Indigenous languages of the Americas

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Yucatec Maya writing in the Dresden Codex, ca. 11–12th century, Chichen Itza

Over a thousand indigenous languages are spoken by the indigenous peoples of the Americas (and in a few cases by non-indigenous peoples). These languages cannot all be demonstrated to be related to each other, and are classified into a hundred or so language families (including a large number of language isolates), as well as a number of extinct languages that are unclassified due to a lack of data.

Many proposals have been made to relate some or all of these languages to each other, with varying degrees of success. The most notorious is Joseph Greenberg's Amerind hypothesis,[1] which however is rejected by nearly all specialists due to severe methodological flaws, spurious data and a failure to distinguish cognation, contact and coincidence.[2] Nonetheless, there are indications that some of the recognized families are related to each other, such as widespread similarities in pronouns (n/m being a common pattern for 'I'/'you' across western North America, and similarly ch/k/t for 'I'/'you'/'we' in a more limited region of South America.)

According to UNESCO, most of the indigenous American languages are critically endangered, and many are dormant (without native speakers, but with a community of heritage-language users) or entirely extinct.[3][4] The most widely spoken indigenous languages are Southern Quechua, spoken primarily in southern Peru and Bolivia, and Guarani, centered in Paraguay, where it is the national language, with perhaps 6 or 7 million speakers apiece (including many of European descent in the case of Guarani). Only half a dozen others have more than a million speakers. (These are Aymara of Bolivia and Nahuatl of Mexico, with a bit under 2 million apiece, the Mayan languages Kekchi, Quiché and Yucatec of Guatemala and Mexico, with about 1 million apiece, and perhaps one or two additional Quechuan languages in Peru and Ecuador.) In the United States, 372,000 people reported speaking an indigenous language at home to the 2010 census,[5]and similarly in Canada 133,000 people reported speaking an indigenous language at home in the 2011 census.[6] In Greenland, about 90% of the population speaks Inuit.


Over a thousand known languages were spoken by various peoples in North and South America prior to their first contact with Europeans. These encounters occurred between the beginning of the 11th century (with the Nordic settlement of Greenland and failed efforts in Newfoundland and Labrador) and the end of the 15th century (the voyages of Christopher Columbus). Several indigenous cultures of the Americas had also developed their own writing systems,[7] the best known being the Maya script.[8] The indigenous languages of the Americas had widely varying demographics, from the Quechuan languages, Aymara, Guarani, and Nahuatl, which had millions of active speakers, to many languages with only several hundred speakers. After pre-Columbian times, several indigenous creole languages developed in the Americas, based on European, indigenous and African languages.

The European colonizers and their successor states had widely varying attitudes towards Native American languages. In Brazil, friars learned and promoted the Tupi language.[9] In many Latin American colonies, Spanish missionaries often learned local languages and culture in order to preach to the natives in their own tongue and relate the Christian message to their indigenous religions. In the British American colonies, John Eliot of the Massachusetts Bay Colony translated the Bible into the Massachusett language, also called Wampanoag, or Natick (1661–1663); he published the first Bible printed in North America, the Eliot Indian Bible.

The Europeans also suppressed use of indigenous American languages, establishing their own languages for official communications, destroying texts in other languages, and insisting that indigenous people learn European languages in schools. As a result, indigenous American languages suffered from cultural suppression and loss of speakers. By the 18th and 19th centuries, Spanish, English, Portuguese, French, and Dutch, brought to the Americas by European settlers and administrators, had become the official or national languages of modern nation-states of the Americas.

Many indigenous languages have become critically endangered, but others are vigorous and part of daily life for millions of people. Several indigenous languages have been given official status in the countries where they occur, such as Guaraní in Paraguay. In other cases official status is limited to certain regions where the languages are most spoken. Although sometimes enshrined in constitutions as official, the languages may be used infrequently in de facto official use. Examples are Quechua in Peru and Aymara in Bolivia, where in practice, Spanish is dominant in all formal contexts.

In North America and the Arctic region, Greenland in 2009 adopted Kalaallisut[10] as its sole official language. In the United States, the Navajo language is the most spoken Native American language, with more than 200,000 speakers in the Southwestern United States. The US Marine Corps recruited Navajo men, who were established as code talkers during World War II.


In American Indian Languages: The Historical Linguistics of Native America (1997), Lyle Campbell lists several hypotheses for the historical origins of Amerindian languages.[11]

  1. A single, one-language migration (not widely accepted)
  2. A few linguistically distinct migrations (favored by Edward Sapir)
  3. Multiple migrations
  4. Multilingual migrations (single migration with multiple languages)
  5. The influx of already diversified but related languages from the Old World
  6. Extinction of Old World linguistic relatives (while the New World ones survived)
  7. Migration along the Pacific coast instead of by the Bering Strait

Roger Blench (2008) has advocated the theory of multiple migrations along the Pacific coast of peoples from northeastern Asia, who already spoke diverse languages. These proliferated in the New World.[12]

Numbers of speakers and political recognition[edit]

Countries like Mexico, Bolivia, Venezuela, Guatemala, and Guyana recognizes all or most indigenous languages native to their respective countries, with Bolivia and Venezuela elevating all indigenous languages to official language status according to their constitutions. Colombia delegates local indigenous language recognition to the department level according to the Colombian Constitution of 1991. Countries like Canada, Argentina, and the United States, allow their respective provinces and states to determine their own language recognition policies. Indigenous language recognition in Brazil is limited to their localities.

  • Bullet points represent minority language status. Political entities with official language status are highlighted in bold.
List of Widely Spoken and Officially Recognized Languages
LanguageNumber of speakersOfficial RecognitionArea(s) Language is spokenSource
Guaraní6.5 millionParaguay (Official Language)


Corrientes, Argentina

Tacuru, Mato Grosso do Sul, Brazil


Paraguay, Bolivia, Argentina, Brazil[13]
Southern Quechua5 million (outdated figure)Bolivia (Official Language)

Peru (Official Language)

Jujuy, Argentina

  • Chile

Comunidad Andina

Bolivia, Peru, Argentina, Chile[14]
Nahuatl1.7 millionMexicoMexico[15]
Aymara1.7 millionBolivia (Official Language)

Peru (Official Language)

  • Chile

Comunidad Andina

Bolivia, Peru, Chile[16]
Qʼeqchiʼ1.1 millionGuatemala



Guatemala, Belize, Mexico[17]
Kʼicheʼ1.1 millionGuatemala


Guatemala & Mexico[18]
Yucatec Maya890,000Mexico


Mexico & Belize[19]
Ancash Quechua700,000 (outdated figure)Peru[20]


Zapatista Autonomous Municipalities (De facto), Mexico

Guatemala & Mexico

Zapatista Autonomous Municipalities (De facto), Mexico


Zapatista Autonomous Municipalities (De facto), Mexico


Colombia (Cauca, Nariño, Putumayo)

Ecuador & Colombia (Cauca, Nariño, Putumayo)[25]
Wayuu (Guajiro)420,000Venezuela

La Guajira, Colombia

Venezuela & Colombia


Guatemala & Mexico[26]
Mapuche260,000Cautín Province, La Araucanía, Chile (Galvarino, Padre Las Casas)Cautín Province, La Araucanía, Chile (Galvarino, Padre Las Casas)[29]

Zapatista Autonomous Municipalities (De facto), Mexico



Guatemala & Mexico
Navajo170,000Navajo Nation, United StatesSouthwestern USA[33]
Miskito140,000 (outdated figure)North Caribbean Coast Autonomous Region, Nicaragua

Honduras (Gracias a Dios)

Nicaragua, Honduras


Guatemala & Mexico
Yaru Quechuaca. 100,000 (outdated figure)Peru[39]
Cree96,000 [incl. Naskapi, Montagnais]Northwest Territories, Canada
  • Alberta
  • Manitoba
  • Ontario
  • Quebec
  • Saskatchewan
Kuna61,000Colombia (Chocó & Antioquia)Colombia (Chocó & Antioquia)
Paez60,000Colombia (Cauca, Huila, Valle del Cauca)Colombia (Cauca, Huila, Valle del Cauca)


Guatemala & Mexico

Zapatista Autonomous Municipalities (De facto), Mexico

Garífunaca. 50,000 (outdated figure)Guatemala


North Caribbean Coast Autonomous Region, Nicaragua

Honduras (Atlántida, Colón, Gracias a Dios)

Guatemala, Belize, Nicaragua, Honduras[42]

United States

Canada & United States[43]
Tikuna47,000Colombia (Leticia, Puerto Nariño, Amazonas)Amazonas regions of Brazil and Colombia[44]
Inuktitut39,475Nunavut, Canada

Northwest Territories, Canada

  • Nunavik, Quebec
  • Nunatsiavut, Newfoundland and Labrador
  • Inuvialuit Settlement Region, Yukon
Northern Canada[45]
Chontal Maya37,072MexicoMexico
Wichi36,135Chaco, ArgentinaChaco, Argentina
Blackfoot34,394Alberta, Canada & Montana, USA[47]
Sikuani34,000Colombia (Meta, Vichada, Arauca, Guainía, Guaviare)Colombia (Meta, Vichada, Arauca, Guainía, Guaviare)


Guatemala & Mexico
Kom31,580Chaco, ArgentinaChaco, Argentina
Kaiwá26,500Mato Grosso do Sul, Brazil[44]
Sioux25,000South Dakota, United StatesUSA[48]
Oʼodham23,313Tohono Oʼodham Nation, United States

Salt River Pima–Maricopa Indian Community, United States


Arizona, USA
Guambiano21,000Cauca, ColombiaCauca, Colombia
Yanomamö20,000VenezuelaBrazil & Venezuela[44]
Nheengatu19,000São Gabriel da Cachoeira, Amazonas, Brazil


Brazil, Colombia, Venezuela[49]
Yup'ik (Central Alaskan) & Siberian)18,626Alaska, United StatesAlaska, United States
Piaroa17,000Vichada, ColombiaVichada, Colombia
Western Apache14,012San Carlos Apache Nation, United States

Fort Apache Indian Reservation, United States

Arizona, USA
Xavante13,300Mato Grosso, Brazil[44]
Keresan13,073New Mexico, USA
Awa Pit13,000Nariño, ColombiaNariño, Colombia
Cherokee12,320Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, NC, United States

Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma, United States

USA (Oklahoma & North Carolina)

Guaviare, Colombia

São Gabriel da Cachoeira, Amazonas, Brazil, (Baníwa language)

Guaviare, Colombia & Amazonas, Brazil, (Baníwa language)




Chipewyan11,325Northwest Territories, CanadaNorthwest Territories, Canada[51]
Wounaan10,800Colombia (Chocó, Cauca, Valle del Cauca)Colombia (Chocó, Cauca, Valle del Cauca)
Choctaw10,368Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma, United StatesOklahoma & Mississippi, USA[52]
Kogi9,900Magdalena, ColombiaMagdalena, Colombia
Zuni9,620New Mexico, USA[53]
Guajajara9,500Maranhão, Brazil[44]
Sumo9,000North Caribbean Coast Autonomous Region, NicaraguaNorth Caribbean Coast Autonomous Region, Nicaragua


Guatemala & Belize[54]
Mawé8,900Brazil (Para & Amazonas)[44]
Terena8,200Mato Grosso do Sul, Brazil[44]
Ika8,000Colombia (Cesar & Magdalena)Colombia (Cesar & Magdalena)
Tukano7,100São Gabriel da Cachoeira, Amazonas, Brazil

Vaupés, Colombia

Amazonas, Brazil & Vaupés, Colombia[47]
Minica Huitoto6,800Amazonas, ColombiaAmazonas, Colombia
Hopi6,780Arizona, USA[55]
Piapoco6,400Colombia (Guainía, Vichada, Meta)Colombia (Guainía, Vichada, Meta)
Cubeo6,300Vaupés, ColombiaVaupés, Colombia
Kayapo6,200Brazil (Pará & Mato Grosso)[47]

Cesar, Colombia

Venezuela, Colombia
Chiquitano5,900BoliviaBrazil & Bolivia


Brazil, Venezuela, Guyana[47]
Tewa5,123New Mexico, USA
Timbira5,100Brazil (Maranhão, Tocantins, Pará)[56]
Sanumá5,100VenezuelaBrazil & Venezuela[57]
Muscogee5,072Muscogee (Creek) Nation, OK, United StatesUSA (Oklahoma, Alabama, Florida)[58]
Chontal of Oaxaca5,039MexicoMexico[59]
Barí5,000Colombia (Cesar & Norte de Santander)Colombia (Cesar & Norte de Santander)
Camsá4,000Putumayo, ColombiaPutumayo, Colombia
Kulina3,900Brazil (Amazonas) & Peru[57]
Crow3,862Montana, USA
Mohawk3,875Mohawk Nation of Akwesasne, CanadaCanada (Ontario & Quebec) and USA (New York)[60][61]
Kashinawa3,588Brazil & Peru
Munduruku3,563Pará & Amazonas, Brazil[57]
Tunebo/Uwa3,550Boyacá, ColombiaBoyacá, Colombia
Wapishana3,154Bonfim, Roraima, Brazil


Bonfim, Roraima, Brazil


Moquoit3,000Chaco, ArgentinaChaco, Argentina
Inupiat3,000Alaska, United States

Northwest Territories, Canada

Alaska, United States & Northwest Territories, Canada
Puinave3,000Guainía, Colombia


Guainía, Colombia & Venezuela
Cuiba2,900Colombia (Casanare, Vichada, Arauca)Colombia (Casanare, Vichada, Arauca)
Tupi-Mondé2,886Rondônia, Brazil[57]
Wanano2,600Vaupés, ColombiaVaupés, Colombia
Bora2,400Amazonas, ColombiaAmazonas, Colombia
Cofán2,400Colombia (Nariño, Putumayo)Colombia (Nariño, Putumayo)
Kanamari2,298Amazonas, Brazil[57]
Fox (Mesquakie-Sauk-Kickapoo)2,288Sac and Fox Nation, United States


USA & Mexico
Waiwai2,217GuyanaBrazil, Guyana
Slavey2,120Northwest Territories, CanadaNorthwest Territories, Canada
Koreguaje2,100Caquetá, ColombiaCaquetá, Colombia
Xerente2,051Tocantins, Brazil[57]
Fulniô1,871Pernambuco, Brazil[57]
Pakaásnovos (wari)1,854Rondônia, Brazil[57]
Wiwa1,850Cesar, ColombiaCesar, Colombia
Tłı̨chǫ Yatıì1,735Northwest Territories, CanadaNorthwest Territories, Canada
Jupda1,700Amazonas, ColombiaAmazonas, Colombia
Zacatepec Mixtec1,500MexicoMexico
Seneca1,453Six Nations of the Grand River First Nation, ON, CanadaOntario, Canada[63]
Tlingit1,360Alaska, United StatesAlaska, United States
Inuinnaqtun1,310Nunavut, Canada

Northwest Territories, Canada

Alaska, United States & Northwest Territories, Canada
Kiowa1,274Oklahoma, USA
Ka'apor1,241Maranhão, Brazil[57]
Aleut1,236Alaska, United StatesAlaska, United States
Gwichʼin1,217Alaska, United States

Northwest Territories, Canada

Alaska, United States & Northwest Territories, Canada
Inuvialuktun1,150Nunavut, Canada

Northwest Territories, Canada

Nunavut, Canada & Northwest Territories, Canada
Arapaho1 087USA
Macuna1,032Vaupés, ColombiaVaupés, Colombia
Guayabero1,000Colombia (Meta, Guaviare)Colombia (Meta, Guaviare)
Maricopa/Piipaash800Salt River Pima–Maricopa Indian Community, AZ, United StatesArizona, United States
Rama740North Caribbean Coast Autonomous Region, NicaraguaNorth Caribbean Coast Autonomous Region, Nicaragua
Ese Ejja700BoliviaBolivia
Nukak700Guaviare, ColombiaGuaviare, Colombia
Pima Bajo650MexicoMexico
Oneida574Six Nations of the Grand River First Nation, ON, Canada

Oneida Nation of the Thames, ON, Canada

Ontario, Canada[65][66][67]
Siona500Putumayo, ColombiaPutumayo, Colombia
Havasupai–Hualapai445Havasupai Indian Reservation, AZ, United StatesArizona, USA[69]
Kumeyaay427 (525 including Ipai and Tiipai languages)Mexico
  • Sycuan Band of the Kumeyaay Nation, CA, United States (Ballot Recognition)
Baja California, Mexico & California, USA[70][71]
Tembé420Maranhão, Brazil[57]
Yurok414California, USA
Alutiiq/Sugpiaq400Alaska, United StatesAlaska, United States
Tatuyo400Vaupés, ColombiaVaupés, Colombia
Andoque370Caquetá, ColombiaCaquetá, Colombia
Guajá365Maranhão, Brazil
Chimila350Magdalena, ColombiaMagdalena, Colombia
Koyukon300Alaska, United StatesAlaska, United States
Hitnü300Arauca, ColombiaArauca, Colombia
Mikasuki290Georgia and Florida, USA[72]
  • Imperial County, CA, United States (Ballot Recognition)
  • Yuma County, AZ, United States (Ballot Recognition)
California & Arizona, USA[73]
Cabiyari270Colombia (Mirití-Paraná & Amazonas)Colombia (Mirití-Paraná & Amazonas)
Achagua250Meta, ColombiaMeta, Colombia
Kakwa250Vaupés, ColombiaVaupés, Colombia
Yavapai245Arizona, USA[74]
Siriano220Vaupés, ColombiaVaupés, Colombia
Mojave200Arizona, USA[75]
Ocaina190Amazonas, ColombiaAmazonas, Colombia
Haida168Alaska, United States

Council of the Haida Nation, Canada

Alaska, USA and British Columbia, Canada
Muinane150Amazonas, ColombiaAmazonas, Colombia
Deg Xinag127Alaska, United StatesAlaska, USA
Upper Tanana100Alaska, United StatesAlaska, USA
Ahtna80Alaska, United StatesAlaska, USA
Tsimshian70Alaska, United StatesAlaska, USA
Tanacross65Alaska, United StatesAlaska, USA
Cayuga61Six Nations of the Grand River First Nation, ON, Canada

Cattaraugus Reservation, NY, United States

Ontario, Canada, and New York, USA[77]
Denaʼina50Alaska, United StatesAlaska, USA
Onondaga50Six Nations of the Grand River First Nation, ON, CanadaOntario, Canada[78]
Upper Kuskokwim40Alaska, United StatesAlaska, USA
Tanana30Alaska, United StatesAlaska, USA
Hän12Alaska, United StatesAlaska, USA
Holikachuk12Alaska, United StatesAlaska, USA
Carijona6Colombia (Amazonas, Guaviare)Colombia (Amazonas, Guaviare)
Tuscarora3Six Nations of the Grand River First Nation, ON, Canada

Tuscarora Reservation, NY, United States

Ontario, Canada, and New York, USA[80]
Nonuya2Amazonas, ColombiaColombia, Peru
Taíno languages0Formerly all of the Caribbean
Cochimí0Mexico (Extinct, but retains recognition)
Kallawaya0Bolivia (Extinct, but retains recognition)
Eyak0Alaska, United States (Extinct, but retains recognition)

Language families and unclassified languages[edit]


  • Extinct languages or families are indicated by: .
  • The number of family members is indicated in parentheses (for example, Arauan (9) means the Arauan family consists of nine languages).
  • For convenience, the following list of language families is divided into three sections based on political boundaries of countries. These sections correspond roughly with the geographic regions (North, Central, and South America) but are not equivalent. This division cannot fully delineate indigenous culture areas.

Northern America[edit]

Pre-contact: distribution of North American language families, including northern Mexico
Bilingual stop sign in English and the Cherokee syllabary, Tahlequah, Oklahoma

There are approximately 296 spoken (or formerly spoken) indigenous languages north of Mexico, 269 of which are grouped into 29 families (the remaining 27 languages are either isolates or unclassified).[citation needed] The Na-Dené, Algic, and Uto-Aztecan families are the largest in terms of number of languages. Uto-Aztecan has the most speakers (1.95 million) if the languages in Mexico are considered (mostly due to 1.5 million speakers of Nahuatl); Na-Dené comes in second with approximately 200,000 speakers (nearly 180,000 of these are speakers of Navajo), and Algic in third with about 180,000 speakers (mainly Cree and Ojibwe). Na-Dené and Algic have the widest geographic distributions: Algic currently spans from northeastern Canada across much of the continent down to northeastern Mexico (due to later migrations of the Kickapoo) with two outliers in California (Yurok and Wiyot); Na-Dené spans from Alaska and western Canada through Washington, Oregon, and California to the U.S. Southwest and northern Mexico (with one outlier in the Plains). Several families consist of only 2 or 3 languages. Demonstrating genetic relationships has proved difficult due to the great linguistic diversity present in North America. Two large (super-) family proposals, Penutian and Hokan, look particularly promising. However, even after decades of research, a large number of families remain.

North America is notable for its linguistic diversity, especially in California. This area has 18 language families comprising 74 languages (compared to four families in Europe: Indo-European, Uralic, Turkic, and Afroasiatic and one isolate, Basque).[81]

Another area of considerable diversity appears to have been the Southeastern Woodlands[citation needed]; however, many of these languages became extinct from European contact and as a result they are, for the most part, absent from the historical record.[citation needed] This diversity has influenced the development of linguistic theories and practice in the US.

Due to the diversity of languages in North America, it is difficult to make generalizations for the region. Most North American languages have a relatively small number of vowels (i.e. three to five vowels). Languages of the western half of North America often have relatively large consonant inventories. The languages of the Pacific Northwest are notable for their complex phonotactics (for example, some languages have words that lack vowels entirely).[82] The languages of the Plateau area have relatively rare pharyngeals and epiglottals (they are otherwise restricted to Afroasiatic languages and the languages of the Caucasus). Ejective consonants are also common in western North America, although they are rare elsewhere (except, again, for the Caucasus region, parts of Africa, and the Mayan family).

Head-marking is found in many languages of North America (as well as in Central and South America), but outside of the Americas it is rare. Many languages throughout North America are polysynthetic (Eskimo–Aleut languages are extreme examples), although this is not characteristic of all North American languages (contrary to what was believed by 19th-century linguists). Several families have unique traits, such as the inverse number marking of the Tanoan languages, the lexical affixes of the Wakashan, Salishan and Chimakuan languages, and the unusual verb structure of Na-Dené.

The classification below is a composite of Goddard (1996), Campbell (1997), and Mithun (1999).

  1. Adai
  2. Algic (30)
  3. Alsea (2)
  4. Atakapa
  5. Beothuk
  6. Caddoan (5)
  7. Cayuse
  8. Chimakuan (2)
  9. Chimariko
  10. Chinookan (3)
  11. Chitimacha
  12. Chumashan (6)
  13. Coahuilteco
  14. Comecrudan (United States & Mexico) (3)
  15. Coosan (2)
  16. Cotoname
  17. Eskimo–Aleut (7)
  18. Esselen
  19. Haida
  20. Iroquoian (11)
  21. Kalapuyan (3)
  22. Karankawa
  23. Karuk
  24. Keresan (2)
  25. Kutenai
  26. Maiduan (4)
  27. Muskogean (9)
  28. Na-Dené (United States, Canada & Mexico) (39)
  29. Natchez
  30. Palaihnihan (2)
  31. Plateau Penutian (4) (also known as Shahapwailutan)
  32. Pomoan (7)
  33. Salinan
  34. Salishan (23)
  35. Shastan (4)
  36. Siouan (19)
  37. Siuslaw
  38. Solano
  39. Takelma
  40. Tanoan (7)
  41. Timucua
  42. Tonkawa
  43. Tsimshianic (2)
  44. Tunica
  45. Utian (15) (also known as Miwok–Costanoan)
  46. Uto-Aztecan (33)
  47. Wakashan (7)
  48. Wappo
  49. Washo
  50. Wintuan (4)
  51. Yana
  52. Yokutsan (3)
  53. Yuchi
  54. Yuki
  55. Yuman–Cochimí (11)
  56. Zuni

Central America and Mexico[edit]

The indigenous languages of Mexico that have more than 100,000 speakers
The Mayan languages
The Chibchan languages

In Central America the Mayan languages are among those used today. Mayan languages are spoken by at least 6 million indigenous Maya, primarily in Guatemala, Mexico, Belize and Honduras. In 1996, Guatemala formally recognized 21 Mayan languages by name, and Mexico recognizes eight more. The Mayan language family is one of the best documented and most studied in the Americas. Modern Mayan languages descend from Proto-Mayan, a language thought to have been spoken at least 4,000 years ago; it has been partially reconstructed using the comparative method.

  1. Alagüilac (Guatemala)
  2. Chibchan (Central America & South America) (22)
  3. Coahuilteco
  4. Comecrudan (Texas & Mexico) (3)
  5. Cotoname
  6. Cuitlatec (Mexico: Guerrero)
  7. Epi-Olmec (Mexico: language of undeciphered inscriptions)
  8. Guaicurian (8)
  9. Huave
  10. Jicaquean (2)
  11. Lencan (2)
  12. Maratino (northeastern Mexico)
  13. Mayan (31)
  14. Misumalpan (5)
  15. Mixe–Zoquean (19)
  16. Naolan (Mexico: Tamaulipas)
  17. Oto-Manguean (27)
  18. Pericú
  19. Purépecha
  20. Quinigua (northeast Mexico)
  21. Seri
  22. Solano
  23. Tequistlatecan (3)
  24. Totonacan (2)
  25. Uto-Aztecan (United States & Mexico) (33)
  26. Xincan (5)
  27. Yuman (United States & Mexico) (11)

South America and the Caribbean[edit]

Some of the greater families of South America: dark spots are language isolates or quasi-isolate, grey spots unclassified languages or languages with doubtful classification. (Note that Quechua, the family with most speakers, is not displayed.)
A Urarina shaman, 1988

Although both North and Central America are very diverse areas, South America has a linguistic diversity rivalled by only a few other places in the world with approximately 350 languages still spoken and several hundred more spoken at first contact but now extinct. The situation of language documentation and classification into genetic families is not as advanced as in North America (which is relatively well studied in many areas). Kaufman (1994: 46) gives the following appraisal:

Since the mid 1950s, the amount of published material on SA [South America] has been gradually growing, but even so, the number of researchers is far smaller than the growing number of linguistic communities whose speech should be documented. Given the current employment opportunities, it is not likely that the number of specialists in SA Indian languages will increase fast enough to document most of the surviving SA languages before they go out of use, as most of them unavoidably will. More work languishes in personal files than is published, but this is a standard problem.

It is fair to say that SA and New Guinea are linguistically the poorest documented parts of the world. However, in the early 1960s fairly systematic efforts were launched in Papua New Guinea, and that area – much smaller than SA, to be sure – is in general much better documented than any part of indigenous SA of comparable size.

As a result, many relationships between languages and language families have not been determined and some of those relationships that have been proposed are on somewhat shaky ground.

The list of language families, isolates, and unclassified languages below is a rather conservative one based on Campbell (1997). Many of the proposed (and often speculative) groupings of families can be seen in Campbell (1997), Gordon (2005), Kaufman (1990, 1994), Key (1979), Loukotka (1968), and in the Language stock proposals section below.

  1. Aguano
  2. Aikaná (Brazil: Rondônia) (also known as Aikanã, Tubarão)
  3. Andaquí (also known as Andaqui, Andakí)
  4. Andoque (Colombia, Peru) (also known as Andoke)
  5. Andoquero
  6. Arauan (9)
  7. Arawakan (South America & Caribbean) (64) (also known as Maipurean)
  8. Arutani
  9. Aymaran (3)
  10. Baenan (Brazil: Bahia) (also known as Baenán, Baenã)
  11. Barbacoan (8)
  12. Betoi (Colombia) (also known as Betoy, Jirara)
  13. Bororoan
  14. Botocudoan (3) (also known as Aimoré)
  15. Cahuapanan (2) (also known as Jebero, Kawapánan)
  16. Camsá (Colombia) (also known as Sibundoy, Coche)
  17. Candoshi (also known as Maina, Kandoshi)
  18. Canichana (Bolivia) (also known as Canesi, Kanichana)
  19. Carabayo
  20. Cariban (29) (also known as Caribe, Carib)
  21. Catacaoan (also known as Katakáoan)
  22. Cayubaba (Bolivia)
  23. Chapacuran (9) (also known as Chapacura-Wanham, Txapakúran)
  24. Charruan (also known as Charrúan)
  25. Chibchan (Central America & South America) (22)
  26. Chimuan (3)
  27. Chipaya–Uru (also known as Uru–Chipaya)
  28. Chiquitano
  29. Choco (10) (also known as Chocoan)
  30. Chon (2) (also known as Patagonian)
  31. Chono
  32. Coeruna (Brazil)
  33. Cofán (Colombia, Ecuador)
  34. Cueva
  35. Culle (Peru) (also known as Culli, Linga, Kulyi)
  36. Cunza (Chile, Bolivia, Argentina) (also known as Atacama, Atakama, Atacameño, Lipe, Kunsa)
  37. Esmeraldeño (also known as Esmeralda, Takame)
  38. Fulnió
  39. Gamela (Brazil: Maranhão)
  40. Gorgotoqui (Bolivia)
  41. Guaicuruan (7) (also known as Guaykuruan, Waikurúan)
  42. Guajiboan (4) (also known as Wahívoan)
  43. Guamo (Venezuela) (also known as Wamo)
  44. Guató
  45. Harakmbut (2) (also known as Tuyoneri)
  46. Hibito–Cholon
  47. Himarimã
  48. Hodï (Venezuela) (also known as Jotí, Hoti, Waruwaru)
  49. Huamoé (Brazil: Pernambuco)
  50. Huaorani (Ecuador, Peru) (also known as Auca, Huaorani, Wao, Auka, Sabela, Waorani, Waodani)
  51. Huarpe (also known as Warpe)
  52. Irantxe (Brazil: Mato Grosso)
  53. Itonama (Bolivia) (also known as Saramo, Machoto)
  54. Jabutian
  55. Je (13) (also known as Gê, Jêan, Gêan, Ye)
  56. Jeikó
  57. Jirajaran (3) (also known as Hiraháran, Jirajarano, Jirajarana)
  58. Jivaroan (2) (also known as Hívaro)
  59. Kaimbe
  60. Kaliana (also known as Caliana, Cariana, Sapé, Chirichano)
  61. Kamakanan
  62. Kapixaná (Brazil: Rondônia) (also known as Kanoé, Kapishaná)
  63. Karajá
  64. Karirí (Brazil: Paraíba, Pernambuco, Ceará)
  65. Katembrí
  66. Katukinan (3) (also known as Catuquinan)
  67. Kawésqar (Chile) (Kaweskar, Alacaluf, Qawasqar, Halawalip, Aksaná, Hekaine)
  68. Kwaza (Koayá) (Brazil: Rondônia)
  69. Leco (Lapalapa, Leko)
  70. Lule (Argentina) (also known as Tonocoté)
  71. Máku (Maku of Auari)
  72. Malibú (also known as Malibu)
  73. Mapudungun (Chile, Argentina) (also known as Araucanian, Mapuche, Huilliche)
  74. Mascoyan (5) (also known as Maskóian, Mascoian)
  75. Matacoan (4) (also known as Mataguayan)
  76. Matanawí
  77. Maxakalían (3) (also known as Mashakalían)
  78. Mocana (Colombia: Tubará)
  79. Mosetenan (also known as Mosetén)
  80. Movima (Bolivia)
  81. Munichi (Peru) (also known as Muniche)
  82. Muran (4)
  83. Mutú (also known as Loco)
  84. Nadahup (5)
  85. Nambiquaran (5)
  86. Natú (Brazil: Pernambuco)
  87. Nonuya (Peru, Colombia)
  88. Ofayé
  89. Old Catío–Nutabe (Colombia)
  90. Omurano (Peru) (also known as Mayna, Mumurana, Numurana, Maina, Rimachu, Roamaina, Umurano)
  91. Otí (Brazil: São Paulo)
  92. Otomakoan (2)
  93. Paez (also known as Nasa Yuwe)
  94. Palta
  95. Pankararú (Brazil: Pernambuco)
  96. Pano–Tacanan (33)
  97. Panzaleo (Ecuador) (also known as Latacunga, Quito, Pansaleo)
  98. Patagon (Peru)
  99. Peba–Yaguan (2) (also known as Yaguan, Yáwan, Peban)
  100. Pijao†
  101. Pre-Arawakan languages of the Greater Antilles (Guanahatabey, Macorix, Ciguayo) (Cuba, Hispaniola)
  102. Puelche (Chile) (also known as Guenaken, Gennaken, Pampa, Pehuenche, Ranquelche)
  103. Puinave (also known as Makú)
  104. Puquina (Bolivia)
  105. Purian (2)
  106. Quechuan (46)
  107. Rikbaktsá
  108. Saliban (2) (also known as Sálivan)
  109. Sechura (Atalan, Sec)
  110. Tabancale (Peru)
  111. Tairona (Colombia)
  112. Tarairiú (Brazil: Rio Grande do Norte)
  113. Taruma
  114. Taushiro (Peru) (also known as Pinchi, Pinche)
  115. Tequiraca (Peru) (also known as Tekiraka, Avishiri)
  116. Teushen (Patagonia, Argentina)
  117. Ticuna (Colombia, Peru, Brazil) (also known as Magta, Tikuna, Tucuna, Tukna, Tukuna)
  118. Timotean (2)
  119. Tiniguan (2) (also known as Tiníwan, Pamiguan)
  120. Trumai (Brazil: Xingu, Mato Grosso)
  121. Tucanoan (15)
  122. Tupian (70, including Guaraní)
  123. Tuxá (Brazil: Bahia, Pernambuco)
  124. Urarina (also known as Shimacu, Itukale, Shimaku)
  125. Vilela
  126. Wakona
  127. Warao (Guyana, Surinam, Venezuela) (also known as Guarao)
  128. Witotoan (6) (also known as Huitotoan, Bora–Witótoan)
  129. Xokó (Brazil: Alagoas, Pernambuco) (also known as Shokó)
  130. Xukurú (Brazil: Pernambuco, Paraíba)
  131. Yaghan (Chile) (also known as Yámana)
  132. Yanomaman (4)
  133. Yaruro (also known as Jaruro)
  134. Yuracare (Bolivia)
  135. Yuri (Colombia, Brazil) (also known as Carabayo, Jurí)
  136. Yurumanguí (Colombia) (also known as Yurimangui, Yurimangi)
  137. Zamucoan (2)
  138. Zaparoan (5) (also known as Záparo)

Language stock proposals[edit]

Hypothetical language-family proposals of American languages are often cited as uncontroversial in popular writing. However, many of these proposals have not been fully demonstrated, or even demonstrated at all. Some proposals are viewed by specialists in a favorable light, believing that genetic relationships are very likely to be established in the future (for example, the Penutian stock). Other proposals are more controversial with many linguists believing that some genetic relationships of a proposal may be demonstrated but much of it undemonstrated (for example, Hokan–Siouan, which, incidentally, Edward Sapir called his "wastepaper basket stock").[83] Still other proposals are almost unanimously rejected by specialists (for example, Amerind). Below is a (partial) list of some such proposals:

  1. Algonquian–Wakashan   (also known as Almosan)
  2. Almosan–Keresiouan   (Almosan + Keresiouan)
  3. Amerind   (all languages excepting Eskimo–Aleut & Na-Dené)
  4. Algonkian–Gulf   (Algic + Beothuk + Gulf)
  5. (macro-)Arawakan
  6. Arutani–Sape (Ahuaque–Kalianan)
  7. Aztec–Tanoan   (Uto-Aztecan + Tanoan)
  8. Chibchan–Paezan
  9. Chikitano–Boróroan
  10. Chimu–Chipaya
  11. Coahuiltecan   (Coahuilteco + Cotoname + Comecrudan + Karankawa + Tonkawa)
  12. Cunza–Kapixanan
  13. Dené–Caucasian
  14. Dené–Yeniseian
  15. Esmerelda–Yaruroan
  16. Ge–Pano–Carib
  17. Guamo–Chapacuran
  18. Gulf   (Muskogean + Natchez + Tunica)
  19. Macro-Kulyi–Cholónan
  20. Hokan   (Karok + Chimariko + Shastan + Palaihnihan + Yana + Pomoan + Washo + Esselen + Yuman + Salinan + Chumashan + Seri + Tequistlatecan)
  21. Hokan–Siouan   (Hokan + Keresiouan + Subtiaba–Tlappanec + Coahuiltecan + Yukian + Tunican + Natchez + Muskogean + Timucua)
  22. Je–Tupi–Carib
  23. Jivaroan–Cahuapanan
  24. Kalianan
  25. Kandoshi–Omurano–Taushiro
  26. (Macro-)Katembri–Taruma
  27. Kaweskar language area
  28. Keresiouan   (Macro-Siouan + Keresan + Yuchi)
  29. Lule–Vilelan
  30. Macro-Andean
  31. Macro-Carib
  32. Macro-Chibchan
  33. Macro-Gê   (also known as Macro-Jê)
  34. Macro-Jibaro
  35. Macro-Lekoan
  36. Macro-Mayan
  37. Macro-Otomákoan
  38. Macro-Paesan
  39. Macro-Panoan
  40. Macro-Puinavean
  41. Macro-Siouan   (Siouan + Iroquoian + Caddoan)
  42. Macro-Tucanoan
  43. Macro-Tupí–Karibe
  44. Macro-Waikurúan
  45. Macro-Warpean   (Muran + Matanawi + Huarpe)
  46. Mataco–Guaicuru
  47. Mosan   (Salishan + Wakashan + Chimakuan)
  48. Mosetén–Chonan
  49. Mura–Matanawian
  50. Sapir's Na-Dené including Haida   (Haida + Tlingit + Eyak + Athabaskan)
  51. Nostratic–Amerind
  52. Paezan (Andaqui + Paez + Panzaleo)
  53. Paezan–Barbacoan
  54. Penutian   (many languages of California and sometimes languages in Mexico)
    1. California Penutian   (Wintuan + Maiduan + Yokutsan + Utian)
    2. Oregon Penutian   (Takelma + Coosan + Siuslaw + Alsean)
    3. Mexican Penutian   (Mixe–Zoque + Huave)
  55. Puinave–Maku
  56. Quechumaran
  57. Saparo–Yawan   (also known as Zaparo–Yaguan)
  58. Sechura–Catacao (also known as Sechura–Tallan)
  59. Takelman   (Takelma + Kalapuyan)
  60. Tequiraca–Canichana
  61. Ticuna–Yuri (Yuri–Ticunan)
  62. Totozoque   (Totonacan + Mixe–Zoque)
  63. Tunican   (Tunica + Atakapa + Chitimacha)
  64. Yok–Utian
  65. Yuki–Wappo

Good discussions of past proposals can be found in Campbell (1997) and Campbell & Mithun (1979).

Amerindian linguist Lyle Campbell also assigned different percentage values of probability and confidence for various proposals of macro-families and language relationships, depending on his views of the proposals' strengths.[84] For example, the Germanic language family would receive probability and confidence percentage values of +100% and 100%, respectively. However, if Turkish and Quechua were compared, the probability value might be −95%, while the confidence value might be 95%.[clarification needed] 0% probability or confidence would mean complete uncertainty.

Language FamilyProbabilityConfidence
Almosan (and beyond)−75%50%
Keresan and Uto-Aztecan0%60%
Keresan and Zuni−40%40%
Mexican Penutian−40%60%
Quechua as Hokan−85%80%
Tlapanec–Subtiaba as Otomanguean+95%90%
Wakashan and Chimakuan0%25%


It has long been observed that a remarkable number of Native American languages have a pronominal pattern with first-person singular forms in n and second-person singular forms in m. (Compare first-person singular m and second-person singular t across much of northern Eurasia.) This pattern was first noted by Alfredo Trombetti in 1905. It caused Sapir to suggest that ultimately all Native American languages would turn out to be related. In a personal letter to A. L. Kroeber he wrote (Sapir 1918):[89]

Getting down to brass tacks, how in the Hell are you going to explain general American n- 'I' except genetically? It's disturbing, I know, but (more) non-committal conservatism is only dodging, after all, isn't it? Great simplifications are in store for us.

The supposed "n/m – I/you" pattern has attracted attention even from those linguists who are normally critical of such long-distance proposals. Johanna Nichols investigated the distribution of the languages that have an n/m pattern and found that they are mostly confined to the western coast of the Americas, and that similarly they exist in East Asia and northern New Guinea. She suggested that they had spread through diffusion.[90] This notion was rejected by Lyle Campbell, who argued that the frequency of the n/m pattern was not statistically elevated in either area compared to the rest of the world. Campbell also showed that several of the languages that have the contrast today did not have it historically and stated that the pattern was largely consistent with chance resemblance, especially when taking into consideration the statistic prevalence of nasal consonants in all the pronominal systems of the world.[91] Zamponi found that Nichols's findings were distorted by her small sample size, and that some n–m languages were recent developments (though also that some languages had lost an ancestral n–m pattern), but he did find a statistical excess of the n–m pattern in western North America only. Looking at families rather than individual languages, he found a rate of 30% of families/protolanguages in North America, all on the western flank, compared to 5% in South America and 7% of non-American languages – though the percentage in North America, and especially the even higher number in the Pacific Northwest, drops considerably if Hokan and Penutian, or parts of them, are accepted as language families. If all the proposed Penutian and Hokan languages in the table below are related, then the frequency drops to 9% of North American families, statistically indistinguishable from the world average.[92]

Below is a list of families with both 1sg n and 2sg m.[92]

Proto-languages with 1sg n and 2sg m[92]
Penutian families
Proto-Tsimshianic*nə*mə [but also *-n]
Proto-Chinookan*nai..., *n-*mai..., *m-
Klamathni 'I', ni-s 'my'mi-s 'you' (object), mi 'your'
Molalain- 'my', n- 'me'im- 'your', m- 'you' (object)
Proto-Sahaptian*(ʔî·-)n 'I'*(ʔî·-)m 'you'
Takelmaàn ~ -n, -àʔn ~ -ʔnma ~ maː
Cayuseíniŋ, nǐs-mǐs-
Proto-Maiduan*ni 'I', *nik 'me', *nik-k’i 'my'*mi 'you', *min 'you' (obj), *min-k’i 'your'
Proto-Wintuan*ni 'I', *ni-s 'me', *ne-r 'my', *ne-t 'my'*mi 'you', *mi-s (obj.), *mar 'your', *ma-t 'your'
Proto-Yokutsan*naʔ 'I', *nan 'me', *nam ~ *nim 'my'*maʔ 'you', *man 'you' (obj), *mam ~ *min 'your'
Proto-Utian*ka·ni 'I', *ka(·)na 'my'[93]*mi·(n)
Proto-Mixe-Zoquean*n-heʔ 'mine', *n-*mici, *min-
Hokan families
Chimarikonoʔotmamot, m-, -m
Karokná· 'I', nani- ~ nini- 'my'ʔí·m 'you', mi- 'your'
Coahuiltecon(ami), n- ~ na-, nak-, niw-mak-, may- ~ mi-
Proto-Yuman*ʔnʸaː 'I', *nʸ-*maː 'you', *m-
? Proto-Lencan[*u(nani)], *-on ~ u(na)*ama(nani), am-/ma-, -mi/-ma
Other North America
Karankawana-, n-m-
Proto-Uto-Aztecan*(i)nɨ 'I', *(i)nɨ- 'my'*ɨ(mɨ) 'you', *ɨ(mɨ) 'your'
? Proto-Chibchanuncertain: *dã or *nauncertain: *bã or *ma
South America
Proto-Guahiboan*(xá-)ni, *-nV*(xá-)mi
Proto-Aymaran*na-ya 'I', *-Na 'my'*hu-ma 'you', *-ma 'you(r)'
Mapuche[iɲtʃé 'I'], -(ɨ)n 'I', nyi 'my' (also 'his/her')eymi 'you', mi 'your', -m
Puelchenɨ-, -ɨn ~ -an[94](kɨ-)ma-w, mu- ~ mɨ-
? Proto-Uru-Chipaya(Chipaya only) -nam
? Proto-TimoteanTimote-Cuica an,
Mucuchí-Maripú unknown
Mucuchí-Maripú ma,
Timote-Cuica ih

Other scattered families may have one or the other but not both.

Besides Proto-Eskaleut and Proto-Na–Dene, the families in North America with neither 1sg n or 2sg m are Atakapan, Chitimacha, Cuitlatec, Haida, Kutenai, Proto-Caddoan, Proto-Chimakuan, Proto-Comecrudan, Proto-Iroquoian, Proto-Muskogean, Proto-Siouan-Catawba, Tonkawa, Waikuri, Yana, Yuchi, Zuni.

There are also a number of neighboring families in South America that have a tʃ–k pattern (the Duho proposal, plus possibly Arutani–Sape), or an i–a pattern (the Macro-Jê proposal, including Fulnio and Chiquitano, plus Matacoan,[95] Zamucoan and Payaguá).[92]

Linguistic areas[edit]

Unattested languages[edit]

Several languages are only known by mention in historical documents or from only a few names or words. It cannot be determined that these languages actually existed or that the few recorded words are actually of known or unknown languages. Some may simply be from a historian's errors. Others are of known people with no linguistic record (sometimes due to lost records). A short list is below.

  • Ais
  • Akokisa
  • Aranama
  • Ausaima
  • Avoyel
  • Bayagoula
  • Bidai
  • Cacán (Diaguita–Calchaquí)
  • Calusa - Mayaimi - Tequesta
  • Cusabo
  • Eyeish
  • Grigra
  • Guale
  • Houma
  • Koroa
  • Mayaca (possibly related to Ais)
  • Mobila
  • Okelousa
  • Opelousa
  • Pascagoula
  • Pensacola - Chatot (Muscogean languages, possibly related to Choctaw)
  • Pijao language
  • Pisabo [possibly the same language as Matsés]
  • Quinipissa
  • Taensa
  • Tiou
  • Yamacraw
  • Yamasee
  • Yazoo

Loukotka (1968) reports the names of hundreds of South American languages which do not have any linguistic documentation.

Pidgins and mixed languages[edit]

Various miscellaneous languages such as pidgins, mixed languages, trade languages, and sign languages are given below in alphabetical order.

  1. American Indian Pidgin English
  2. Algonquian-Basque pidgin (also known as Micmac-Basque Pidgin, Souriquois; spoken by the Basques, Micmacs, and Montagnais in eastern Canada)
  3. Broken Oghibbeway (also known as Broken Ojibwa)
  4. Broken Slavey
  5. Bungee (also known as Bungi, Bungie, Bungay, or the Red River Dialect)
  6. Callahuaya (also known as Machaj-Juyai, Kallawaya, Collahuaya, Pohena, Kolyawaya Jargon)
  7. Carib Pidgin (also known as Ndjuka-Amerindian Pidgin, Ndjuka-Trio)
  8. Carib Pidgin–Arawak Mixed Language
  9. Catalangu
  10. Chinook Jargon
  11. Delaware Jargon (also known as Pidgin Delaware)
  12. Eskimo Trade Jargon (also known as Herschel Island Eskimo Pidgin, Ship's Jargon)
  13. Greenlandic Pidgin (West Greenlandic Pidgin)
  14. Guajiro-Spanish
  15. Güegüence-Nicarao
  16. Haida Jargon
  17. Inuktitut-English Pidgin (Quebec)
  18. Jargonized Powhatan
  19. Keresan Sign Language
  20. Labrador Eskimo Pidgin (also known as Labrador Inuit Pidgin)
  21. Lingua Franca Apalachee
  22. Lingua Franca Creek
  23. Lingua Geral Amazônica (also known as Nheengatú, Lingua Boa, Lingua Brasílica, Lingua Geral do Norte)
  24. Lingua Geral do Sul (also known as Lingua Geral Paulista, Tupí Austral)
  25. Loucheux Jargon (also known as Jargon Loucheux)
  26. Media Lengua
  27. Mednyj Aleut (also known as Copper Island Aleut, Medniy Aleut, CIA)
  28. Michif (also known as French Cree, Métis, Metchif, Mitchif, Métchif)
  29. Mobilian Jargon (also known as Mobilian Trade Jargon, Chickasaw-Chocaw Trade Language, Yamá)
  30. Montagnais Pidgin Basque (also known as Pidgin Basque-Montagnais)
  31. Nootka Jargon (spoken during the 18th-19th centuries; later replaced by Chinook Jargon)
  32. Ocaneechi (also known as Occaneechee; spoken in Virginia and the Carolinas in early colonial times)
  33. Pidgin Massachusett
  34. Plains Indian Sign Language

Writing systems[edit]

While most indigenous languages have adopted the Latin script as the written form of their languages, a few languages have their own unique writing systems after encountering the Latin script (often through missionaries) that are still in use. All pre-Columbian indigenous writing systems are no longer used.

Indigenous Writing Systems of the Americas
Writing SystemTypeLanguage(s)Region(s)Date in usageStatusInventor
QuipuN/A (string)Aymara, Quechua, PuquinaAndean civilizations (Western South America)3rd millennium BCE – 17th centuryExtinct
Olmec HieroglyphsLogogramMixe–Zoque languagesIsthmus of Tehuantepec1500 BCE – 400 BCEExtinct
Zapotec writingunknownZapotec languagesOaxaca500 BCE – 700 CEExtinct
Epi-Olmec/Isthmian ScriptLogogramZoque languagesIsthmus of Tehuantepec500 BCE – 500 CEExtinct
Abaj Takalik and Kaminaljuyú scriptsunknownunknown Mixe–Zoquean languageSouthern GuatemalaExtinct
Maya ScriptLogogramMayan languagesMaya civilization: Yucatán Peninsula of Mexico, Guatemala, & Belize3rd century BCE – 16th century CEExtinct
Mixtec ScriptLogogramMixtecan languagesOaxaca, Puebla, Guerrero13th century – 16th century CEExtinct
Aztec ScriptSemasiogramNahuatlCentral Mexico14th century – 16th century CEExtinct
Komqwejwi'kasikl (Miꞌkmaw Hieroglyphs)LogogramMi'kmaqNova Scotia, Prince Edward Island, & New Brunswick17th–19th centuryExtinct
Cherokee SyllabarySyllabaryCherokeeCherokee Nation, United States1820s–presentActiveSequoyah ᏍᏏᏉᏯ
Canadian Aboriginal SyllabicsAbugidaAlgonquian languages (Cree, Naskapi, Ojibwe/Chippewa, & Blackfoot (Siksika))

Eskimo–Aleut languages (Inuktitut & Inuinnaqtun)

Athabaskan languages (Dane-zaa, Slavey, Chipewyan (Denesuline)/Sayisi, Carrier (Dakelh), & Sekani)

Canada1840s–presentActiveJames Evans ᒉᐃᒻᔅ ᐁᕙᓐᔅ
Yugtun ScriptSyllabaryCentral Alaskan Yup'ikAlaska1900–presentEndangeredUyaquq
Afaka SyllabarySyllabaryNdyukaSuriname, French Guiana1910–presentEndangeredAfáka Atumisi

See also[edit]

  • Amerind languages
  • Archive of the Indigenous Languages of Latin America
  • Classification of indigenous peoples of the Americas
  • Classification of indigenous languages of the Americas
  • Haplogroup Q-M242 (Y-DNA)
  • Indigenous peoples of the Americas
  • Language families and languages
  • Languages of Peru
  • List of endangered languages in Canada
  • List of endangered languages in Mexico
  • List of endangered languages in the United States
  • List of endangered languages with mobile apps
  • List of indigenous languages of South America
  • List of indigenous languages in Argentina
  • Mesoamerican languages
  • Native American Languages Act of 1990


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  45. ^ "Census in Brief: The Aboriginal languages of First Nations people, Métis and Inuit". Statistics Canada. Retrieved 2017-11-12.
  46. ^ Shuar at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015)
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  54. ^ Hofling, Mopan Maya–Spanish–English Dictionary, 1.
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  66. ^ "UNESCO Atlas of the World's Languages in danger". Retrieved 2018-06-09.
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  68. ^ Cocopah at Ethnologue (19th ed., 2016)
  69. ^ Havasupai‑Walapai‑Yavapai at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015)
  70. ^ INALI (2012) México: Lenguas indígenas nacionales
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  72. ^ Ethnologue (21st ed., 2018)
  73. ^ Quechan at Ethnologue (19th ed., 2016)
  74. ^ Yavapai at Ethnologue (19th ed., 2016)
  75. ^ Mojave language at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015)
  76. ^ INALI (2012) México: Lenguas indígenas nacionales
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  81. ^ If the Caucasus is considered to be a part of Europe, Northwest Caucasian and Northeast Caucasian would be included resulting in five language families within Europe. Other language families, such as the Turkic, Mongolic, Afroasiatic families have entered Europe in later migrations.
  82. ^ Nater 1984, pg. 5
  83. ^ Ruhlen, Merritt. (1991 [1987]). A Guide to the World's Languages Volume 1: Classification, p.216. Edward Arnold. Paperback: ISBN 0-340-56186-6.
  84. ^ Campbell, Lyle (1997). American Indian languages: the historical linguistics of Native America. Ch. 8 Distant Genetic Relationships, pp. 260–329. Oxford: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-509427-1.
  85. ^ American-Arctic–Paleosiberian Phylum, Luoravetlan – and beyond
  86. ^ Macro-Mayan includes Mayan, Totonacan, Mixe–Zoquean, and sometimes Huave.
  87. ^ Siouan–Iroquoian–Caddoan–[Yuchi]
  88. ^ Alternatively Takelma–Kalapuyan
  89. ^ See Sapir 1918
  90. ^ Nichols & Peterson 1996
  91. ^ Campbell 1997
  92. ^ a b c d Raoul Zamponi (2017) 'First-person n and second-person m in Native America: a fresh look'. Italian Journal of Linguistics, 29.2
  93. ^ possibly from *-ni and *-na
  94. ^ Proto-Chonan proper, sans Puelche, has only 2sg *maː
  95. ^ Guaicuruan has 1sg i only


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  • Campbell, Lyle; & Mithun, Marianne (Eds.). (1979). The languages of native America: Historical and comparative assessment. Austin: University of Texas Press.

North America[edit]

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  • Goddard, Ives (Ed.). (1996). Languages. Handbook of North American Indians (W. C. Sturtevant, General Ed.) (Vol. 17). Washington, D. C.: Smithsonian Institution. ISBN 0-16-048774-9.
  • Goddard, Ives. (1999). Native languages and language families of North America (rev. and enlarged ed. with additions and corrections). [Map]. Lincoln, Nebraska: University of Nebraska Press (Smithsonian Institution). (Updated version of the map in Goddard 1996). ISBN 0-8032-9271-6.
  • Goddard, Ives. (2005). The indigenous languages of the southeast. Anthropological Linguistics, 47 (1), 1–60.
  • Mithun, Marianne. (1990). Studies of North American Indian Languages. Annual Review of Anthropology, 19(1): 309–330.
  • Mithun, Marianne. (1999). The languages of Native North America. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-23228-7 (hbk); ISBN 0-521-29875-X.
  • Nater, Hank F. (1984). The Bella Coola Language. Mercury Series; Canadian Ethnology Service (No. 92). Ottawa: National Museums of Canada.
  • Powell, John W. (1891). Indian linguistic families of America north of Mexico. Seventh annual report, Bureau of American Ethnology (pp. 1–142). Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office. (Reprinted in P. Holder (Ed.), 1966, Introduction to Handbook of American Indian languages by Franz Boas and Indian linguistic families of America, north of Mexico, by J. W. Powell, Lincoln: University of Nebraska).
  • Powell, John W. (1915). Linguistic families of American Indians north of Mexico by J. W. Powell, revised by members of the staff of the Bureau of American Ethnology. (Map). Bureau of American Ethnology miscellaneous publication (No. 11). Baltimore: Hoen.
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  • Sherzer, Joel. (1976). An areal-typological study of American Indian languages north of Mexico. Amsterdam: North-Holland.
  • Sletcher, Michael, 'North American Indians', in Will Kaufman and Heidi Macpherson, eds., Britain and the Americas: Culture, Politics, and History, (2 vols., Oxford, 2005).
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South America[edit]

  • Adelaar, Willem F. H.; & Muysken, Pieter C. (2004). The languages of the Andes. Cambridge language surveys. Cambridge University Press.
  • Fabre, Alain. (1998). "Manual de las lenguas indígenas sudamericanas, I-II". München: Lincom Europa.
  • Kaufman, Terrence. (1990). Language history in South America: What we know and how to know more. In D. L. Payne (Ed.), Amazonian linguistics: Studies in lowland South American languages (pp. 13–67). Austin: University of Texas Press. ISBN 0-292-70414-3.
  • Kaufman, Terrence. (1994). The native languages of South America. In C. Mosley & R. E. Asher (Eds.), Atlas of the world's languages (pp. 46–76). London: Routledge.
  • Key, Mary R. (1979). The grouping of South American languages. Tübingen: Gunter Narr Verlag.
  • Loukotka, Čestmír. (1968). Classification of South American Indian languages. Los Angeles: Latin American Studies Center, University of California.
  • Mason, J. Alden. (1950). The languages of South America. In J. Steward (Ed.), Handbook of South American Indians (Vol. 6, pp. 157–317). Smithsonian Institution Bureau of American Ethnology bulletin (No. 143). Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office.
  • Migliazza, Ernest C.; & Campbell, Lyle. (1988). Panorama general de las lenguas indígenas en América. Historia general de América (Vol. 10). Caracas: Instituto Panamericano de Geografía e Historia.
  • Rodrigues, Aryon. (1986). Linguas brasileiras: Para o conhecimento das linguas indígenas. São Paulo: Edições Loyola.
  • Rowe, John H. (1954). Linguistics classification problems in South America. In M. B. Emeneau (Ed.), Papers from the symposium on American Indian linguistics (pp. 10–26). University of California publications in linguistics (Vol. 10). Berkeley: University of California Press.
  • Sapir, Edward. (1929). Central and North American languages. In The encyclopædia britannica: A new survey of universal knowledge (14 ed.) (Vol. 5, pp. 138–141). London: The Encyclopædia Britannica Company, Ltd.
  • Voegelin, Carl F.; & Voegelin, Florence M. (1977). Classification and index of the world's languages. Amsterdam: Elsevier. ISBN 0-444-00155-7.
  • Debian North American Indigenous Languages Project

External links[edit]

  • Catálogo de línguas indígenas sul-americanas
  • Diccionario etnolingüístico y guía bibliográfica de los pueblos indígenas sudamericanos
  • Towards a general typology of South American indigenous languages. A bibliographical database
  • South American Languages
  • Society to Advance Indigenous Vernaculars of the United States (SAIVUS)
  • Indigenous Peoples Languages: Articles, News, Videos
  • Documentation Center of the Linguistic Minorities of Panama
  • The Archive of the Indigenous Languages of Latin America
  • Indigenous Language Institute
  • The Society for the Study of the Indigenous Languages of the Americas (SSILA)
  • Southern Oregon Digital Archives First Nations Tribal Collection (collection of ethnographic, linguistic, & historical material)
  • Center for the Study of the Native Languages of the Plains and Southwest
  • Project for the Documentation of the Languages of Mesoamerica
  • Programa de Formación en Educación Intercultural Bilingüe para los Países Andinos
  • Native American Language Center (University of California at Davis)
  • Native Languages of the Americas
  • International Journal of American Linguistics
  • Our Languages (Saskatchewan Indian Cultural Centre)
  • Swadesh Lists of Brazilian Native Languages
  • Alaska Native Language Center