South America is one of four parts of the American continent, is home to twelve countries and has a total population of 378 million people, representing 6% of the world population. It has great linguistic integration: the overwhelming majority speak Portuguese or Spanish. The relief of South America consists of large plains in the central part, plateaus and ancient massifs in the east, and the Andes mountain range that borders the coast of the Pacific Ocean for about 7 thousand km.
Population growth in South America has long been strong, but has slowed in recent years. Death rates are generally low, while birth rates are still relatively high in many countries. In 2019, 24 per cent of the continent’s inhabitants are under 15 and only 9 per cent over 65.
The population comes from three different main groups (the native Indians, immigrant Europeans and introduced black slaves), which over time have been mixed so that statistics on ethnic distribution are usually neither accessible nor meaningful. In general, it is said that the white population predominates in southern South America, while indigenous indigenous people, to a large extent, mostly found in the highlands of the Andes and Paraguay. The black element, mainly mulattoes, is most pronounced in tropical coastal areas, mainly in northeastern Brazil.
South America’s average population density is 23 inhabitants per km 2, but large areas, e.g. the inner parts of the Amazon region and Patagonia, are almost uninhabited, while other areas are densely populated. About 90 percent of the population is in coastal areas, mainly in a coastal zone in southeastern Brazil and northern Argentina. Also densely populated are the valleys of the Andes mountain range in northwest South America. The continent has a high degree of urbanization (83 percent, 2019). The number of million cities is increasing rapidly, and the population of the three largest metropolitan regions – São Paulo, Buenos Aires and Rio de Janeiro – amounts to just over 40 million.
The native languages of South America, whose number is between 400 and 500, belong to some 35 language families, whose possible interrelationships are unclear. Among the larger ones are the Arawak languages, the Chibchas languages, the Tupí-Guaraní languages and (macro) languages, the Carib languages and the Panos languages, which are sometimes merged into the adopted larger family Gapano-Carib. Another disputed grouping is the Andean equatorial languages. According to one suggested but not widely accepted hypothesis by the linguist Joseph Greenberg, all native South American languages would belong to the same language family, the Amerindian languages, to which most languages in North America would also belong.
The largest indigenous languages are quechua (Peru, Bolivia, Ecuador, Chile and Argentina: nowadays often regarded as a language family rather than a language), aymara (Bolivia and Peru) and guaraní (Paraguay and Bolivia). In total, native South American languages are spoken by 20-30 million people, but many of them, especially the smaller ones, are endangered.
The rights of the indigenous languages are recognized in the constitutions of several countries; the official languages are considered quechua and aymara in Peru and guaraní in Paraguay. In the present day, South America is dominated by Portuguese, which is the official language of Brazil, and Spanish, which is the official language of other countries. Exceptions are Guyana, Surinam and French Guiana, where English, Dutch and French are official respectively. Creole language is found mainly along the continent’s northern coast. Other European and Asian languages are also spoken among immigrant groups.