Miskito language

Miskito (Mískitu in the Miskito language) is a Misumalpan language spoken by the Miskito people in northeastern Nicaragua, especially in the North Caribbean Coast Autonomous Region, and in eastern Honduras.

Native toHonduras, Nicaragua
RegionNorth Caribbean Coast Autonomous Region, neighbouring areas
EthnicityMiskito people
Native speakers
150,000 (2005)[1]
  • Miskito
Language codes
ISO 639-3miq
Miskito language.svg
Geographic distribution

With 180,000 speakers, Miskito is the most widely spoken of a family of languages of Nicaragua and Honduras that has come to be known as Misumalpan. This name is formed from parts of the names of the family's subgroups: Miskito, Sumo, Matagalpan. The relationship of some aspects of the internal family tree to the family is uncertain. However, it is clear that: (1) Miskito is apart from Sumo and Matagalpan, which seem to share a common lower node, and (2) in the past Miskito was heavily influenced by other Misumalpan languages. Sumo is thought to have been dominant in the area before the period of Miskito ascendancy. Today the relationship has been reversed: many former Sumo speakers have shifted to Miskito, which has in turn heavily influenced the Sumo dialects. Several of these (Tawahka, Panamahka and Tuahka) constitute the Mayangna sub-branch of Sumo, while the Ulwa language is in another sub-branch. The Matagalpan branch of Misumalpan contains two languages that are now extinct: Matagalpa and Cacaopera. The latter was formerly spoken in parts of eastern El Salvador.

In addition to many elements borrowed from other Misumalpan languages, Miskito has many loanwords from English via creole. Even though Spanish is the official language of Nicaragua and Honduras, its influence on Miskito is much more recent and hence more superficial. Many other languages appear to have had influence on Miskito vocabulary and grammar, including various Sumi dialects, Arawak, Rama, Carib, and certain Western African languages.


Many of the Miskito are of mixed race with either African-Native American ancestry or a mix of African-Native American and British ancestry. The Miskito people had strong relationship with the British and they signed the Treaty of Friendship and Alliance. Eventually, the British began to lose interest in the region, and Britain allowed Nicaragua to have uncontested claim over the Mosquito Coast. A treaty was signed in which a Miskito reserve, a self-governing entity that enjoyed semi-sovereign rights, was given to the Miskito people, but Honduras eventually took over the area.

In the 20th century the Miskito language started to dwindle. Honduras, being a former Spanish colony, officially used the Spanish language, and this stifled the proliferation of the Miskito language in the 20th century. In schools, children were forbidden from speaking Miskito for most of the 20th century and could only speak Spanish; young generations had less of an opportunity to practice the language.

In the 1990s, many groups lobbied against the rule and promoted bilingual schools to preserve the Miskito language. Twenty such bilingual schools exist.

Orthography and phonologyEdit

G. R. Heath wrote on Miskito grammar in American Anthropologist in 1913 and describes its orthography and phonology as follows:

The vowels a, e, i, o, u correspond almost exactly to the same sound of those letters in German.

The consonants g, j, s, w, y represent the sounds heard in the English words get, jet, set, wet, and yet; and the combination ch stands for the sound heard in the word chest. C by itself will not be used. The other letters have the same power as in English, except that the aspirate h is always to be pronounced, even at the end of a syllable.

Long vowels will be distinguished by the grave accent (`).

The stress accent in Miskuto is almost invariably on the first syllable. Any variations from this rule will be marked by the acute accent, as in Spanish (´).

When the grave and acute accents occur on the same vowel, they combine to form the circumflex (ˆ).

Nasalized vowels are sometimes met with: they resemble the ordinary vowels followed by a sound corresponding to the French n in mon. But as this nasal sound seems to be pronounced not after, but simultaneously with, the vowels, it seems better to mark the vowels with the tilde (˜), to indicate that the vowels themselves are nasalized. Such nasalized vowels are always long, thus: ã, , ĩ, õ, ũ.

The combination ng is a single sound: the double sound in the English word "longer" will be represented by ngg.[3]

There is still much controversy about Miskito orthography and it cannot be considered settled, even with printed Miskito grammars, Bible translations, and other texts.

Basic wordsEdit


Number Miskito
0 âpu
1 kumi
2 wal
3 yumpha
4 walh walh (2+2)
5 matsip
6 Matlal khabi
7 matlal khabi pura kumi (6+1)
8 matlal khabi pura wal (6+2)
9 matlal khabi pura yumhpa (6+3)
10 matawalsip
11 matawalsip pura kumi (10+1)
12 matawalsip pura wal (10+2)

Months of the yearEdit

English Miskito
January Siakwa Kati
February Kuswa Kati
March Kakamuk Kati
April Lih Wainhka Kati
May Lih Mairin Kati
June Li Kati
July Pastara Kati
August Sikla Kati
September Wis Kati
October Waupasa Kat
November Yahbra Kati
December Trisu Kati

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ Miskito at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015)
  2. ^ Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds. (2017). "Miskito". Glottolog 3.0. Jena, Germany: Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History.
  3. ^ Heath, G. R. (3 January 1913). "Notes on Miskuto Grammar and on Other Indian Languages of Eastern Nicaragua". American Anthropologist. 15 (1): 48–62. doi:10.1525/aa.1913.15.1.02a00060.

Further readingEdit

External linksEdit