What Languages Are Spoken In Ecuador?

The flag of Ecuador.
The flag of Ecuador.

Ecuador is located in the northwestern region of South America with a coastline along the Pacific Ocean. It covers an area of 109,480 square miles and has a population size of 16.144 million. The demographics and culture of the population here, from ethnicity to languages spoken, have been influenced by its long history of Amerindian peoples, the Inca Empire, and Spanish colonialists. This article takes a closer look at which languages are spoken in Ecuador today.

Principal Language of Ecuador

The principal language of Ecuador is Spanish, which is spoken by approximately 93% of the population. This language was first introduced by Spanish colonizers during the 16th century and became the language of government, business, and religion. Today, Spanish spoken in Ecuador has 3 distinct regional variations: Amazonic, Andean, and Equatorial Coastal. The most widely spoken variants are Andean Spanish, spoken in the highlands, and Equatorial Coastal Spanish, spoken from the northern border with Colombia and the southern border with Peru. These regions are the most heavily populated in the country.

Languages Of Ecuador Used for Intercultural Relations

The second most commonly spoken languages in Ecuador are Kichwa and Shuar, which are used for intercultural relations.

Kichwa belongs to the Quechuan language family and is spoken by between 1 and 2 million individuals. In Ecuador, the largest concentration of Kichwa speakers can be found in the Chimborazo Highland region. A movement began in the 1940’s to reintroduce this language to the public education curriculum and this attempt was strengthened in the 1970’s and 1980’s. Today, this language is part of the national curriculum.

Shuar belongs to the Jivaroan language family and is spoken by around 35,000 individuals. Shuar speakers are concentrated in the Morona-Santiago and Pastaza provinces of Ecuador, both of which are located in the southeastern, Amazon region of the country. This language was revitalized by Catholic missionaries in the region via a radio schools project during the 1960’s. This project continued until the government shut it down in 2001 and integrated the Shuar language as part of a bilingual national curriculum.

Other Indigenous Languages Of Ecuador

Besides the Kichwa and Shuar languages, 11 other indigenous languages are spoken in this country. These include: Záparo, Waorani, Tetete, Siona, Secoya, Emberá, Colorado, Cofán, Cha’palaachi, Awa-Cuaiquer, and Achwa-Shiriwa.

Of these languages, the Awa-Cuaiquer is the most widely utilized in Ecuador. It belongs to the Barbaco language family and is the language of the Awa-Kwaiker indigenous peoples. It has approximately 13,000 native speakers, who primarily reside in the northern region of Ecuador and the southern region of Colombia. In this community, the men are typically bilingual, while women and children speak only Awa-Cuaiquer. It is considered a severely endangered language by UNESCO.

The least spoken indigenous language in Ecuador is the Záparo language. With only 5 native speakers left in the world, this language is considered nearly extinct. The Záparo language and its indigenous peoples fell victim to the wars and diseases brought by Europeans in the 16th century. Its remaining speakers now inhabit the Pastaza province in the Amazonian region of the country. Today, the Záparo indigenous peoples primarily speak Kichwa, although a language revival movement has begun in the last few years.


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