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Indigenous Languages. By Bianca Castro, Emma Elliott , Chika Hosoda, Jas Hundal, and Hanisha Umeria Areas covered: North America (California, New Mexico, Utah, Arizona) Mexico South America (Peru, Paraguay, Bolivia) Japan. What is an Indigenous Language?.

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indigenous languages

Indigenous Languages

By Bianca Castro, Emma Elliott, Chika Hosoda, Jas Hundal, and HanishaUmeria

Areas covered:

North America (California, New Mexico, Utah, Arizona)


South America (Peru, Paraguay, Bolivia)


what is an indigenous language
What is an Indigenous Language?

A language that is native to the region and spoken by the indigenous people (original inhabitants) in the area.

Has been reduced to the status of a minority language.

May not be recognised as a national language and may have fallen out of use due to language death.

north america
North America


north america1
North America

Approx 296 indigenous languages spoken (or formerly spoken) in North America (north of Mexico)

29 language families containing 269 of the languages (others are unclassified or isolates)


Nearly 100 different languages spoken in 1800 but less than 50 by 1994.

Official language of California has been English since 1986

No Californian Indian language is being learned as the primary language of the household.

Even those who know the languages rarely use them.

No new speakers = language death. When the elders die, the language will die with them.


Uto-Aztecac: 1.95 million

Hokan languages: 4000 speakers

Penutian languages: 6800 speakers

language action in california
Language Action in California

Though they’re not being learned natively, many young people around the state are trying to learn them as second languages.

Many feel the loss of language is a loss of personal history and a loss of identity.

Forming tribal language committees, school programs, evening language classes.

Audio and video-taping elders


Basic problem: no longer the main language of any household so children are not learning natively.

Controversial nature of the task of preserving the languages: many people believe it keeps the indigenous population from assimilating to ‘mainstream’ American culture.

Various authorities criticise, ridicule or just ignore many attempts to preserve languages.

Not sufficient funding or hours of school-time made available to help the language learning process.


(fluent speakers / includes non fluent or second-language speakers)

Cocopa: 150 / 400 (introductory college course at nearby college, summer youth program with language retention activities

Karuk: 10 / 60 (writing systems taught in some school programs, has many singers)

Cahuilla: 20 / 50 (individual efforts only)


Hinton, L (1994), Flutes of Fire: Essays on Californian Languages, Heyday Books, California

north america2
North America


New mexico




Nativelanguagespoken in New Mexico, Utah and Arizona. The Navajo Nation is the largest reservation in the United States, covering 27,673 square miles.


The Navajos have a population of over 200,000 people, making their tribe the largest Native American tribe in the United States. (178,000 speakers of Navajo recorded in the 2000 Census)

The Navajo people maintain many of their ancestors\' beliefs and traditions. They strive to continue speaking their challenging Navajo language, although many Navajos also speak English.

Most fluent native speakers of Navajo are not literate in the language and for most Navajos who have had some schooling, English has been the only language promoted by the various school systems on the Navajo Nation during their lifetimes.


There were various missionary schools that were set up around North America which allowed native languages to be used as a media of instruction and religious conversation. Allowing for the development of individual writing systems for these Native Americans.

But Western European policies of expedient tolerance toward Native languages changed after the American Revolution as the new federal govt turned its attention to ‘pacifying’ Native peoples in their pursuit for their lands. As a result, Congress passed the 1819 Civilization Fund Act to support missionary schooling.

But by the late 19th Century, one of the primary tools to build the pathway for Anglo-European settlement were federal schools. Therefore although in mission schools the practice of teaching through the medium of native languages was possible and encouraged, in federal schools rules were strictly enforced to not allow the speaking of Indigenous languages.


Over the next few decades, BIA came under intense criticism for these practices, which lead to officials loosening the prohibitions against Native American languages.

One unintended consequence of the boarding school system was the start of a relationship between the Native peoples from various tribes, including the Navajo, who grew up together in these schools and who in the context of the 1960s American Indian and civil rights movements, pushed for tribal sovereignity and educational reform.


AllNative American languages are endangered, as Nativechildrenhavebecomeincreasingly more socialised in English.

The causes of this are complex and theconsequencessevere, becauseunlikeotherspeechcommunitiestheydon’thavetheexternalsource of speakerstoreplenishtheirnumbers.

“The loss of theindigenouslanguageis terminal: languagedeath” WARNER 1999:72

Thereforedue this predicament, languagerevitalizationis a significantgoal in Native American communitiesthroughoutthe USA

Schoolingamongothermediumsthereforeremains a crucial areafortheexercise of tribal sovereignity and self-determination.

s ources

Census 2000

K. Potowski ‘Language Diveristy in the USA’ 2010

  • Spanish = official language spoken by Mexican people
  • However = not defined as the official language by legislation
  • The country is defined as multicultural & allows the right to indigenous peoples to preserve and enrich their languages as well as promoting bilingual and intercultural education.
general law of linguistic rights of indigenous peoples
General Law of Linguistic Rights of Indigenous Peoples
  • This law recognizes the Mexico’s history makes its indigenous languages national languages.
  • these language = Same validity of Spanish in their territory, location and context.
  • However, legislators made no provisions for the official or legal status of the Spanish Language.
  • SO, indigenous peoples can use their native language in communicating with government officials and request official documents in that language.
The Mexican state supports the preservations and promotion of the use of the national languages through the activities of the national institute of indigenous languages.
  • Mexico = 6 Million indigenous speakers
  • Only a small percent of Mexico\'s population speaks an indigenous language compared to other countries in America:
  • Guatemala = 42.8%
  • Peru = 35%
  • Ecuador = 9.4%
  • Panama = 8.3%
  • The only single indigenous language spoken by more than a million people in Mexico is the Nahuatl languages and other Native American languages with a large population of native speakers which are inclusive of:
  • Quecha
  • Aymara
  • Guarani
  • Mayan (Only some)
south america
South America




a little background information on south america
A little background information on South America

South America is one of the most linguistically diverse places in the world.

There are approximately 350 living languages

Over 100 languages are unclassified by the governments of South America

South America encompasses 43% of the world’s 249 independent linguistic stock

The majority of indigenous languages in South America are endangered

bolivia quechua
Bolivia: Quechua

Considered an official language but not regulated (as Spanish is)

35% of the population speak a form of Quechua

Also spoken in Peru, Colombia, Ecuador, Chile and Argentina by approximately 8 million people

Southern Quechua is the most widely spoken indigenous language with 6 – 7 million speakers

There are as many as 40 Quechuan languages spoken natively

bolivia quechua s indigenous people
Bolivia: Quechua’s indigenous people

Only very recently have the speakers of Quechua (who vary in accordance with the language) developed some form of common sense of political identity

Highland Aymara and Quechua make up the majority of Bolivia’s indigenous people and the highland Bolivian population

The Popular Participation Law (1994) meant that more Quechua people are becoming more active in local and national politics

bolivia quechua s language rights
Bolivia: Quechua’s Language Rights

Advances have been made (by & for indigenous people) to include constitutional recognition, popular participation, bilingual education and greater parliamentary representation

Bolivia now has a Constituent Assembly rather than a traditional parliament which includes a large number of indigenous representatives

The Bolivian National Education Reform (1994) aims for an introduction of all 30 of Bolivia’s indigenous languages including Spanish as subjects and sources in all Bolivian schools

paraguay guaran
Paraguay: Guaraní

Guaraní is an official language (since 1992) in Paraguay and is spoken by approximately 90% of the population

Spoken by approximately 4.6 million people in Paraguay (small communities of speakers in Bolivia, Brazil and Argentina)

A lot of Spanish vocabulary diffused into Guaraní

Spanish is used for formal and official situations and Guaraní in private and informal settings

Guaraní is part of the Tupí-Guaraní language family

paraguay guaran s indigenous people
Paraguay: Guaraní’s indigenous people

Guaraní was considered a language spoken by only lower class citizens and people from the country

Many of Paraguay’s indigenous population do not have the legal title to their traditional territories; the state does not protect them against the actions of corporate landowners or other non-indigenous ranchers and farmers

There is no outright discrimination against indigenous people in Paraguayan legislation but access to health services and education is a major problem

Indigenous people suffer the highest infant mortality rate in the country and have the highest rate of tuberculosis and malaria

paraguay guaran s language rights
Paraguay: Guaraní’s Language Rights

In 1992 an educational reform made it compulsory for classes to be taught in both Guaraní and Spanish

Constitution of 1992 recognised: Paraguay as a ‘pluri-cultural’ and ‘bilingual’ nation; the state’s duty to protect and provide legal title to indigenous communal lands; and acknowledged the validity of customary law

The 1992 constitution did not specify indigenous rights in terms of health and education

Governments have, in general, failed to transform official discourses of multiculturalism into practical reforms.

peru aymara
Peru: Aymara

Aymara has around 2.2 million speakers spread across Bolivia and Peru (where it is classified as an official language), Chile and Argentina

Official language in Peru is Spanish and in the areas in which they are dominant, Aymara, Quechua and others

They had no written language, but under the influence of the Spanish adopted the Latin alphabet.

Many different spelling systems have been devised but in 1985 the Peruvian government introduced a new spelling system known as the Aymara Official alphabet

peru aymara s indigenous people
Peru: Aymara’s indigenous people

Many Aymara live in poverty in rural areas

The Aymara faced great hardships under the Spanish invasion during the 1500s; millions died working as labourers in the mines

Many Aymara are subsistence farmers in the high altitude environment where they live; limits the types of crops grown

The Aymara have also recently entered the political world in Bolivia and have elected senators and representatives to the Bolivian congress

peru aymara s language rights
Peru: Aymara’s Language Rights

Peruvian government recently create a multicultural state institution (InstitutoNacional de Desarrollo de los Pueblos Andinos, Amazónicas y Afro-Peruanos (INDEPA) which includes Aymara and yechua representatives; however it has not made any legislative or constitutional changes

Land rights are a major issue and demand if indigenous organisations in Peru but no revisions have been made to the policy of removal of the inalienability and indivisibility of indigenous communal lands

some references
Some References

Hornberger, Nancy H. Language policy, language education, language rights: Indigenous, immigrant, and international perspectives (1998)




-Population : 23,782 people

  • Lived by hunting and gathering
  • Had distinctive culture and life style.
  • Colonized by Japanese.

Japan’s nation building and Ainu

-Meiji Restoration 1868

Meiji government was established with central power.

-Colonial policy towards Ainu

---Hokkaido Development Policy.

increased control on land by state: Ainu lost

their traditional land rights.

---massive immigration of Japanese people into


-JP government enforced assimilation policy.


Assimilation Policy

  • -Former Aborigines Protection Act 1899.
  • forced agriculture with allocated land.
  • school is established for Ainu.
    • Ainu language was banned at school.

--Ainu culture including religion, life style,

and language are disrupted.

--Ainu language became nearly extinct.


Present recognition of Ainu

  • Ainu New Law 1997
  • Article 1: recognize Ainu as distinctive ethnic group and respect their pride.
  • Promote Ainu culture in Japanese society.
  • Foundation for Research and Promotion of Ainu Culture
  • Promoting Ainu tradition &history
  • Efforts to revitalize Ainu language
  • Ainu radio programs
  • Courses for learners of Ainu
  • Role as a ritual language in ceremony
  • Non-Ainu also promote Ainu language revitalization
  • online:


Chiisana Ainu Kyousitsu <>

DeChicchis, Joseph. 1995. “The Current State of the Ainu Language.” MutilingualJapan. Ed. Maher, John C and Yahiro Kyoko. Clevedon: Mutilingual Matter

Foundation for Research and Promotion of Ainu Culture. <>

Gottlieb, Nanette. 2005. Language and Society in Japan. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Ogawa, Masahito. 1993. “The Hokkaido Former Aborigines Protection Act and Assimilatory Education.” Indigenous Minorities and Education. Ed. Loos, Noel and Osanai Takeshi. Otowa: Sanyusha Publishing.