Languages of Peru

  (Redirected from Indigenous languages in Peru)
Languages of Peru
MinorityQuechua, Aymara
SignedPeruvian Sign Language

Peru has many languages in use. One of its official languages, Spanish, has been in the country since it began being taught in the time of José Pardo instead of the country's native languages, especially the languages in the Andes.[1] In the beginning of the 21st century, it was estimated that in this multilingual country, about 50 very different and popular language's are spoken: there are 72 languages if dialects are considered. The majority of these languages are indigenous, but the most common language is Spanish, the main language that about 82.6% of the population speaks. Spanish is followed by the country's indigenous languages, especially all types of Quechua (13.9% combined) and Aymara (1.7%),[2] who also have co-official status according to Article 48 of the Constitution of Peru,[3] as well as the languages of the Amazon and the Peruvian Sign Language. In urban areas of the country, especially the coastal region, most people are monolingual and only speak Spanish, while in many rural areas of the country, especially in the Amazon, multilingual populations are prevalent.

Linguistic Situation

According to Peter Landerman, the Jesuits translated fragments of Christian scriptures into about 150 indigenous languages of the Peruvian Amazon area. Of those, about 60 survive today.[4]

Linguistic Legislation

At the political level, Spanish is the official language of Peru and, in areas where they are common, Quechua, Aymara, and some other indigenous languages are also the official language.[5]

Number of Speakers

In Peru, there are close to 40 languages within the Amazon Rainforest which are usually grouped into 17 families and divide into close to 120 recognizable local varieties.

Population by Native Language

Language 1993 20074 [6] 20175 [7]
Total Percentage[8] Total Percentage[8] Total Percentage[8]
Spanish 18,405,014 80.27% 25,903,489 85.92% 31,178,478 86.74%
Quechua 3,177,938 16.56% 3,360,331 13.21% 3,799,780 10.57%
Aymara 440,380 2.29% 443,248 1.76% 450,010 1.25%
other indigenous languages 132,174 0.70% 223,941 0.91% 227,405 0.63%
foreign languages 35,118 0.18% 21,097 0.09% 49,876 0.14%
deaf 117,979 28,905 240,511 0.67%
Small language families in Peru (20th century).
Native speakers of Quechua in Peru (National census 2017)
Native speakers of Aymara in Peru (National census 2017)
Native speakers of Spanish in Peru (National census 2017)
Other native languages (Asháninka, Aguaruna, etc.) (National census 2017)

Indigenous Languages

Indigenous languages of Peru are primarily located in the central Andes and the Amazon rain forest. Many northern Andes languages were located along the northern coast and the northern Andes, but most of them died in the 19th century. The only native languages in the Andes that are common are Quechua, Aymara, Jaqaru, and Kawki; while in the Amazon region, there is an abundance of various native languages. In the Amazon, the most common languages are Asháninka and Aguaruna. There are more than 15 defined linguistic families in Peru's territory and another 15 or more languages that are isolated or not classified.

The actual number of languages in Peru could have exceeded 300. Some authors even say that there could have been 700 languages. However, since the conquering of Latin America by Spain and after Peru's independence, the disappearance of indigenous people (because of conquest and mixing of languages) and discrimination against indigenous languages because of mixed populations, as well as the Peruvian government (which imposed Spanish), led to the number of indigenous languages dropping to fewer than 150. Today the number of indigenous languages is still large, but much less than it used to be. The following list shows the languages spoken today in Peru and those that went extinct since the 20th century (shown in italics).


The indigenous languages of Peru belong to more than 15 language families, and some isolated or unclassified languages, which are extinct today (represented in the table as †), are also documented to more than 15 languages. The following list organizes more than 95 languages within existing and extinct languages:

Classification of Indigenous Languages in Peru
Family Group Language Territory

A family that is well-known demographically and historically, the north branch suffered from the expansion of Quechua, while the south branch still has many speakers today.

Northern Aru Jaqaru Yauyos
Kawki Yauyos
Southern Aru Aymara Puno

A small family with languages in Brazil and Peru. Some authors and scholars consider these languages related to Arawak.

Dení-kulina Kulina Ucayali

This is the family with the most languages in South America.

Northern North Amazonian Resígaro Loreto
Southern Southwest Iñapari (†) Madre de Dios
Mashko-Piro (†) Madre de Dios
Yine Madre de Dios, Ucayali, Loreto
Rural Asháninca Cuzco
Asheninca Cuzco
Axininca Cuzco
Campa de Pajonal Cuzco
Caquinte Cuzco
Machiguenga Cuzco
Nomatsiguenga Cuzco
Amuesha-Chamicuro Amuesha Cuzco
Chamicuro (†) Loreto

Some scholars question whether the Bora languages and the Witoto languages form a single family due to the large diversity between the 2 groups.

Bora Bora Loreto
Muinane Loreto
Witoto Coixama Loreto
Meneca Amazonas Department
Nüpode witoto Loreto
Ocaina Loreto
Cahuapanas Cayahuita-Cahuapana (†) Loreto
Jébero Loreto
Candoshi-chirino Candoshi Loreto
Chirino (†) Amazonas, Cajamarca
Harákmbet Amarakaeri Madre de Dios
Huachipaeri Madre de Dios
Hibito-cholón Cholón San Martín
Hibito San Martín
Jívaras Aguaruna Aguaruna Amazonas, Cajamarca, San Martín
Shuar-Huambisa Achuar Loreto
Huambisa Amazonas, Loreto
Pano-tacanasOne of the families with the most different languages in Peru. Pano Yaminawa Amahuaca Madre de Dios, Ucayali
Cashinahua Ucayali
Sharanahua Ucayali
Yaminawa Ucayali
Chacobo Arazaire (†) Cuzco
Atsahuaca (†) Madre de Dios
Yamiaca (†) Madre de Dios
Capanawa Capanahua Loreto
Isconahua Ucayali
Marubo Ucayali
Pánobo (†) Loreto
Remo (†) Loreto
Shipibo Ucayali
Others Cashibo Ucayali, Huánuco
Mayo-Pisabo Loreto
Mayoruna Loreto
Nahua Cuzco, Madre de Dios, Ucayali
Nocamán (†) Ucayali
Sensi (†) Loreto
Tacano Ese'ejja Madre de Dios
Peba-yagua Peba (†) Loreto
Yagua Loreto
Yameo (†) Loreto

These languages make a family of different languages, and not every variety of Quechua is known yet.

Quechua I Central Quechua I Quechua ancashino Ancash
Quechua huanca Junín
Quechua yaru Junín, Pasco
Peripheral Quechua I Quechua de Pacaraos Distrito de Pacaraos(Huaral)
Quechua II Quechua II-A Quechua cajamarquino Provincia de Cajamarca
Quechua Incawasi-Cañaris Distritos de Incahuasi y Cañaris
Quechua yauyino Provincia de Yauyos
Quechua II-B Quechua chachapoyano Provincias de Chachapoyas y Luya
Quechua lamista Provincia de Lamas, Valle del Huallaga
Quichua norteño Loreto
Quechua II-C Quechua ayacuchano Ayacucho, Huancavelica
Quechua cuzqueño Cuzco

This family is a group of languages that are not well known, which have been extinct since the end of the 18th century or beginning of the 19th century. The only information that exists from this language are some lists of vocabulary.

Atallano Catacaos Distrito de Catacaos
Colán Distrito de Colán
Sechura Olmos Distrito de Olmos
Sechura Provincia de Sechura

This family is formed by many local languages in the south of Colombia and in parts of Brazil.

Western Southwestern Orejón Loreto

This is the family with the most languages in South America, especially in Brazil.

tupí-guaraní subgroup III Cocama-cocamilla Loreto
Omagua Loreto
Záparas Group I Cahuarano (†)? Loreto
Iquito Loreto
Group II Arabela Loreto
Andoa-shimigae(†)? Loreto
Conambo (†) Loreto
Záparo (†)? Loreto
Isolated Languages Culli (†) La libertad, Cajabamba
Mochica (†) Departamento de Lambayeque
Munichi (†) Loreto
Puquina (†) Alrededor del lago Titicaca
Quingnam (†) Lima, Ancash, La Libertad
Taushiro Loreto
Tikuna Loreto
Urarina Loreto
Unclassified LanguagesThere exists a group of languages with rare documentation and references to extinct villages, that cannot be classified due to lack of information. For example, see unclassified languages of South America. Aguano (†) Loreto
Bagua (†) Amazonas, Cajamarca
Chacha (†) La Libertad, San Martín
Copallén (†) Amazonas
Omurano (†)(zápara?) departamento
Patagón (†)(caribe?) Amazonas, Cajamarca
Sacata (†) Cajamarca
Tabancale (†) Cajamarca
Terikaka (†)(zápara?) Loreto


Quechua is the second language of Peru, in terms of number of speakers. It is the official language in areas where it is the dominant language, even though from a linguistic point of view, it is a family of related languages. (Ethnologue assigns separate language codes to more than 25 varieties of Quechua in Peru.)

Geographic distribution of the first divisions of the Quechua family


Aymara has the third largest number of speakers within Peru, with about half a million speakers in the country.[9][10] It is most common in the southern part of the country, in parts of Puno, Moquegua, and Tacna.

Amazonian Languages

The rest of the indigenous languages of Peru have more than 105 thousand speakers in total,[11] and are located mostly in the east and north part of the country, specifically in Loreto, Madre de Dios, and Ucayali. The northern part of Peru (Loreto) is probably the most diverse part of the country from a linguistic standpoint since that part contains an abundance of the small families of languages and isolated languages.

Pano-Takanan languagesPano languages (dark green) and Takana languages (clear green). The points indicate documented locations of the languages.

In northern Peru, there are 5 small families of languages: Cahuapana, Jívara, Zápara, Peba-yagua, and Bora-witoto. These families of languages are mostly spoken in Loreto, but also in areas connected to Brazil, Colombia, and Ecuador. The majority of these groups were destroyed in the "Rubber Boom" at the beginning of the 20th century. In the Putumayo river region, the population fell from 50 thousand to between 7-10 thousand within the first decade of the 20th century.

In the Ucayali area, pano languages are most common, while in the high jungle of the Ucayali River basin the southern Arahuaca languages are most common.

In the Peruvian Amazon over forty languages, which are usually grouped into 14 families and diversifying about 120 recognizable local varieties are spoken.[12]

Other Minority Languages

A foreign language of a territory is a language whose historical origin is known and falls outside of said that territory and arrived in this territory through conquest, immigration, or colonization.

Sign Language

The sign language of Peru (Peruvian Sign Language) is used by the deaf community in the country. The 2007 census did not include any questions about the LSP, but this was corrected in 2017.

Other Foreign Languages

In addition to Spanish, which is the most common foreign language, there exist other languages that also did not originate in Peru, and are spoken due to the results of migration.

While it is true that there are many foreign colonies in Peru, the majority of these abandoned their original language. Within the first communities of immigrants lived people from Japan, China, and in smaller amounts people from Germany (central jungle in Pozuzo and Oxapampa), Italy (urban areas of Lima and Arequipa), and Arabic and Hindi (Urdu) areas.[13] These last two are due to the recent waves of immigrants from Palestine and Pakistan. French is also a language that is rooted in Loreto due to a campaign by the French Alliance.[14] French was well received in the Peruvian population, especially in Iquiteña. Lately English has also had a big influence due to the number of tourists and American/British residence. Portuguese is also used in areas like Ucayali, Loreto, and Madre de Dios. These areas border Brazil, whose official language is Portuguese.

Use in government

Historically name registers only captured Spanish or Western-inspired names. In 2019 the government began encouraging the use of indigenous names in name registers.[15]

See also


  1. ^ Alfredo Torrero Historia social del quechua Lima
  2. ^ "Perú: Perfil Sociodemográfico" (PDF). Instituto Nacional de Estadística e Informática. p. 197.
  3. ^ "Political Constitution of Peru" (PDF).
  4. ^ Gibson, Michael Luke (1996): El muniche: un idioma que se extingue Archived 2014-01-15 at the Wayback Machine. Serie Lingüística Peruana 42. Yarinacocha: Summer Institute of Linguistics.
  5. ^ Constitución política del Perú, art.48, see 'Political Constitution of Peru'
  6. ^ "Documento Nacional de Lenguas originarias del Perú" (PDF). Ministerio de Educación del Perú.
  7. ^ Instituto Nacional de Estadística e Informatica: censo de 2017 censos2017.inei.gob.pe, accessed 28 January 2021
  8. ^ a b c Respecto al total de declarantes.
  9. ^ "The Many Languages of Peru". www.tripsavvy.com. Retrieved 28 January 2021.
  10. ^ "Aymara". minorityrights.org. Retrieved 28 January 2021.
  11. ^ Adelaar, 2004, pp. 610-624.
  12. ^ "Censos Nacionales 2007 (Archived copy apparently broken)". Archived from the original on 2013-09-10. Retrieved 2013-09-10.
  13. ^ "Peru Population 2019 (Demographics, Maps, Graphs)". World Population Review.
  14. ^ The French Language Worldwide 2014 (PDF). Paris: Nathan. ISBN 978-2-09-882654-0. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2017-10-11. Retrieved 2015-08-11 – via Francophonie.org.
  15. ^ Collyns, Dan (2019-04-04). "Call me by my name: Peru promotes use of indigenous names in public records". The Guardian. Retrieved 2019-10-28.


  • Adelaar, Willem F. H.; & Muysken, Pieter C. (2004): The languages of the Andes. Cambridge language surveys. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 978-0-521-36275-7
  • Dixon & Alexandra Y. Aikhenvald (eds.) (1999): The Amazonian languages. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, ISBN 978-0-521-57021-3.

External links

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