Learn more about Quechua
Qhichwa Simi / Runa Shimi / Runa Simi
|Pronunciation:||IPA: ['qʰeʃ.wa 'si.mi] ['χetʃ.wa 'ʃi.mi] [kitʃ.wa 'ʃi.mi] [ʔitʃ.wa 'ʃi.mi] ['ɾu.nɑ 'si.mi]|
|Spoken in:||Argentina, Brazil, Bolivia, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru|
|Total speakers:||10 million|
|Writing system:||Latin alphabet|
|Official language of:||Bolivia and Peru; indigenous languages official in own territories in Ecuador|
|ISO/FDIS 639-3:||que — Quechua (generic)|
many varieties of Quechua have their own codes.
|Note: This page may contain IPA phonetic symbols in Unicode. See IPA chart for English for an English-based pronunciation key.|
Quechua (Runa Simi; Kichwa in Ecuador) is a Native American language of South America. It was the language of the Inca Empire, and is today spoken in various dialects by some 10 million people throughout South America, including Peru and Bolivia, southern Colombia and Ecuador, north-western Argentina and northern Chile. It is the most widely spoken of all American Indian languages.
Quechua is a very regular agglutinative language, with a normal sentence order of SOV (subject-object-verb). Its large number of infixes and suffixes change both the overall significance of words and their subtle shades of meaning, allowing great expressiveness. Notable grammatical features include bipersonal conjugation (verbs agree with both subject and object), evidentiality (indication of the source and veracity of knowledge), a topic particle, and suffixes indicating who benefits from an action and the speaker's attitude toward it.
Theories today place the origin of Quechua and its initial territorial domain in modern Peru's Central Coast, possibly in the ancient city of Caral, around 2600 BC. Inca kings of Cusco made Quechua their official language and, with Inca conquest in the 15th century, the Empire's language became pre-Columbian Peru's lingua franca. By the time of the Spanish conquest, in the 16th century, the language had already spread throughout the Andean region.
Quechua has often been grouped with Aymara as a larger Quechumaran linguistic stock, largely because about a third of its vocabulary is shared with Aymara. This proposal is controversial, however: the cognates are close, often closer than intra-Quechua cognates, and there is little relationship in the affixal system. The similarities may be due to long-term contact rather than from common origin. The language was further extended beyond the limits of the Inca empire by the Roman Catholic Church, which chose it to preach to Indians in the Andes.
Today, it has the status of an official language in both Peru and Bolivia, along with Spanish and Aymara. Before the arrival of the Spaniards and the introduction of the Latin alphabet, Quechua had no written alphabet. The Incas kept track of numerical data through a system of quipu-strings.
Currently, the major obstacle to the diffusion of the usage and teaching of Quechua is the lack of written material in the Quechua language, namely books, newspapers, software, magazines, etc. Thus, Quechua, along with Aymara and the minor indigenous languages, remains essentially an oral language.
 Geographic distribution
There are two main dialect groups.
Quechua I or Waywash is spoken in Peru's central highlands. It is the most conservative and diverse branch of Quechua, such that its dialects have often been considered different languages.
Quechua II or Wanp'una (Traveler) is divided into three branches:
- II-A: Yunkay Quechua is spoken sporadically in Peru's occidental highlands;
- II-B: Northern Quechua (also known as Runashimi or, especially in Ecuador, Kichwa) is mainly spoken in Colombia and Ecuador;
- II-C: Southern Quechua, spoken in Peru's southern highlands, Bolivia, Argentina and Chile, is today's most important branch because it has the largest number of speakers and because of its cultural and literary legacy.
This is, at least, the traditional classification, and is still a helpful guide, though it has come to be increasingly challenged in recent years, since a number of regional varieties of Quechua seem to be intermediate between the two branches.
 Number of speakers
The number of speakers given varies widely according to the sources. The most reliable figures are to be found in the census results of Peru (1993) and Bolivia (2001), though they are probably altogether too low due to underreporting. The 2001 Ecuador census seems to be a prominent example of underreporting, as it comes up with only 499,292 speakers of the two varieties Quichua and Kichwa combined, where other sources estimate between 1.5 and 2.2 million speakers.
- Argentina: 100,000
- Bolivia: 2,100,000 (2001 census)
- Brazil: unknown
- Chile: very few, possibly extinct (Ethnologue)
- Colombia: 9,000 (Ethnologue)
- Ecuador: 500,000 to 2,200,000
- Peru: 3,200,000 (1993 census)
Additionally, there may be hundreds of thousands of speakers outside the traditionally Quechua speaking territories.
A number of Quechua loanwords have entered English via Spanish, including coca, condor, guano, jerky, llama, pampa, puma, quinine, quinoa, vicuña and possibly gaucho. The word lagniappe comes from the Quechua word yapay ("to increase; to add") with the Spanish article la in front of it, la yapa or la ñapa, in Spanish.
The description below applies to Cusco dialect; there are significant differences in other varieties of Quechua.
Quechua uses only three vowels: /a/ /i/ and /u/, similar to Classical Arabic. Monolingual speakers pronounce these as [æ] [ɪ] and [ʊ] respectively, though the Spanish vowels /a/ /i/ and /u/ may also be used. When the vowels appear adjacent to the uvular consonants /q/, /qʼ/, and /qʰ/, they are rendered more like [ɑ], [ɛ] and [ɔ] respectively.
|plosive / affricate||p||t||tʃ||k||q|
The language is spelled as the IPA apart from the palatal consonants /tʃ ɲ ʎ j/ which are spelled <ch ñ ll y> respectively.
None of the plosives or fricatives are voiced; voicing is not phonemic in the Quechua native vocabulary. However, in the Cusco dialect, each plosive has three forms: plain, ejective, and aspirated, a feature that is considered to be of Aymara origin. For example:
plain ejective aspirated /p/ /pʼ/ /pʰ/ /t/ /tʼ/ /tʰ/ /tʃ/ /tʃʼ/ /tʃʰ/ /k/ /kʼ/ /kʰ/ /q/ /qʼ/ /qʰ/
About 30% of the modern Quechua vocabulary is borrowed from Spanish, and some Spanish sounds (e.g. f, b, d, g) may have become phonemic, even among monolingual Quechua speakers.
 Writing system
Quechua has been written using the Roman alphabet since the Spanish conquest of Peru. However, written Quechua is not utilized by the Quechua-speaking people at large due to the lack of printed referential material in Quechua.
Until the 20th century, Quechua was written with a Spanish-based orthography. Examples: Inca, Huayna Cápac, Collasuyo, Mama Ocllo, Viracocha, quipu, tambo, condor. This orthography is the most familiar to Spanish speakers, and as a corollary, has been used for most borrowings into English.
In 1975, the Peruvian government of Juan Velasco adopted a new orthography for Quechua. This is the writing system preferred by the Academia Mayor de la Lengua Quechua. Examples: Inka, Wayna Qapaq, Qollasuyu, Mama Oqllo, Wiraqocha, khipu, tampu, kuntur. This orthography
- uses w instead of hu for the /w/ sound.
- distinguishes velar k from uvular q, where both were spelled c or qu in the traditional system.
- distinguishes simple, ejective, and aspirated stops in dialects (such as that of Cuzco) which have them-- thus khipu above.
- continues to use the Spanish five-vowel system.
In 1985, a variation of this system was adopted by the Peruvian government; it uses the Quechua three-vowel system. Examples: Inka, Wayna Qapaq, Qullasuyu, Mama Uqllu, Wiraqucha, khipu, tampu, kuntur.
The different orthographies are still highly controversial in Peru. Advocates of the traditional system believe that the new orthographies look too foreign, and suggest that it makes Quechua harder to learn for people who have first been exposed to written Spanish. Those who prefer the new system maintain that it better matches the phonology of Quechua, and point to studies showing that teaching the five-vowel system to children causes reading difficulties in Spanish later on.
For more on this, see the Wiki stub on the Quechuan and Aymaran spelling shift.
Writers differ in the treatment of Spanish loanwords. Sometimes these are adapted to the modern orthography, sometimes they are left in Spanish. For instance, "I am Robert" could be written Robertom kani or Ruwirtum kani. (The -m is not part of the name; it is an evidential suffix.)
Peruvian linguist Rodolfo Cerrón-Palomino has proposed an orthographic norm for all Quechua, called Southern Quechua. This norm, el Quechua estándar or Hanan Runasimi, which is accepted by many institutions in Peru, has been made by combining conservative features of two most common dialects: Ayacucho Quechua and Qusqu-Qullaw Quechua (spoken in Cusco, Puno, Bolivia, and Argentina). For instance:
To listen to recordings of these and many other words as pronounced in many different Quechua-speaking regions, see the external website The Sounds of the Andean Languages. There is also a full section on the new Quechua and Aymara Spelling.
In Quechua, there are seven pronouns. Quechua also has two first person plural pronouns ("we", in English). One is called the inclusive, which is used when the speaker wishes to include in "we" the person to whom he or she is speaking ("we and you"). The other form is called the exclusive, which is used when the addressee is excluded. ("we without you"). Quechua also adds the suffix -kuna to the second and third person singular pronouns qam and pay to create the plural forms qam-kuna and pay-kuna.
Adjectives in Quechua are always placed before nouns. They lack gender and number, and are not declined to agree with substantives.
- Cardinal numbers. ch'usaq (0), huk (1), iskay (2), kimsa (3), tawa (4), pichqa (5), suqta (6), qanchis (7), pusaq (8), isqun (9), chunka (10), chunka hukniyuq (11), chunka iskayniyuq (12), iskay chunka (20), pachak (100), waranqa (1,000), hunu (1,000,000), lluna (1,000,000,000,000).
- Ordinal numbers. To form ordinal numbers, the word ñiqin is put after the appropriate cardinal number (e.g., iskay ñiqin = "second"). The only exception is that, in addition to huk ñiqin ("first"), the phrase ñawpaq is also used in the somewhat more restricted sense of "the initial, primordial, the oldest".
Adverbs can be formed by adding -ta or, in some cases, -lla to an adjective: allin - allinta ("good - well"), utqay - utqaylla ("quick - quickly"). They are also formed by adding suffixes to demonstratives: chay ("that") - chaypi ("there"), kay ("this") - kayman ("hither").
There are several original adverbs. For Europeans, it is striking that the adverb qhipa means both "behind" and "future", whereas ñawpa means "ahead, in front" and "past". This means that local and temporal concepts of adverbs in Quechua (as well as in Aymara) are associated to each other reversely compared to European languages.
The infinitive forms (unconjugated) have the suffix -y (much'a= "kiss"; much'a-y = "to kiss"). The endings for the indicative are:
To these are added various interfixes and suffixes to change the meaning. For example, -ku-, is added to make the actor the recipient of the action (example: wañuy = "to die"; wañukuy = "to commit suicide"); -naku-, when the action is mutual (example: marq'ay= "to hug"; marq'anakuy= "to hug each other"), and -chka-, when the condition is continuing (e.g., mikhuy = "to eat"; mikhuchkay = "to be eating").
These are indeclinable words, that is, they do not accept suffixes. They are relatively rare. The most common are arí ("yes") and mana ("no"), although mana can take the suffix -n (manan) to intensify the meaning. Also used are yaw ("hey", "hi"), and certain loan words from Spanish, such as piru (from Spanish pero "but") and sinuqa (from sino "rather").
Nearly every Quechua sentence is marked by an evidential suffix, indicating how certain the speaker is about a statement. -mi expresses personal knowledge (Tayta Wayllaqawaqa chufirmi, "Mr. Huayllacahua is a driver-- I know it for a fact"); -si expresses hearsay knowledge (Tayta Wayllaqawaqa chufirsi, "Mr. Huayllacahua is a driver, or so I've heard"); -cha expresses probability (Tayta Wayllaqawaqa chufircha, "Mr. Huayllacahua is a driver, most likely"). These become -m, -s, -ch after a vowel.
The commonly used word for hangover in Ecuador is Quechua: chuchaqui.
 Popular culture
- In the turn-based strategy game Sid Meier's Civilization IV, the Inca unique unit is known as Quechua; it replaces Warriors, gaining a 100% bonus when fighting archery units in addition to the Warrior's standard abilities.
- Popular rapper Tupac Shakur's name means Shining Serpent or Royal Serpent in Quechua.
 See also
- Aymara language
- List of English words of Quechuan origin
- South Bolivian Quechua language
- Swadesh list of Quechua words
- Rodolfo Cerrón-Palomino, Lingüística Quechua, Centro de Estudios Rurales Andinos 'Bartolomé de las Casas', 2nd ed. 2003
- Mannheim, Bruce, The Language of the Inka since the European Invasion, University of Texas Press, 1991, ISBN 0-292-74663-6
- Cusihuamán, Antonio, Diccionario Quechua Cuzco-Collao, Centro de Estudios Regionales Andinos "Bartolomé de Las Casas", 2001, ISBN 9972-691-36-5
- Cusihuamán, Antonio, Gramática Quechua Cuzco-Collao, Centro de Estudios Regionales Andinos "Bartolomé de Las Casas", 2001, ISBN 9972-691-37-3
 External links
- El Quechua de Santiago del Estero, extensive site covering the grammar of Argentinian Quechua (in Spanish)
- runasimi.de Multilingual Quechua website with online dictionary (xls) Quechua - German - English - Spanish.
- Quechua Language and Linguistics an extensive site.
- The Sounds of the Andean Languages listen online to pronunciations of Quechua words, see photos of speakers and their home regions, learn about the origins and varieties of Quechua.
- CyberQuechua, by the Quechua-speaking linguist Serafín Coronel Molina.
- Multilingual Dictionary: Spanish - Quechua (Cusco, Ayacucho, Junín, Ancash) - Aymara
- Quechua Network's Dictionary a very good one.
- Quechua lessons (www.andes.org) in Spanish and English
- Quechua course in Spanish, by Demetrio Tupah Yupanki (Red Científica Peruana)
- Detailed map of the varieties of Quechua according to SIL (fedepi.org)
- Quechua - English Dictionary: from Webster's Online Dictionary - the Rosetta Edition.
- Ecuadorian Quechua - English Dictionary: from Webster's Online Dictionary - the Rosetta Edition.
- Google Quechua
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