Endangered Language Alliance
Naso is classified as being in the “A” branch of the Chibchan language family of Central America. Chibchan A languages are spoken by small indigenous groups in the northern part of the Chibchan area, primarily Panama and Costa Rica. Several are moribund and all are under pressure from Spanish. Naso’s linguistic relative Bribri is, by comparison, a little healthier for the time being.
Since 2004, the Naso have been adversely affected by a hydroelectric power dam project located in the heart of Naso territory. Because the Naso are the only indigenous group in Panama without land rights over the territory they inhabit, incoming laborers who find their way into the area are settling their families, businesses, and languages as competitors. Spanish has been the official language of education in the Naso schools since the 1970s, and although in 2009 the Panamanian government implemented a law mandating a Bilingual Education Program in the Naso territory, it will take at least 10 to 15 years before enough Naso teachers can be trained institutionally to become officially recognized educators. These are some of the contemporary social and political factors that have led to the endangerment of the Naso language.