Linguistic classificationMacro-Chibchan ?
  • Misumalpan
Historical (dotted) and current (colored) distribution of the Misumalpan languages

The Misumalpan languages (also Misumalpa or Misuluan) are a small family of languages spoken by indigenous peoples on the east coast of Nicaragua and nearby areas. The name "Misumalpan" was devised by John Alden Mason and is composed of syllables from the names of the family's three members Miskito, Sumo languages and Matagalpan.[1] It was first recognized by Walter Lehmann in 1920. While all the languages of the Matagalpan branch are now extinct, the Miskito and Sumu languages are alive and well: Miskito has almost 200,000 speakers and serves as a second language for speakers of other indigenous languages in the Mosquito Coast. According to Hale,[2] most speakers of Sumu also speak Miskito.

External relations

Kaufman (1990) finds a connection with Macro-Chibchan to be "convincing", but Misumalpan specialist Ken Hale considered a possible connection between Chibchan and Misumalpan to be "too distant to establish".[2]


Miskito became the dominant language of the Mosquito Coast from the late 17th century on, as a result of the people's alliance with the British Empire, which colonized the area. In northeastern Nicaragua, it continues to be adopted by former speakers of Sumo. Its sociolinguistic status is lower than that of the English-based creole of the southeast, and in that region, Miskito seems to be losing ground. Sumo is endangered in most areas where it is found, although some evidence suggests that it was dominant in the region before the ascendancy of Miskito. The Matagalpan languages are long since extinct, and not very well documented.

All Misumalpan languages share the same phonology, apart from phonotactics. The consonants are p, b, t, d, k, s, h, w, y, and voiced and voiceless versions of m, n, ng, l, r; the vowels are short and long versions of a, i, u.

Loukotka (1968)

Below is a full list of Misumalpan language varieties listed by Loukotka (1968), including names of unattested varieties.[3]

Mosquito group
Matagalpa group


Reconstruction ofMisumalpan languages

Below are Proto-Misumalpan reconstructions by Adolfo Constenla Umaña (1987):[4]

No. Spanish gloss (original) English gloss (translated) Proto-Misumalpan
1 abuela grandmother titiŋ
2 abuelo grandfather *nini
3 acostarse lie down *udaŋ
4 agua water *li
5 amarillo yellow *lalalh
6 árbol tree *ban
7 arena sand *kawh
8 atar tie *widi
9 ayote pumpkin
10 beber drink (v.) *di
11 boca mouth *ta
12 bueno good *jam-
13 búho owl *iskidi
14 cantárida Spanish fly *mada
15 caracol snail *suni
16 caramba interjection *anaj
17 casa house *u
18 cocer cook (tr.) *bja
19 cocerse cook (intr.) *wad
20 colibrí hummingbird *sud
21 cuarta persona fourth person *-ni
22 chica de maíz corn girl *sili
23 chile chile *kuma
24 dar give *a
25 dinero money *lihwan
26 dormir sleep *jabu
27 dos two *bu
28 esposa wife *maja
29 estar to be *da
30 exhortativo-imperativo plural plural exhortative-imperative verb *-naw
31 flecha arrow
32 formativo de verbo intransitivo formative intransitive verb *-wa
33 gallinácea silvestre wild fowl
34 garrapata tick *mata
35 garza heron *udu
36 guardar watch (v.) *ubak
37 guatusa Dasyprocta punctata *kjaki
38 gusano worm *bid
39 hierro iron *jasama
40 humo smoke
41 interrogativo interrogative *ma
42 interrogativo interrogative *ja
43 ir go *wa
44 jocote Spondias purpurea *wudak
45 lejos far *naj
46 lengua tongue *tu
47 luna moon *wajku
48 llamarse be called, named *ajaŋ
49 maíz corn *aja
50 maduro mature *ahawa
51 matapalo strangler fig *laka
52 mentir lie *ajlas
53 mujer woman *jwada
54 murciélago bat *umis
55 nariz nose *nam
56 negativo (sufijo verbal) negative (verbal suffix) *-san
57 nube cloud *amu
58 ocote Pinus spp. *kuh
59 oír hear *wada
60 oler (intr.) smell (intr.) *walab
61 oreja ear *tupal
62 orina urine *usu
63 perezoso lazy *saja
64 pesado heavy *wida
65 piedra stone *walpa
66 piel skin *kutak
67 piojo louse
68 pléyades Pleiades *kadu
69 podrido rotten
70 meter place, put *kan
71 pozol pozol *sawa
72 presente (sufijo verbal) present (verbal suffix) *ta
73 primera persona (sufijo) first person (suffix) *-i
74 primera persona (sufijo) first person (suffix) *-ki
75 red net *wali
76 rodilla knee *kadasmak
77 rojo red *paw
78 sangre blood *a
79 segunda persona (sufijo) second person (suffix) *-ma
80 tacaní (tipo de abeja) tacaní (type of bee) *walaŋ
81 tepezcuintle (paca) Cuniculus paca *uja
82 tercer persona (sufijo) third person (suffix) *-ka
83 teta nipple *tja
84 teta nipple *su
85 tigre jaguar
86 tos cough *anaŋ
87 you (sg.) *man
88 verde green *saŋ
89 viento wind *win
90 yerno son-in-law *u
91 yo I *jam
92 zacate grass *tun
93 zopilote vulture *kusma
94 zorro hediondo skunk *wasala


  1. ^ Hale & Salamanca 2001, p. 33
  2. ^ a b Hale & Salamanca 2001, p. 35
  3. ^ Loukotka, Čestmír (1968). Classification of South American Indian languages. Los Angeles: UCLA Latin American Center.
  4. ^ Constenla Umaña, Adolfo (1987). "Elementos de Fonología Comparada de las Lenguas Misumalpas," Revista de Filología y Lingüística de la Universidad de Costa Rica 13 (1), 129-161.