Introduction

More than 150 languages and dialects are spoken by the Indigenous peoples in Brazil today. They are part of the near 7,000 languages spoken today in the world (SIL International, 2009). Before the arrival of the Portuguese, however, only in Brazil that number was probably close to 1,000.

In the process of colonization of Brazil, the Tupinambá language, the most widely spoken along the coast, was adopted by many colonists and missionaries, taught to Indians grouped in the missions and recognized as Língua Geral. Today, many words of Tupi origin are part of the vocabulary of Brazilians.

Just as the Tupi languages have influenced the Portuguese spoken in Brazil, contact among peoples ensures that Indigenous tongues do not exist in isolation and change constantly. In addition to mutual influences, languages have among themselves common origins. They are part of linguistic families, which in turn can be part of a larger division, the linguistic branch. And just as languages are not isolated, neither are their speakers. In Brazil there are many Indigenous peoples and individuals who can speak and/or understand more than one language; and it is not uncommon to find villages where several tongues are spoken.

Among such diversity, however, only 25 peoples count more than 5,000 speakers of indigenous languages: Apurinã, Ashaninka, Baniwa, Baré, Chiquitano, Guajajara, Guarani [Guarani Ñandeva / Guarani Kaiowá / Guarani Mbya], Galibi do Oiapoque, Ingarikó, Kaxinawá, Kubeo, Kulina, Kaingang, Kayapó, Makuxi, Munduruku, Sateré-Mawé, Taurepang, Terena, Ticuna, Timbira, Tukano, Wapixana, Xavante, Yanomami, Ye'kuana.

Getting to know this vast repertoire has been a challenge to linguists. To keep it alive and well has been the goal of many projects of Indigenous school education.

In order to know which languages are spoken by each one of present-day Brazil’s 227 Indigenous peoples, access General table.