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Páez (also Paez, Paes; the autonym Nasa Yuwe 'Nasa language' is becoming increasingly used) is a language of Colombia, spoken by the Páez people. Crevels (2011) estimates 60,000 speakers out of an ethnic population of 140,000.[3]

Nasa Yuwe
Native toColombia
Ethnicity139,000 Páez (2007)
Native speakers
60,000 (2011)[1]
Paezan ?
  • Páez
  • Pitayo
  • Paniquita
Language codes
ISO 639-3pbb

The language is spoken by the second largest Colombian indigenous community, the Páez, in the north of the Cauca Department, in southwestern Colombia. However, the people had to move to other departments of Colombia like Huila, Tolima and Valle del Cauca.


Páez is generally considered to be a language isolate, or at least the only surviving member of its family (Adelaar & Muysken 2004). Jolkesky (2017) argues for a connection, perhaps genetic, with the Otomanguean languages of the Pacific coast of central Mexico, especially with the Zapotecan branch, and for a possible Otomanguean substratum in a couple families neighboring Paez. The proposal has not been peer-reviewed.


Although many Colombian indigenous languages have disappeared since colonial times, there are still more than 60 languages in Colombia, classified into 10 linguistic families: Chibcha, Arawak, Caribe, Quichua, Tukano, Guahibo, Makú-Puinave, Witoto-Bora, Sáliba, and Chocó. Currently, the Chibcha family has languages from Santa Marta: Arhuaco, kogui, Wiwa, Tunebo, Motilone, Chimila and Cuna, but it used to be believed that Nasa Yuwe was part of the Chibcha family.

Agriculture is the basis of the people's economy and so they have been fighting to expand their fields. With territorial expansion, they could spread out their own language. For instance, Nasa Yuwe speakers could recently develop their culture in the east and the west of their own township.

The language has been endangered for many centuries. The first threat against the language was in the 17th century, with the imposition of Spanish for education in Colombia.

In the 20th century, people believed that Nasa Yuwe had roots from Chibcha, but the former language is now considered an isolate. Also, in the Páez townships, there are many groups of Guambianos that allow the creation of some linguistic variations and bilingualism.

In education, the Nasa Yuwe were oppressed by the dominant culture, which wanted them to become Colombian citizens. Schooling was partly to civilize the indigenous; children who spoke in their native language were punished such as by being forced to kneel on grains of corn for hours. Thus, people were forced to avoid their native language.


With the General Law of Education, ethnoeducation is the opportunity of education for ethnic groups, but education needs to be related to the culture, traditions, language, and native elements of ethnic groups. To achieve the goal to give importance to indigenous languages, it is important to ensure that future indigenous generations preserve and relearn languages that do not have social privilege in Colombian society. Thus, it was necessary to implement booklets and original content material in the different languages.

Although the government proposed the introduction of education of native languages in some communities, the preservation of languages and identities has been neglected. It is important to revitalize the language because it is part of the identity of many people who have been not considered part of Colombian society.

The first step is for the native teachers to know all the academic aspects and the sociocultural aspects of the ethnic group. The next is the creation of a campaign to promote the importance of the language in a minority community to maintain identity. The goal of the campaign is to reinforce the use of the language in the education environment and the family environment because they are children's first and most influential contacts. The last step is to promote the project to being used with other endangered languages of our country and revitalize them. Also, it is also necessary to create a conscience in the rest of the society to avoid the marginalization of the people who speak these native languages.


Paez has four vowel sounds: /i, e, a, u/. Each vowel demonstrates nasalization /ĩ ẽ ã ũ/, aspiration /iʰ eʰ aʰ uʰ/, and vowel length /iː eː aː uː/, all of which are contrastive. In addition, each vowel sound can be laryngealized /ḭ ḛ a̰ ṵ/. Laryngealization can occur to nasalized or plain vowels, but not to lengthened vowels, while nasalization can occur to a plain or lengthened vowel. However, vowel length is not contrastive in all dialects.[4][5]

Bilabial Alveolar Palatal Velar
plain palatalized plain palatalized plain palatalized
Stop plain p t k
aspirated pʲʰ tʲʰ kʲʰ
prenasalized ᵐb ᵐbʲ ⁿd ⁿdʲ ᵑɡ ᵑɡʲ
Affricate plain t͡s t͡ʃ
aspirated t͡sʰ t͡ʃʰ
prenasalized ⁿd͡z ⁿd͡ʒ
Fricative plain ɸʲ s ʃ x
voiced βʲ
Nasal m n ɲ
Approximant lateral l ʎ
plain j w
Nasa yuwe tale


  1. ^ "Páez". Ethnologue. Retrieved 2018-06-24.
  2. ^ Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds. (2017). "Páez". Glottolog 3.0. Jena, Germany: Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History.
  3. ^ Páez language at Ethnologue (21st ed., 2018)
  4. ^ "SAPhon – South American Phonological Inventories". Retrieved 2018-07-18.
  5. ^ Rojas, Tulio (2013). Esbozo gramatical de la lengua nasa (lengua páez).

External linksEdit


  • Adelaar, Willem F. H.; & Muysken, Pieter C. (2004). The languages of the Andes. Cambridge language surveys. Cambridge University Press.
  • Brend, Ruth M. (Ed.). (1985). From phonology to discourse: Studies in six Colombian languages (p. vi, 133). Language Data, Amerindian Series (No. 9). Dallas: Summer Institute of Linguistics.
  • Castillo y Orozco (del), Eugenio. (1877) Vocabulario Paez–Castellano. Ezequiel Uricoechea ed. Maisonneuve y Cia. Libreros Editores, París.
  • Fabre, Alain. (2005). Nasa Yuwe / Páez. Diccionario etnolingüístico y guía bibliográfica de los pueblos indígenas sudamericanos. (To appear). (Online: [1]).
  • Gerdel, Florence L. and others. (1973). Sistemas fonológicos de idiomas colombianos 2. Bogotá: Ministerio de Gobierno and Instituto Lingüístico de Verano. 132 p.
  • Gerdel, Florence L. (1979). Paez. In Aspectos de la cultura material de grupos étnicos de Colombia 2, (pp. 181–202). Bogota: Ministerio de Gobierno and Instituto Lingüístico de Verano.
  • Gerdel, Florence L. and Marianna C. Slocum. (1976). Páez discourse, paragraph and sentence structure." In Robert E. Longacre and Frances Woods (eds.), Discourse grammar: Studies in indigenous languages of Colombia, Panama, and Ecuador, 1: 259-443. Summer Institute of Linguistics Publications in Linguistics and Related Fields, 52(1). Dallas: SIL and the University of Texas at Arlington.
  • Jolkesky, Marcelo. (2017). On the South American Origins of Some Mesoamerican Civilizations. Leiden: Leiden University. Postdoctoral final report for the “MESANDLIN(G)K” project. Available here.
  • Nieves Oviedo, Rocío; Tulio Rojas y Marcos Yule. (1991): Estudios Fonológicos de la Lengua Paez (Nasa Yuwe); Descripciones 6; Colciencias – Universidad de los Andes, Bogotá.
  • Rojas Curieux, Tulio; Roció Nieves Oviedo, y Marcos Yule Yatacue. (1991): Estudios Grammaticales de la Lengua Paez (Nasa Yuwe). Descripciones 7; Colciencias – Universidad de los Andes, Bogotá.
  • Slocum, Marianna C. (1986). Gramática páez. Lomalinda: Editorial Townsend.
  • Slocum, Marianna C. (1972). ¿Cómo se dice en páez?. Lomalinda: Ministerio de Gobierno.
  • Slocum, Marianna C. and Florence L. Gerdel. (1983). Diccionario: páez-español / español-páez. Lomalinda: Editorial Townsend..