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Chibchan is the name of a collection of indigenous languages spoken in Colombia and Central America. The name is derived from the name of an extinct language called Chibcha or Muisca, spoken by the people who lived in the city of Bogota at the time of the European invasion. However, genetic and linguistic data now indicate that the original hearth of Chibchan languages and Chibchan-speaking peoples may not have been in Colombia at all, but was actually in Costa Rica and Panama (where one finds the greatest diversity in Chibchan languages).

Linguist Adolfo Constenla (1981, 1991, 1995) has created a detailed classification of Chibchan languages. Most of these fall into the Southern Chibchan categories of Votic, Isthmic, and Magdalenic subgroups. The following list is a slight modification of Constenla's groupings.

Northern Group

Votic Subgroup (named for the extinct Votos of northern Costa Rica) Isthmic Subgroup Magdalenic Subgroup Southeastern Group Possibly related Constenla argues that Cueva, the extinct dominant language of pre-Colombian Panama, was Chocoan, not Chibchan, but there is little evidence to support its classification either way. Constenla also disagrees with Greenberg's (1987) classification of Yanoama as Chibchan.

Bogota speakers assert that their language is different from Buglere and wish to be seen as a separate people (meeting of the Coordinadora Nacional de Pueblos Indigenas de Panama, 2003).

A family called Macro-Chibchan is also hypothesized, which contains the Miskito and Paezan languages, but many linguists regard the concept of "Macro-Chibchan" as overly hypothetical and therefore of limited value. The most significant neighboring linguistic groups, with which there are important relationships, are Misumalpan (to the north) and Chocoan (to the south).

Needless to say, most of these indigenous languages are severely endangered and all of them require greater study and documentation.

Constenla Umaña, A. (1981). Comparative Chibchan Phonology. Ph.D. dissertation, Department of Linguistics, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia.

Constenla Umaña, Adolfo (1991). Las lenguas del Área Intermedia: Introducción a su estudio areal, Editorial de la Universidad de Costa Rica, San José.

Constenla Umaña, Adolfo (1995). Sobre el estudio diacrónico de las lenguas chibchenses y su contribución al conocimiento del pasado de sus hablantes. Boletín del Museo del Oro 38-39: 13-56.

Greenberg, Joseph H. (1987). Language in the Americas, Stanford University Press, Stanford.

A journal of Chibchan linguistics Estudios de Lingüistica Chibcha is published by the Universidad de Costa Rica.