Páez language

Nasa Yuwe
Native toColombia
Ethnicity243,000 Páez (2019 census)
Native speakers
60,000 (2012)[1]
Paezan ?
  • Páez
  • Pitayo
  • Paniquita
Language codes
ISO 639-3pbb

Páez (also Paez, Paes; the autonym Nasa Yuwe 'Nasa language' is becoming increasingly common) is a language of Colombia, spoken by the Páez people. Crevels (2011) estimates 60,000 speakers out of an ethnic population of 140,000.[2]

The language is spoken by the second largest Colombian indigenous community, the Páez, in the north of the Cauca Department, in southwestern Colombia. However, the people had to move to other departments of Colombia like Huila, Tolima and Valle del Cauca.


Páez is generally considered to be a language isolate, or at least the only surviving member of its family (Adelaar & Muysken 2004).

Language contact

Jolkesky (2016) notes that there are lexical similarities with the Chibcha, Barbakoa, Choko, Tukano, Andaki, and Kofan language families due to contact.[3] Jolkesky (2017) also found lexical resemblances between Páez and Mayan languages, as shown in the table below, which he interprets as probable Mayan loans into Páez:[4]

gloss Páez Proto-Mayan > Proto-Chʼolan
'flesh' ʧiʧ *kikˀ 'blood' *ʧˀiʧˀ 'blood'
'village' ʧʰab *kabˀal 'house' *ʧabal 'house'
'corn' sʲib *ʔiʃiʔm *ʔiʃim
'father' tata *taːtaʔ
'mountain' βits *wits *wits
'tobacco' wãhʲ *mahʲ


Below is a full list of Paezan language varieties listed by Loukotka (1968), including names of unattested varieties.[5]

  • Paez / Paisa - the language spoken in the villages of the Paez River, the department of Huila. Dialects include:
    • Nasayuwä - spoken in the village of Pitayo.
    • Okoshkokyéwa - spoken in the village of La Peña.
    • Paniquita - spoken in some villages, Paniquita, and others, in the Huila region.
  • Panzaleo / Latacunga / Quito - an extinct language once spoken in the provinces of Pichincha, Cotopaxi, and Tungurahua, Ecuador.
  • Alausí - once spoken in the village of Alausí, Chimborazo province, Ecuador. (Unattested.)


Although dozens of indigenous languages have been extinguished at the hand of the Spanish (and later Colombian) Empire, there remain more than 60 languages within the boundaries of what is now known as Colombia. Most of these languages are classified into 10 linguistic families: Chibcha, Arawak, Carib, Quechua, Tukano, Guahibo, Makú-Puinave, Bora-Witoto, Piaroa-Sáliba, and Chocó. During the 1900s, initial research suggested that Nasa Yuwe was part of the Chibcha language family, which includes Arwako, Kogi, Wiwa, Tunebo, Motilone, Chimila, and Cuna. However, Nasa Yuwe is now considered to constitute a small language family of its own—the Paezan languages. Today, many Misak live in some primarily Nasa settlements creating a situation of language contact and in some cases bilingualism.

Agriculture is the basis of the Nasa economy and as such, they have been fighting to maintain their current land holdings and expand into their traditional lands. The language has been threatened by colonial policies for centuries, however recent positive attitudes toward the language have begun to reverse the tide of language extinction. The first threat to the language came in the 1600s with the introduction of compulsory Spanish language education in Colombia.

The education system was designed to suppress Nasa Yuwe. The Colombian empire pushed assimilatory policies that forced citizenship upon indigenous people and forced schooling on them to 'civilize' them. Children who spoke in their native language were punished, in some cases by being forced to kneel on grains of corn for hours. Thus, people were forced to avoid their languages.


With the General Law of Education, ethnoeducation is the opportunity of education for ethnic groups, but education needs to be related to the culture, traditions, language, and native elements of ethnic groups. To achieve the goal to give importance to indigenous languages, it is important to ensure that future indigenous generations preserve and relearn languages that do not have social privilege in Colombian society. Thus, it was necessary to implement booklets and original content material in different languages.

Although the government proposed the introduction of education of native languages in some communities, the preservation of languages and identities has been neglected. It is important to revitalize the language because it is part of the identity of many people who have been not considered part of Colombian society.

The first step is for the native teachers to know all the academic aspects and the sociocultural aspects of the ethnic group. The next is the creation of a campaign to promote the importance of the language in a minority community to maintain identity. The goal of the campaign is to reinforce the use of the language in the education environment and the family environment because they are children's first and most influential contacts. The last step is to promote the project to being used with other endangered languages of our country and revitalize them. it is also necessary to create a conscience in the rest of society to avoid the marginalization of the people who speak these native languages.


Paez has four oral vowel phonemes: /i, e, a, u/. Each oral vowel phoneme has a corresponding nasal /ĩ ẽ ã ũ/, aspirated /iʰ eʰ aʰ uʰ/, and long-form /iː eː aː uː/, all of which are contrastive. Also, each vowel sound can be laryngealized /ḭ ḛ a̰ ṵ/. Laryngealization can occur on nasalized or plain vowels, but not long vowels, while nasalization can occur to a plain or lengthened vowel. Vowel length is not contrastive in all dialects.[6][7]

Bilabial Alveolar Velar
plain palatalized plain palatalized plain palatalized
Stop plain p t k
aspirated pʲʰ tʲʰ kʲʰ
prenasalized ᵐb ᵐbʲ ⁿd ⁿdʲ ᵑɡ ᵑɡʲ
Affricate plain t͡s t͡ʃ
aspirated t͡sʰ t͡ʃʰ
prenasalized ⁿd͡z ⁿd͡ʒ
Fricative plain ɸʲ s ʃ x
voiced βʲ
Nasal m n ɲ
Approximant lateral l ʎ
plain j w
Nasa yuwe tale


Loukotka (1968) lists the following basic vocabulary items for Paez, Nasayuwä, Okoshkokyéwa, Paniquita, and Panzaleo.[5]

gloss Paez Nasayuwä Okoshkokyéwa Paniquita Panzaleo
one yas tech tesha tesha
two ents ents hänts hentsa
three kek tek tek texta
ear tún-gua tõ-ué tõ-ua tu-gue
tongue tone tönä téne tuné
hand kosä kúsä kosa konsé
foot chinda chinda chinda chinda
water yu yo yohua
stone kuéth uét kwat kuet
maize kukx kutx kutx kokavi
fish enzte wench winx wenche pila
house yath yat yet yat an


  1. ^ Páez at Ethnologue (24th ed., 2021)
  2. ^ Páez language at Ethnologue (21st ed., 2018)
  3. ^ Jolkesky, Marcelo Pinho de Valhery (2016). Estudo arqueo-ecolinguístico das terras tropicais sul-americanas (Ph.D. dissertation) (2 ed.). Brasília: University of Brasília.
  4. ^ Jolkesky, Marcelo (2017). On the South American Origins of Some Mesoamerican Civilizations. Leiden: Leiden University. Postdoctoral final report for the “MESANDLIN(G)K” project.
  5. ^ a b Loukotka, Čestmír (1968). Classification of South American Indian languages. Los Angeles: UCLA Latin American Center.
  6. ^ "SAPhon – South American Phonological Inventories". linguistics.berkeley.edu. Retrieved 2018-07-18.
  7. ^ Rojas, Tulio (2013). Esbozo gramatical de la lengua nasa (lengua páez).


  • Adelaar, Willem F. H.; & Muysken, Pieter C. (2004). The languages of the Andes. Cambridge language surveys. Cambridge University Press.
  • Brend, Ruth M. (Ed.). (1985). From phonology to discourse: Studies in six Colombian languages (p. vi, 133). Language Data, Amerindian Series (No. 9). Dallas: Summer Institute of Linguistics.
  • Castillo y Orozco (del), Eugenio. (1877) Vocabulario Paez–Castellano. Ezequiel Uricoechea ed. Maisonneuve y Cia. Libreros Editores, París.
  • Fabre, Alain. (2005). Nasa Yuwe / Páez. Diccionario etnolingüístico y guía bibliográfica de los pueblos indígenas sudamericanos. (To appear). (Online: [1]).
  • Gerdel, Florence L. and others. (1973). Sistemas fonológicos de idiomas colombianos 2. Bogotá: Ministerio de Gobierno and Instituto Lingüístico de Verano. 132 p.
  • Gerdel, Florence L. (1979). Paez. In Aspectos de la cultura material de grupos étnicos de Colombia 2, (pp. 181–202). Bogota: Ministerio de Gobierno and Instituto Lingüístico de Verano.
  • Gerdel, Florence L. and Marianna C. Slocum. (1976). Páez discourse, paragraph and sentence structure." In Robert E. Longacre and Frances Woods (eds.), Discourse grammar: Studies in indigenous languages of Colombia, Panama, and Ecuador, 1: 259-443. Summer Institute of Linguistics Publications in Linguistics and Related Fields, 52(1). Dallas: SIL and the University of Texas at Arlington.
  • Jolkesky, Marcelo. (2017). On the South American Origins of Some Mesoamerican Civilizations. Leiden: Leiden University. Postdoctoral final report for the “MESANDLIN(G)K” project..
  • Nieves Oviedo, Rocío; Tulio Rojas y Marcos Yule. (1991): Estudios Fonológicos de la Lengua Paez (Nasa Yuwe); Descripciones 6; Colciencias – Universidad de los Andes, Bogotá.
  • Rojas Curieux, Tulio; Roció Nieves Oviedo, y Marcos Yule Yatacue. (1991): Estudios Grammaticales de la Lengua Paez (Nasa Yuwe). Descripciones 7; Colciencias – Universidad de los Andes, Bogotá.
  • Slocum, Marianna C. (1986). Gramática páez. Lomalinda: Editorial Townsend.
  • Slocum, Marianna C. (1972). ¿Cómo se dice en páez?. Lomalinda: Ministerio de Gobierno.
  • Slocum, Marianna C. and Florence L. Gerdel. (1983). Diccionario: páez-español / español-páez. Lomalinda: Editorial Townsend.

External links

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