As of 2009, the Constitution of Bolivia recognizes 37 official languages, however, only the Spanish language is used by the majority of the population. Spanish makes up part of the Indo-European language family and is classified under the Ibero-Romance and Castilian subgroups. The Spanish alphabet is the same as that used for the English language with the addition of the letter ñ and the use of accent marks over vowels in certain words. All levels of government, from municipal to national, must utilize 2 languages for announcements. It is required by law that one of these languages be Spanish.

Approximately three-quarters (75.01%) of the population of Bolivia is able to speak Spanish, although only 60.7% of Bolivian citizens speak it as a native language. This is followed by Quechua, an indigenous language that is spoken by 21.2% of the population as a native language. The third most widely spoken language in Bolivia is Aymara, which is also the name of one of the Indigenous communities. This language is the native tongue of 14.6% of the population. Guaraní, spoken by .6% of the population, is the third most widely used language here.

Any knowledge of Spanish is a great asset when traveling to Bolivia. Although the Spanish used in this country may be understood by any Spanish-speaker around the world, Bolivians do use a few phrases that are unique to the country. The term yapa can be used at informal markets to ask for a little extra bonus with the purchase. For example, at a juice stand, the vendor may have a little extra juice left in the blender after serving the cup. Tourists can politely, or humorously, say, “y la yapa?” - meaning, what about that little extra left over? Another uniquely Bolivian phrase is estar camote. Literally, this means “to be sweet potato”, but it Bolivia, it means “to be in love.”

In addition to Spanish, Quechua, Aymara, and Guaraní, Bolivia is home to at least 33 other Indigenous languages. Some of these minority languages include: Maropa, Yuki, Itonama, Pacawara, and Yaminawa. These (and other) minority languages are used by municipal and regional governments in the corresponding territories. Since governments must provide all information in Spanish and one other language, it is these minority languages that are used depending on the local population. Additionally, rural schools throughout Bolivia may offer classes in any of these minority Indigenous languages. German is also spoken here by around 160,000 individuals, although it does not hold official status.

This page was last modified on May 1st, 2018

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