Ecuador recognizes 3 languages with official status: Spanish, Kichwa, and Shuar. Of these languages, the most widely utilized is Spanish, which is spoken by at least 93% of the population. Spanish is considered an Ibero-Romance language under the Castilian language subgroup and belonging to the larger Indo-European language family. This language makes use of the Latin alphabet, which is the same as that used for in English. In addition to this alphabet, Spanish also incorporates the letter ñ and denotes certain vowels with an accent mark, depending on pronunciation.

Today, Spanish is the primary language of business, education, religion, and government in Ecuador and understood by the vast majority of the population. Kichwa, an indigenous language belonging to the Quechuan family, is primarily used in the Chimborazo region of Ecuador, where between 1 and 2 million individuals are believed to be fluent in this language. Shuar, an indigenous language belonging to the Jivaroan language family, is primarily concentrated in the Amazon jungle regions in the southeast. It is spoken by around 35,000 individuals. Both of these indigenous languages are part of the national educational curriculum.

The Spanish spoken throughout Ecuador varies slightly and is categorized by region: Equatorial Coastal, Andean, and Amazonian. Despite these variations, most Spanish-speaking individuals are able to understand the language throughout the country. Ecuador is, however, home to a number of unique phrases that can only be heard here. One of the most common speech habits here is to make nearly every word a diminutive. In English this would be similar to saying “horse-y” for “horse” or “sweetie” for “sweet”. In Spanish, the diminutive ending is “-ito”. A word like “momento” (moment, in English), becomes “momentito” in Ecuador. Additionally, several words come from the Kichwa language. “Cuy”, for example, means “guinea pig” and “mishki”, which means “sweet”.

In addition to Kichwa and Shuar, Ecuador is home to around 11 other minority indigenous languages. These include: Záparo, Waorani, Tetete, Siona, Secoya, Emberá, Colorado, Cofán, Cha’palaachi, Awa-Cuaiquer, and Achwa-Shiriwa. Achwa-Shiriwa is the most widely spoken and has around 13,000 native speakers. These individuals are found primarily in the northern region of Ecuador. The Záparo language is the most critically endangered, with only 5 living native speakers remaining.

This page was last modified on May 1st, 2018

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