Languages of Bolivia

The languages of Bolivia include Spanish; several dozen indigenous languages, most prominently Aymara, Quechua, Chiquitano and Tupi Guaraní; Bolivian Sign Language (closely related to American Sign Language); and language of immigrants such as Plautdietsch. Indigenous languages and Spanish are official languages of the state according to the 2009 Constitution. The constitution says that all indigenous languages are official, but then defines "all" as 36 specific languages, some long extinct. Spanish and Quechua are spoken primarily in the Andes region; Aymara is mainly spoken in the Altiplano around Lake Titicaca, Chiquitano is spoken in the central part of Santa Cruz and Guaraní in the southeast on the border with Paraguay.

List of official languages

Geographic distribution of the indigenous languages of Bolivia.
The distribution of people who primarily speak Spanish by municipalities in Bolivia

"In Bolivia through Act 269 Art. 8 and Political Constitution Art. 5 establish the following languages as official of the state."[1]


Language people percent
Quechua 2,281,198 25.08%
Aymara 1,525,321 16.77%
Guaraní 62,575 0.69%
Other native 49,432 0.54%
Spanish 6,821,626 75.01%
Foreign 250,754 2.76%
Only native 960,491 10.56%
Native and Spanish 2,739,407 30.12%
Spanish and foreign 4,115,751 45.25%
Only Spanish 4,082,219 44.89%
All native 3,918,526 43.09%

Official status

The 2009 Constitution specifies 37 languages as official:

Article 5-I: Son idiomas oficiales del Estado el castellano y todos los idiomas de las naciones y pueblos indígena originario campesinos, que son el aymara, araona, baure, bésiro, canichana, cavineño, cayubaba, chácobo, chimán, ese ejja, guaraní, guarasu'we, guarayu, itonama, leco, machajuyai-kallawaya, machineri, maropa, mojeño-trinitario, mojeño-ignaciano, moré, mosetén, movima, pacawara, puquina, quechua, sirionó, tacana, tapieté, toromona, uru-chipaya, weenhayek, yawanawa, yuki, yuracaré y zamuco.[2]

The Bolivian government and the departmental governments are also required to use at least two languages in their operation, while smaller-scale autonomous governments must also use two, including Spanish.[3]

Following the National Education Reform of 1994, all thirty indigenous languages were introduced alongside Spanish in the country's schools.[4] However, many schools did not implement the reforms, especially urban schools.

Languages without official status

Standard German is spoken by 160,000 of whom about 70,000 are Mennonites in Santa Cruz Department. These Mennonites speak Plautdietsch, a German dialect, as everyday language but use Standard German for reading and writing and as formal language e.g. in church.[5]

See also


  1. COUTHBERT, George,"Official Languages of Plurinational State of Bolivia", Apuntes Juridicos™, 2012 Consulta: Sabado, 25 Agosto de 2012
  2. Bolivian Constitution
  3. Nueva Constitución Política Del Estado, Aprobada en grande, detalle y revisión. December 2007, article 5.
  4. Hornberger, Nancy. 1997. Language policy, language education, language rights: Indigenous, immigrant, and international perspectives. Language in Society 27:443. Retrieved on April 28, 2009.
  5. Ethnologue: Paraguay

External links

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