Panama’s official and widely spoken language is Spanish. Linguistically, it is a romance language found in the larger category of Indo-European language groups. The Spanish used in Panama is called Panamanian Spanish. There are varying differences in pronunciation between Panamanian Spanish and the Spanish used in other parts of the world like Spain. For instance, Panamanian Spanish pronounces the letter "c" and "z" as the sound "s". The sound "ch" is also pronounced as "sh". The use of Spanish in Panama dates back to the emergence of Spanish rule in the country. There are 27 letters in the Spanish alphabet, and 26 of these letters are similar to the English alphabet with an additional letter ñ.

Out of the whole population in Panama, those who speak Spanish as their first language make about 93%. In total, residents who use the Indigenous languages form approximately 7%, the largest of the minority languages being Ngaberre. Bilingual citizens who speak both Spanish and English stand at 14 % of the population, while Arabic speakers are at 1%.

The Panamanian Spanish, although similar to Spanish in Spain to a greater extent, has some words and phrases that are uniquely Panamanian. Such words only understood by the locals include "yeye" which is used to describe someone living beyond their financial means, and ‘"la Vaina" to mean the thing. Interestingly, in the capital of Panama City, a blend of Spanish and English is used as slang by the youth. An example of such a world is ‘"el man" to mean the guy. More phrases that cannot be encountered anywhere else include ‘"mi nave" which literally translates to "my ship" in Spain but is used to mean "my car" in Panama.

Despite the small size of Panama, there are many Indigenous languages spoken in the country. Among the minority languages spoken is Ngobe-Bugle which consists of two ethnic groups namely the Ngobe and Bugle. Both groups share the same language. The second minority language is Buglere, also called Murire. There are two main dialects in this language, namely Bogota and Sananero. Embera is also a minority language used by residents in the southeast region of Panama along the shores of Tuira and Sambu Rivers. Kuna is another Indigenous language, and the speakers are independent and have their schools where they teach both Kuna and Spanish. The Teribe language is spoken predominantly in northwestern Panama. English is also a minority language in the country. Most citizens understand English. Other languages used in Panama are Korean, Hebrew, Japanese, Eastern Yiddish, and Arabic.

This page was last modified on May 1st, 2018

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