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What Are The Main Costa Rica Languages?


More formerly known as the Democratic Republic of Costa Rica, Costa Rica is in Central America. What are the Costa Rica languages that people speak? Let’s take a look.


Costa Rica borders Nicaragua to the North and Panama to the south. Although it only has a population of five million people, Costa Rica has become a popular destination for tourists and digital nomads due to its beautiful beaches, stunning forests, incredible wildlife, and high rising mountains.


What Are The Main Costa Rica Languages?



As Costa Rica has risen on the global scene, many people wonder what the Costa Rica languages are so they can prepare for their travels.

I’ll dive into the language history of this beautiful Central American country, and by the end of this article, you will know everything you need about the official Costa Rica languages.


costa rica languages
All of the Costa Rica languages include Pura Vida!


Looking to learn a new language? Check out our Duolingo articles:


The History of Costa Rica


Indigenous people initially inhabited Costa Rica. The two main tribes were the Boruca and the Huetar. However, when the Spanish arrived in the 1500s, they began to colonize Costa Rica and impose their language and culture on the indigenous people.

Christopher Columbus was the first European to land in Costa Rica. The Spanish military quickly conquered the local people, and Costa Rica became a province of New Spain.

Costa Rica would remain a Spanish colony for the next three hundred years. 

During this period, the Spanish language and culture would dominate Costa Rica. Unfortunately, Costa Rica did not develop during this time and remained rural. After the Mexican War of Independence from 1810-to 1821, Costa Rica became an independent nation. 

However, it was not until 1869 that Costa Rica established a democratic government. Due to the influence of Spanish colonialism, Spanish remains the dominant language in Costa Rica. 

In fact, it wasn’t until the mid-twentieth century that other languages began to make inroads in the country.

Jamaican culture has a strong influence across Costa Rica languages in Puerto Viejo


Official Language Of Costa Rica


Although Spanish is the most widely spoken language, Costa Rica languages other than Spanish are spoken amongst its people. So, what languages do they speak in Costa Rica?

Some of the primary languages found in Costa Rica include:

  • Spanish
  • Bribri
  • Maleku
  • Limon Creole English
  • English


Spanish

As I mentioned earlier, Spanish is the official language of Costa Rica. 98% of the population speaks Spanish as their first language. The official Spanish dialect in Costa Rica is called “Costa Rican Spanish.” Spanish is prevalent in all official businesses and major newspapers in Costa Rica.

This dialect has some unique characteristics when compared to other forms of Spanish. For example, Costa Ricans often use the word “chepe” as a nickname for a man named Jose. In addition, they use the word “morisma” to refer to a group of people.

There is a slang dialect of Spanish spoken in Costa Rica known as pachuco. This slang dialect is popular throughout Costa Rica society, but it is considered informal and straightforward. Despite its lack of formal standing, pachuco is common in casual conversation.

Two of the most common slang terms are “mae” which translates to “dude” or “mate,” and “pura vida” which means “pure life.” “Pura vida” is used as an expression of positive feelings and a greeting, question, an answer, and a placeholder.

In addition to Spanish, there are also two other prevalent Costa Rica languages. These are Bribri and Limon Creole English. However, these Costa Rica languages are only spoken by around 10,000 people in total.

As a result, they don’t significantly impact Costa Rican culture or society. It’s important to note that Costa Rica is the only Central American country to have an English-based Creole language as one of its official languages.


Bribri

The indigenous Bribri people speak the Bribri language. This tribe lives in the Talamanca Mountains in the southeastern part of Costa Rica. The Bribri language is a member of the Chibchan family of languages.

Today there are around 10,000 Bribri speakers in Costa Rica. However, this number is declining as more and more members of the tribe are learning Spanish.


Maleku

The indigenous Maleku people speak the Maleku language. This tribe lives in the Northern region of Costa Rica. The Maleku language is a member of the Chibchan family of languages.

It’s estimated that there are around 200 Maleku speakers in Costa Rica. However, this number is declining as more and more members of the tribe are learning Spanish.


Limon Creole English

The Afro-Caribbean people speak Limon Creole English in the Limon province of Costa Rica. This group of people is descendants of Jamaican immigrants who came to Costa Rica in the late nineteenth century to work on the country’s railroad system.

Today, there are around 200,000 Limon Creole English speakers in Costa Rica. This language is also known as “Mekatelyu.” It is spoken widely in the Limon province of Costa Rica on the Caribbean coast. 

Mekatelyu is similar to other Creole languages found in Central and South America.

Costa Rica languages include this Limon Creole English


English

Although English is not one of the official Costa Rica languages, you can hear it spoken frequently in tourist areas. Tourist information is often only given in English and occasionally in Spanish.


Indigenous Costa Rica Languages


Although Spanish is the predominant language in Costa Rica, there are still thousands of indigenous people who speak the Costa Rica languages of their ancestors.

Before the Spanish invasion, the indigenous tribes in what is now northern Costa Rica spoke languages based on the Nahuatl language family. The Aztec empire influences Nahuatl.

Meanwhile, the people of southern Costa Rica spoke languages based on the Chibcha language family. Chibcha has its roots in northern South America. Some postulate that the original inhabitants of southern Costa Rica were, in fact, immigrants from what is now Colombia and Venezuela.

The Costa Rican government recognizes these indigenous Costa Rica languages and actively supports their conservation. Unfortunately, the number of individuals speaking these indigenous languages is rapidly shrinking.

Terraba and Boruca are two Costa Rica languages that have recently gone extinct. Today, only a few elderly individuals are considered fluent in these two languages.


Cabecar Language

Cabecar is spoken by the native peoples of the Talamanca mountain range on the Southern Pacific coast of Costa Rica.


Buglere Language

Buglere is spoken by the indigenous peoples of the Puntarenas Province. This province is located in the southeastern part of Costa Rica and borders Panama.


Guaymi Language

The Guaymi language is linguistically similar to the Buglere language and is spoken in the same parts of Costa Rica.


Maleku Language

The indigenous people of the Alajuela Province speak Maleku. Alajuela is located in the northeastern part of the country, and it is estimated that only 800 people still speak Maleku.


Costa Rica languages: In Spanish, the sloth is called “perezoso” meaning “lazy bear”


Non-Indigenous Costa Rica Languages in Costa Rica


In addition to the indigenous Costa Rica languages, there are several non-indigenous Costa Rica languages. Immigrants or their descendants typically speak these languages.

The most common non-indigenous Costa Rica languages in Costa Rica are Mandarin Chinese, Arabic, and Hindi. However, you will not hear these languages spoken widely throughout Costa Rica. 


Mandarin Chinese

Mandarin Chinese is spoken by the descendants of Chinese immigrants who came to Costa Rica in the nineteenth century. Today, there are around 20,000 Mandarin Chinese speakers in Costa Rica.


Arabic

Arabic is spoken by the descendants of Arab immigrants who came to Costa Rica in the early twentieth century. Today, there are around 5,000 Arabic speakers in Costa Rica.


Hindi

Hindi is spoken by the descendants of Indian immigrants who came to Costa Rica in the early twentieth century. Today, there are around 1,000 Hindi speakers in Costa Rica.


Wrap Up – What Are The Main Costa Rica Languages?


Spanish is the dominant language in Costa Rica. However, there are three other prevalent Costa Rica languages: Bribri, Maleku, and Limon Creole English.

In addition, there are several non-indigenous Costa Rica languages spoken in Costa Rica, such as Mandarin Chinese, Arabic, and Hindi.


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