are you a healthy person? — I am a healthy person. And you? — I am a healthy person too. And what is your name? — My name is Luis Tisoy. — Good. See you. — See you].
Picture. Inga woman.

Inga people, in Wikipedia.
Notes on the Inga grammar, in SIL [es].

Languages of the Colombian Andes
The Camsá, Kamsá, Kamëntsá or Sibundoy use the Camsá language. Ther are some 4,500 Camsá speakers living on the western bank of the Sibundoy valley, to the northwest of Putumayo and the east of Nariño departments. It is an isolated language that has been influenced through the centuries by native neighbouring languages and Spanish. The following example has been extracted from the tale “Un santiagueño y un ladrón” (one from Santiago and a thief).
Canye pobloicá yojá bastoye shecuatxeca. Chora, canye salteador ibojuebuatatxena. Ibojawiyana: “Rala o acbe vida”. Ch-pobloicá ibojojuá: “Atxbe vida”.

[One from Santiago went to Pasto on foot. Then a thief appeared in front of him. He said: “The money or the life”. The one from Santiago answered: “My life”].
Picture. Camsá woman.

Camsá people, in Wikipedia [es].
Camsá language, in Wikipedia.

Languages of the Colombian Andes
Chamí or Emberá-Chamí communities live on the hillsides of the Cordillera, in the Antioquía, Caldas, Risaralda, Quindío and Valle del Cauca departments. They belong to the Emberá ethnic group, which lies in a vast area that includes tropical rainforest, plains and mountains, from northern Ecuador to the south of Costa Rica. There are over 5,000 Emberá-Chamí speakers, whose language’s name means “cordilleranos” (from the Cordillera).
Picture. Emberá-Chamí weaver.

Emberá, in Wikipedia [es].
Chamíes, in Wikipedia [es].

Although the language of the Muisca (muyskkubun) is hardly used today, fortunately other languages of the Chibcha family remain in use. This is the case with Tunebo or Uw’aka, spoken by the U’wa or Tunebo, over 3,000 people located in the Sierra Nevada del Cocuy (Boyacá, Arauca, Norte de Santander, Casanare and Santander departments). An example of Tunebo, extracted from the legend of Utacayá, is written below:
Ruiy chaunín cábarin Utacaya quemir ey icar béjecro. Eya uwa chauna ehchiru; orinquinru; chon banuru; chonan icor quinquinru.

[The women of the ancestors met around Utacayá. The younger women of the ancestors were nice; (they) were beautiful; (they) had well-formed legs; (they) had really beautiful legs].
Chibchan languages, in Wikipedia.
U’wa people, in Wikipedia.

Finally, the Pijao, settled in the Tolima department, speak the Pijao language, which is seriously endangered and poorly documented.
Pijao people, in Wikipedia [es].

Some Andean music groups from Colombian indigenous communities have started to record and release their works. Thus, nowadays it is possible to listen to sanjuanitos in Camsá or waynos in Nasa Yuwe. This fact broadens the linguistic spectrum of Andean music, which was until recently limited to Quechua and, in some cases, Aymara. Newcomers have enriched the sound of traditional rhythms with their native voices and different ways of pronunciation.

Map of languages of Colombia.
Expresiones sonoras y musicales de pueblos indígenas de Colombia (Music and sound expressions of indigenous peoples of Colombia), in Biblioteca Nacional de Colombia [es].
Languages of Colombia (map), in Ethnologue.
Languages of Colombia (listing), in Ethnologue.
Summer Institute of Languages (SIL). Languages and cultures of Colombia [es].
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