With 1.098.581 km2 a little over 10 million people, Bolivia has no fewer than 37 official languages!
The Plurinational State of Bolivia (its official name) became independent from Spain in 1825, and much earlier, from the Incan Empire. Its territory, with vast geographic diversity ranging from the Andes to the Amazon jungle, was inhabited by various pre-Colombian cultures. The mix of these native cultures with colonial crossbreeding makes Bolivia a multiethnic and multicultural country.
Spanish is the most spoken language. But Bolivian Spanish takes on different characteristics (such as idioms and accents) according to the geographical region, the indigenous people of the place, and the neighboring countries.
Thus, Bolivian Spanish has four main dialects:
Has internal differences according to social strata. The upper classes speak a Spanish close to that left by the Spanish conquistadors; the lower classes blend phonemes from Quechua and Aymara, indigenous languages in everyday use in many places, excluding the much of the population in La Paz, Cochabamba, Chuquisaca, Oruro and Potosí.
Has its base in medieval Andalucian Spanish with influences including native languages such as Chiquitano, Chane and Guarani, as well as foreign languages like Portuguese and Arabic. They use a “vos” form similar to that used in the Rio de La Plata area, they aspirate the “s” at the end of words and they use the diminutive –ingo and the augmentative -ango.
A variation of the colonial pronunciation, where the “vos” and the “tu” are mixed. It is spoken mainly in the valleys of Tarija.
Has its roots in Colonial Spanish, with input from native languages, mainly Quechua, but also Guarani, Chane and foreign languages. It uses the “vos” form and preserves archaic words.
Spanish is the official language that is most spoken throughout the country according to the 2001 Census, by 88.4% of its inhabitants as a maternal language or a second language in some indigenous communities. Official and legal state documents, including the Political Constitution, the main private and public institutions, means of communication and commercial activities all use this language. However, public officials should speak using Spanish together with an indigenous language.
Between the main indigenous languages, ordered by the amount of speakers, the main indigenous languages are Quechua, Aymara and Guaraní.