Muisca or Muysca
Muysc cubun
Pronunciationmʷɨsk kuβun
Native toColombia
RegionAltiplano Cundiboyacense
Native speakers
Few native speakers, in revitalization.[1][2]
  • Kuna-Colombian
    • Chibcha
only numerals
Language codes
ISO 639-2chb
ISO 639-3chb
Chibchan languages. Chibcha itself is spoken in the southernmost area, in central Colombia
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A Muisca child speaking a revitalized dialect of Chibcha.
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Chibcha, Mosca, Muisca,[3] Muysca (*/ˈmɨska/ *[ˈmʷɨska][4]), or Muysca de Bogotá[5] is a language spoken by the Muisca people of the Muisca Confederation, one of the many indigenous cultures of the Americas. The Muisca inhabit the Altiplano Cundiboyacense of what today is the country of Colombia.

The name of the language Muysc cubun in its own language means "language of the people", from muysca ("people") and cubun ("language" or "word"). Despite the disappearance of the language in the 17th century (approximately), several language revitalization processes are underway within the current Muisca communities. The Muisca people remain ethnically distinct and their communities are recognized by the Colombian state.[6]

Important scholars who have contributed to the knowledge of the Chibcha language include Juan de Castellanos, Bernardo de Lugo, José Domingo Duquesne and Ezequiel Uricoechea.


Distribution of Chibchan languages across southern Central and northwestern South America

In prehistorical times, in the Andean civilizations called preceramic, the population of northwestern South America migrated through the Darién Gap between the isthmus of Panama and Colombia. Other Chibchan languages are spoken in southern Central America and the Muisca and related indigenous groups took their language with them into the heart of Colombia where they comprised the Muisca Confederation, a cultural grouping.

Spanish colonization

Main article: Spanish conquest of the Muisca

See also: Spanish conquest of the Chibchan Nations

As early as 1580 the authorities in Charcas, Quito, and Santa Fe de Bogotá mandated the establishment of schools in native languages and required that priests study these languages before ordination. In 1606 the entire clergy was ordered to provide religious instruction in Chibcha. The Chibcha language declined in the 18th century.[7]

In 1770, King Charles III of Spain officially banned use of the language in the region [7] as part of a de-indigenization project. The ban remained in law until Colombia passed its constitution of 1991.

Modern history

Modern Muisca scholars as Diego Gómez[8] have claimed that the variety of languages was much larger than previously thought and that in fact there was a Chibcha dialect continuum that extended throughout the Cordillera Oriental from the Sierra Nevada del Cocuy to the Sumapaz Páramo.[8] The quick colonization of the Spanish and the improvised use of traveling translators reduced the differences between the versions of Chibcha over time.[9]

Since 2008 a Spanish–Muysc cubun dictionary containing more than 3000 words has been published online. The project was partly financed by the University of Bergen, Norway.[10]

Greetings in Muysc cubun

The following greetings have been taken directly from written sources from the 16th century when the language was alive.

Alphabet and rough pronunciation

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Phoneme Letter
/i/ i
/ɨ/ y
/u/ u
/e/ e
/o/ o
/a/ a
/p/ p
/t/ t
/k/ k
/b~β/ b
/g~ɣ/ g
/ɸ/ f
/s/ s
/ʂ/ ch
/h/ h
/tʂ/ zh
/m/ m
/n/ n
/w/ w
/j/ ï
Numbers 1-10 and 20 in Chibcha

The muysccubun alphabet consists of around 20 letters. The Muisca didn't have an "L" in their language. The letters are pronounced more or less as follows:[11][12][13]

a – as in Spanish "casa"; ka – "enclosure" or "fence"
e – as in "action"; izhe – "street"
i – open "i" as in "'inca" – sié – "water" or "river"
o – short "o" as in "box" – to – "dog"
u – "ou" as in "you" – uba – "face"
y – between "i" and "e"; "a" in action – ty – "singing"
b – as in "bed", or as in Spanish "haba"; – bohozhá – "with"

between the vowels "y" it is pronounced [βw] – kyby – "to sleep"

ch – "sh" as in "shine", but with the tongue pushed backwards – chuta – "son" or "daughter"
f – between a "b" and "w" using both lips without producing sound, a short whistle – foï – "mantle"

before a "y" it's pronounced [ɸw] – fyzha – "everything"

g – "gh" as in "good", or as in Spanish "abogado"; – gata – "fire"
h – as in "hello" – huïá – "inwards"
ï – "i-e" as in Beelzebub – ïe – "road" or "prayer"
k – "c" as in "cold" – kony – "wheel"
m – "m" as in "man" – mika – "three"

before "y" it's pronounced [mw], as in "Muisca" – myska – "person" or "people"
in first position before a consonant it's pronounced [im] – mpkwaká – "thanks to"

n – "n" as in "nice" – nyky – "brother" or "sister"

in first position followed by a consonant it's pronounced [in] – ngá – "and"

p – "p" as in "people" – paba – "father"

before "y" it's pronounced [pw] as in Spanish "puente" – pyky – "heart"

s – "s" as in "sorry" – sahawá – "husband"

before "i" changes a little to "sh"; [ʃ] – sié – "water" or "river"

t – "t" as in "text" – yta – "hand"
w – "w" as in "wow!" – we – "house"
zh – as in "chorizo", but with the tongue to the back – zhysky – "head"

The accentuation of the words is like in Spanish on the second-last syllable except when an accent is shown: Bacata is Ba-CA-ta and Bacatá is Ba-ca-TA.

In case of repetition of the same vowel, the word can be shortened: fuhuchá ~ fuchá – "woman".[12]

In Chibcha, words are made of combinations where sometimes vowels are in front of the word. When this happens in front of another vowel, the vowel changes as follows:[14] a-uba becomes oba – "his (or her, its) face"
a-ita becomes eta – "his base"
a-yta becomes ata – "his hand" (note: ata also means "one")

Sometimes this combination is not performed and the words are written with the prefix plus the new vowel: a-ita would become eta but can be written as aeta, a-uba as aoba and a-yta as ayta


Main article: Muisca numerals

Counting 1 to 10 in Chibcha is ata, boza, mica, muyhyca, hyzca, taa, cuhupqua, suhuza, aca, hubchihica.[10] The Muisca only had numbers one to ten and the 'perfect' number 20; gueta, used extensively in their complex lunisolar Muisca calendar. For numbers higher than 10 they used additions; quihicha ata ("ten plus one") for eleven. Higher numbers were multiplications of twenty; guehyzca would be "five times twenty"; 100.

Structure and grammar


The subjects in Chibcha do not have genders or plurals. to thus can mean "male dog", "male dogs", "female dog" or "female dogs". To solve this, the Muisca used the numbers and the word for "man", cha, and "woman", fuhuchá, to specify gender and plural:[15]

Personal pronoun

Muysccubun[16] Phonetic English
hycha /hɨʂa/ I
mue /mue/ thou / you (singular) – informal and formal use
as(y) /asɨ/ or /as/ he / she / it / they
chie /ʂie/ we
mie /mie/ you (plural)

Possessive pronoun

The possessive pronoun is placed before the word it refers to.

Muysccubun[15][17] English
zh(y)- / i- my
(u)m- your
a- his / her / its / their
chi- our
mi- your (plural)


The Muisca used two types of verbs, ending on -skua and -suka; bkyskua ("to do") and guitysuka ("to whip") which have different forms in their grammatical conjugations.[16] bkyskua is shown below, for verbs ending on -suka, see here.


Muysccubun English
kyka to do
Present tense or imperfect
Muysccubun English
ze bkyskua I do or did
um bkyskua you (singular) do or did
a bkyskua he / she / it does or did
chi bkyskua we do/did
mi bkyskua you do/did
a bkyskua they do/did
Perfect and pluperfect
Muysccubun English
ze bky I did or have done
um bky you (singular) did or " "
a bky he / she / it did or has done
chi bky we did or have done
mi bky you did or " "
a bky they did or " "
Future tense
Muysccubun English
ze bkynga I shall do
um bkynga you will do
a bkynga he / she / it " "
chi bkynga we shall do
mi bkynga you will do
a bkynga they " "


Muysccubun English
kyû do (singular)
kyuua do (plural)
Volitive modality
Muysccubun English
cha kyia may I do
ma kyia may you do
kyia may he / she / it do
chi kyia may we do
mi kyia may you do
kyia may they do

Selection of words

This list is a selection from the online dictionary and is sortable. Note the different potatoes and types of maize and their meaning.[10]

Muysccubun English
aba "maize"
aso "parrot"
ba "finger" or "finger tip"
bhosioiomy "potato [black inside]" (species unknown)
chihiza "vein" (of blood) or "root"
cho "good"
chyscamuy "maize [dark]" (species unknown)
chysquyco "green" or "blue"
coca "finger nail"
fo "fox"
foaba Phytolacca bogotensis, plant used as soap
fun "bread"
funzaiomy "potato [black]" (species unknown)
fusuamuy "maize [not very coloured]" (species unknown)
gaca "feather"
gaxie "small"
gazaiomy "potato [wide]" (species unknown)
guahaia "dead body"
guexica "grandfather" and "grandmother"
guia "bear" or "older brother/sister"
hichuamuy "maize [of rice]" (species and meaning unknown)
hosca "tobacco"
iome "potato" (Solanum tuberosum)
iomgy "flower of potato plant"
iomza "potato" (species unknown)
iomzaga "potato [small]" (species unknown)
muyhyza "flea" (Tunga penetrans)
muyhyzyso "lizard"
nygua "salt"
nyia "gold" or "money"
phochuba "maize [soft and red]" (species and meaning unknown)
pquaca "arm"
pquihiza "lightning"
quye "tree" or "leaf"
quyecho "arrow"
quyhysaiomy "potato [floury]" (species unknown)
quyiomy "potato [long]" (species unknown)
saca "nose"
sasamuy "maize [reddish]" (species unknown)
simte "owl [white]"
soche "white-tailed deer"
suque "soup"
tyba "hi!" (to a friend)
tybaiomy "potato [yellow]" (species unknown)
xiua "rain" or "lake"
usua "white river clay"
uamuyhyca "fish"; Eremophilus mutisii
xieiomy "potato [white]" (species unknown)
xui "broth"
ysy "that", "those"
zihita "frog"
zoia "pot"
zysquy "head" or "skull"

Comparison to other Chibchan languages

Muysccubun Duit
N. de Santander
N. de Santander
S.N. de
Santa Marta
Darién Gap
Costa Rica
Costa Rica
Costa Rica
English Notes
chie tia siʔ chibai saka tebej tlijii tukan Moon [18][19][20][21]
ata atia úbistia intok ti-tasu/nyé kwati éˇxi dooka one [22][23]
muysca dary tsá ngäbe ochápaká nkiikna person
aba eba á maize [26][27]
pquyquy heart [28]
bcasqua yút purkwe to die [29][30]
háta ju uu house [31][32]
cho mex morén good [33][34]
zihita yén pek-pen frog [30][35]

Surviving words and education

Words of Muysccubun origin are still used in the department of Cundinamarca, of which Bogotá is the capital, and the department of Boyacá, with capital Tunja. These include curuba (Colombian fruit banana passionfruit), toche (yellow oriole), guadua (a large bamboo used in construction) and tatacoa ("snake"). The Muisca descendants continue many traditional ways, such as the use of certain foods, use of coca for teas and healing rituals, and other aspects of natural ways, which are a respected part of culture in Colombia.

As the Muisca did not have words for imported technology or items in early colonial times, they borrowed them from Spanish, such as "shoe"; çapato,[36] "sword"; espada,[37] "knife"; cuchillo[38] and other words.

The only public school in Colombia currently teaching Chibcha (to about 150 children) is in the town of Cota, about 30 kilometres (19 mi) by road from Bogotá. The school is named Jizcamox (healing with the hands) in Chibcha.[39]


Main article: List of Muisca toponyms

Most of the original Muisca names of the villages, rivers and national parks and some of the provinces in the central highlands of the Colombian Andes are kept or slightly altered. Usually the names refer to farmfields (ta), the Moon goddess Chía, her husband Sué, names of caciques, the topography of the region, built enclosures (ca) and animals of the region.[40]

See also


  1. ^ "La Muisca de Colombia". 9 January 2017.
  2. ^ Chibcha at MultiTree on the Linguist List
  3. ^ Uricoechea 1854.
  4. ^ González de Pérez 2006, pp. 63.
  5. ^ Gómez 2020.
  6. ^ Las raíces muiscas que sobreviven en Suba. Radio Nacional de Colombia.
  7. ^ a b "Chibcha Dictionary and Grammar". World Digital Library. Retrieved 2013-05-23.
  8. ^ a b Gómez 2013.
  9. ^ Gamboa Mendoza, Jorge. (2016) El cacicazgo muisca en los años posteriores a la Conquista: del psihipqua al cacique colonial. instituto Colombiano de Antropología e Historia.
  10. ^ a b c Gómez 2008–2022.
  11. ^ Saravia, 2015, p. 10
  12. ^ a b Saravia, 2015, p. 11
  13. ^ González de Pérez, 2006, pp. 57–100.
  14. ^ Saravia, 2015, p. 12
  15. ^ a b Saravia, 2015, p. 14
  16. ^ a b (in Spanish) Muysca – Spanish Dictionary
  17. ^ Saravia, 2015, p. 15
  18. ^ (in Spanish) Diccionario muysca – español. Gómez, Diego F. 2009–2017 Muysccubun: chie
  19. ^ Casimilas Rojas, 2005, p. 250
  20. ^ Reichel-Dolmatoff, 1947, p. 30
  21. ^ Quesada & Rojas, 1999, p. 93
  22. ^ (in Spanish) Diccionario muysca – español. Gómez, Diego F. 2009–2017 Muysccubun: ata
  23. ^ Reichel-Dolmatoff, 1947, p. 38
  24. ^ (in Spanish) Diccionario muysca – español. Gómez, Diego F. 2009–2017 Muysccubun: muysca
  25. ^ Reichel-Dolmatoff, 1947, p. 25
  26. ^ (in Spanish) Diccionario muysca – español. Gómez, Diego F. 2009-2017 Muysccubun: aba
  27. ^ Reichel-Dolmatoff, 1947, p. 37
  28. ^ (in Spanish) Diccionario muysca – español. Gómez, Diego F. 2009–2017 Muysccubun: pquyquy
  29. ^ (in Spanish) Diccionario muysca – español. Gómez, Diego F. 2009–2017 Muysccubun: bcasqua
  30. ^ a b Reichel-Dolmatoff, 1947, p. 36
  31. ^ (in Spanish) Diccionario muysca – español. Gómez, Diego F. 2009–2017 Muysccubun:
  32. ^ Reichel-Dolmatoff, 1947, p. 31
  33. ^ (in Spanish) Diccionario muysca – español. Gómez, Diego F. 2009–2017 Muysccubun: cho
  34. ^ Reichel-Dolmatoff, 1947, p. 18
  35. ^ (in Spanish) Diccionario muysca – español. Gómez, Diego F. 2009–2017 Muysccubun: zihita
  36. ^ (in Spanish) Diccionario muysca – español. Gómez, Diego F. 2009–2017 "Shoe" in muysccubun
  37. ^ (in Spanish) "Sword" in muysccubun
  38. ^ (in Spanish) Diccionario muysca – español. Gómez, Diego F. 2009–2017 "Knife" in muysccubun
  39. ^ón%20lingüística%20de%20la%20Lengua%20Muisca%20de%20la%20comunidad%20de%20Cota%20%281%29.pdf?sequence=1
  40. ^ (in Spanish) Etymology Municipalities Boyacá –


Further reading