You are here: Home Departments Language and Cognition Fieldsites Guambiano

Language and Cognition -


About Guambiano
  1. Language
  2. Geography
  3. People and Culture
  4. Publications


Guambiano (also known as Namtrik) is an Andean language spoken by the indigenous Misak people in southwest Colombia. The language is closely related to Coconuco (extinct) and Totoró. Together the three languages are known as the Coconucan languages. Given their similarity, they are sometimes treated as part of a dialect continuum, or possibly even a single language (Adelaar and Muysken 2004). While Totoró is moribund, with only 3-4 fluent speakers, Guambiano is spoken by around 23 500 people (Ethnologue 2001).

For many years, the Coconucan languages were mistakenly classified as part of a "Paezan" language family on the basis of a "Moguex" (Guambiano) vocabulary list that was later shown to consist of a mix of Páez and Guambiano words (Curnow 1998). This erroneous classification influenced a number of subsequent classifications, including those of Loukotka (1968), Greenberg (1987) and Kaufman (1990). Today it is generally accepted that Coconucan languages are members of the Barbacoan language family, together with Cha'palaa, Tsafiki (Ecuador) and Awa Pit (Ecuador/Colombia) (Constenla-Umaña 1991, Curnow and Liddicoat 1998), though comparative work is still in its infancy.

Typologically, Guambiano shares many features with Central Andean languages (Constenla Umaña 1991), including a fairly simple phonemic inventory (five vowels (a, e, i, ɨ, u) and 17 consonants), nominative-accusative case marking and SOV word order. It has an elaborate system of auxiliary verbs, including a set of positionals, and makes extensive use of nominalization strategies and various types of complex predication. Guambiano shares with other Barbacoan languages a rich system of epistemic and evidential morphology, including a typologically rare system of "egophoric" verbal marking, which distinguishes speakers from non-speakers in declaratives, and addressees from non-addressees in interrogatives.



The native homeland of the Misak is on the western slope of the Cordillera Central of the Andes, in the state of Cauca in the southwest of Colombia. The Misak live mainly in the resguardos of Guambía and Quisgó, near the town of Silvia. The Andean landscape in the region is characterized by a complex topography of small valleys and high mountains, watered by numerous rivers and streams that cross the region in various directions.

The average altitude of the area ranges between 2,000 and 3,000 m above sea level. The lower levels are suitable for the production of corn and wheat; in the higher regions, potato, onion, ulluco and garlic are cultivated. The highest part of the Misak territory consists of the páramo highlands, which is wet, cold and very windy.

Rapid population growth, together with the monopolization of land by the surrounding white population has led to an increasing shortage of available land. Consequently, many Misak now live in areas outside their original resguardos, especially in the neighbouring department of Huila. Recent years have also seen increasing migration to Colombia’s capital, Bogotá.


People and Culture

The Misak can probably trace their ancestry to an earlier population known as the Pubenses, who dominated the area at the arrival of the Spaniards (Adelaar and Muysken 2004). Human remains found in the same region show that the area has been inhabited for more than 2,000 years (Trochez, Flor and Urdaneta 1992).

The Misak are agriculturalists. Men and women participate equally in agricultural production: both prepare the soil, plant, weed and harvest, and their ability to perform these tasks is considered equivalent. The public sphere, however, such as political, commercial and religious activities, is restricted to men. Social life is organized around domestic groups or households, which are generally composed of the nuclear family.

The Misak proudly maintain their traditional dress: men wear white linen pants, with a skirt of blue or black cloth called a "lusik", held by a thick leather belt. The women wear embroidered wool "amacos", and deep blue woolen shawls. Felt hats are worn by both men and women.

The colonial era has had its effects on religious practicies: baptisms, marriages and funerals take place in the Catholic church. But in parallel the Misak follow a dualist spiritualism, based on oppositions such as sun-moon and masculine-feminine.



  • Adelaar, W.F.H. and P. C. Muysken 2004. The Barbacoan languages. In: W.F.H. Adelaar and P.C. Muysken, The languages of the Andes: 141-150. Cambridge: CUP.
  • Constenla Umaña, A. 1991. Las lenguas del área intermedia: introducción a su estudio areal. San José: Editorial de la Universidad de Costa Rica.
  • Curnow, T. J. 1998. Why Paez is not a Barbacoan language: the non-existence of 'Moguex' and the use of early sources. International Journal of American Linguistics 64/4: 338-351 .
  • Curnow, T. J.; and Liddicoat, A. J. (1998). The Barbacoan languages of Colombia and Ecuador. Anthropological Linguistics, 40 (3).
  • Greenberg, J. J. 1987. Language in the Americas. Stanford University Press, Stanford.
  • Kaufman, T. 1990. Language history in South America: What we know and how to know more. In D. L. Payne (Ed.), Amazonian linguistics: Studies in lowland South American languages (pp. 13–67). Austin: University of Texas Press.
  • Loukotka, Č. 1968. Classification of South American Indian languages. Los Angeles: Latin American Studies Center, University of California.
  • Triviño Garzón, L. 1991. Sobre la modalidad en la lengua Guambiana (Quizgó). Memorias II, Congreso del CCELA. Universidad de los Andes, Bogotá.
  • Triviño Garzón, L. 1994. Hacia una tipología de la predicación de la oración simple en la lengua guambiana. BIFEA 23.3, 601-618.
  • Trochez Tunubalá, C., Flor Camayo, M. and Urdaneta Franco, M. Mananasrik Wan Wetɵtraik Kɵn. Cabildo del Pueblo Guambiano, Bogotá, 1992.
  • Vásquez de Ruíz, B. 1988. La predicación en guambiano. Lenguas aborígenes de Colombia. Série Descripciones 2. CCELA, Bogotá.
  • Vásquez de Ruíz, B. 2007. Les operations de modélisation épistémique en guambiano (Cauca, Colombie). In: Z. Guentchéva and J. Landaburu (eds.), L’Énonciation médiatisée, II: 87-110. Peeters, Paris/Lovaina.


Last checked 2017-12-16 by Mark Dingemanse
Image right



Elisabeth Norcliffe

Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics
PO Box 310
6500 AH Nijmegen
The Netherlands