What Languages do People Speak in Bolivia?

Like many Latin American countries, Bolivia is predominantly a Spanish-speaking nation. Still, it has a very large indigenous population, many of whom report an indigenous language as their mother tongue. The Bolivian government even recognizes its many indigenous languages as official languages of the nation.

How Many Languages Are Spoken in Bolivia?

There are about 39 languages spoken in Bolivia today with about 50% of the population reporting an indigenous language as their mother tongue followed by 40% reporting Spanish as their mother tongue. Most languages in Bolivia are indigenous languages but there are some immigrant languages spoken, most notably Standard German.

Official Languages of Bolivia

Bolivia is unique in that it has many official languages. According to the 2009 Bolivian Constitution, Spanish and indigenous languages are all official languages. There are currently 36 specific languages listed as official although some of them are extinct.

In addition to Spanish or Castilian, the following are official indigenous languages and an approximate number of speakers: -- Aymara: 1.6 million speakers (One of only a few indigenous languages with over 1 million speakers. -- Araona: 80 (90% of the remaining Araona people in northwest Bolivia) -- Baure: 40 (5% of the Baure people northwest of Magdalena) -- Bésiro: 6,000 (among the 47,000 Chiquitano people of the Santa Cruz province) -- Cavineño: 1,200 (among 1,700 Cavineña people of the Amazonian plains in northern Bolivia) -- Chácobo: 550 (among 850 ethnic Chácobo northwest of Magdalena) -- Chimán: 5,300 (Tsimane people of the western lowlands of Bolivia) -- Ese Ejja: 700 (Tacanan language spoken by the Ese Ejja of the Beni region) -- Guaraní: 4.85 million (Tupian language spoken in southeastern Bolivia as well as Brazil and Argentina) -- Guarayu: 5,900 (among 9,900 ethnic people) -- Itonama: 5 (circa 2007 among 2,900 people of the Amazonian lowlands) -- Leco: 20 (circa 2001 among 80 ethnic Leco east of Lake Titicaca) -- Machajuyai-Kallawaya: No native speakers; about 20 as a second language -- Machineri: 4,000 -- Maropa: 250 (among 1,100 ethnic people) -- Mojeño-Ignaciano: 10,000 (among 21,000 Moxo people in Northeast Bolivia) -- Moré: 90 -- Mosetén: 5,300 -- Movima: 1,400 (among 3,000 Movima people in the Llanos de Moxos area of the Amazon) -- Pacawara: 600 (among 1,150 ethnic Chacobo and Pacahuara northwest of Magdalena) -- Quechua: Language family spoken by 8-10 million people, mostly in Peru -- Sirionó: 500 (among Sirionó and Yuqui people of eastern Bolivia) -- Tacana: 1,800 (among 5,100 Tacana people along the Madre de Dios and Beni rivers) -- Tapieté: 33,000 in Bolivia -- Toromona: 200 (reported in 1983 but not seen since) -- Weenhayek: 1,800 -- Yaminawa: 2,800 -- Yuki: 500 (among Yuqui and Sirionó of eastern Bolivia) -- Yuracaré: 2,500 -- Zamuco: 3,100 -- Uru-Chipaya, a family of languages, mostly extinct -- Extinct languages: Canichana (extinct since 2000), Cayubaba (4 native speakers remained in 2007 among an ethnic population of 650), Guarasu'we (45 ethnic members remaining in 2000), Puquina (extinct in 18th century, once spoken around Lake Titicaca)

Spanish is largely taking over indigenous languages in many parts of Bolivia. The Bolivian government must use at least two languages in operations, one being Spanish and the other being chosen based on the situation and needs of the area.

Other Languages of Bolivia

In addition to its many official languages, there are many immigrant languages spoken throughout Bolivia.

Standard German is the largest non-official language of Bolivia with about 160,000 speakers. 70,000 of these speakers are Mennonites in the Santa Cruz area who speak a dialect of German called Plautdietsch and use Standard German for writing and reading.

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Primary Languages

Other Languages

What Languages do People Speak in Bolivia?