Bilingualism in Latin America



Spanish-speaking Latin America consists of 18 countries, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Southwest (see chapter 28 of the present volume for this last region). Portuguese-speaking Latin America comprises only Brazil, which, with a population of 190.8 million (2010), is the second-largest country in the Americas after the United States. Latin America is home to 572.4 million individuals (World Bank 2009, www.worldbank.org, accessed July 21, 2011), which represents approximately 8% of the world’s population.

A history of colonization by Spain and Portugal in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries unites all of the countries of Latin America. They were settled within the first century of the conquest, which in sociological terms is considered a fairly quick colonization. Because not all of the areas settled were of equal economic importance to the Spanish crown, some less important economic regions were administratively incorporated into larger ones. These initial groupings had consequences for the subsequent histories of the modern countries and for their relationships with each other.

When the Spaniards and the Portuguese came to what is now Latin America, they came into contact with numerous indigenous linguistic communities. Some archaeologists believe that in 1492 approximately 2,000 separate languages were spoken in the Americas (Willey 1971). Some of these languages became extinct soon after the arrival of the Europeans ...

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