Indigenous languages of the Americas

Over a thousand indigenous languages are spoken by the Indigenous peoples of the Americas. 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 because of a lack of data.

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

Many proposals have been made to relate some or all of these languages to each other, with varying degrees of success. The best known is Joseph Greenberg's Amerind hypothesis,[1] which nearly all specialists reject because of 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 (e.g., n/m is a common pattern for 'I'/'you' across western North America, and ch/k/t for 'I'/'you'/'we' is similarly found in a more limited region of South America).

According to UNESCO, most of the Indigenous languages of the Americas 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 six or seven 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 almost two million each; 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 in 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 Greenlandic, the most widely spoken Eskimo–Aleut language.


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