Quechua language

Quechua (Runa Simi)
Spoken in: Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru
Region: Andes
Total speakers: 9,600,000
Ranking: Not ranked
Genetic classification: Quechuan
Official status
Official language of: Bolivia and Peru
Regulated by: Academia Mayor de la Lengua Quechua
Language codes
ISO 639-1qu
ISO 639-2que
SILVaries, dialects are considered separate languages by SIL International
See also: LanguageList of languages

Quechua (Standard Quechua, Runasimi "Language of People") is a Native American language of South America. It was the official language of the Inca Empire (in Quechua, Tawantinsuyu), and today is spoken in various dialects by some 9.6 million people throughout South America including modern southern Colombia and Ecuador, all of Peru and Bolivia, and northwestern Argentina and northern Chile. It is the most widely spoken of all American Indian languages.

Quechua is a very regular language, but a large number of infixes and suffixes change both the overall significance of words and their subtle shades of meaning, allowing great expressiveness. It includes grammatical features such as bipersonal conjugation and conjugation dependent on mental state and veracity of knowledge, spatial and temporal relationships, and many cultural factors.

The fictional Huttese language in the Star Wars movies is largely based upon Quechua.


Origin and extension

Today's theories about Quechua's origin put its initial territorial domain in modern Peru's Central Coast, possibly in the ancient city of Caral, around 2600 BC. Inca kings of Cuzco made Quechua their official language and, with Inca conquest in 14th century, the Empire's language became Ancient Peru's lingua franca. By the time of the Spanish conquest, in 16th century, the language had already spread throughout the South American continent. Some have proposed Quechua to be related to Aymara as members of a larger Quechumaran linguistic stock. This proposal is controversial, however, because similarities appear to be born from long time contact rather than from common origins.

The language was further extended beyond the limits of the Inca empire by the Catholic Church, which chose it to preach to Indians in the Andes area. 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. Numerical data was kept track of by the Incas through a system of khipu-strings.

Dialect groups

There are two main dialect groups. Quechua I or Waywash is spoken in Peru's central highlands. It is the most archaic and diverse branch of Quechua, such that its dialects have been often considered a different tongue.

Quechua II or Wanp'una (Traveler), it's also divided in three more branches. Yunkay Quechua is spoken sporadicaly in Peru's occidental highlands. Northern Quechua (also known as Quichua or Runashimi) is mainly spoken in Colombia and Ecuador. 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.

Quechua loanwords

A number of Quechua loanwords have entered English via Spanish, including coca, condor, guano, gaucho, jerky, inca, llama, pampa, potato (from papa via patata), puma, quinoa, and vicua . The word lagniappe comes from the Quechua word yapay ("to encresse; to add") with the article la in front of it, la yapa, in Spanish.

Quechua spelling and pronunciation


Quechua uses only three vowels: /a/, /i/, and /u/, similar to Classical Arabic. These are usually pronounced roughly as in Spanish, however, when the vowels appear adjacent to the uvular consonants /q/, /q'/, and /qh/, they are rendered more like [] , [e] and [o] respectively...


labial alveolar palatal velar uvular glottal
plosive p t ch k q
fricative s h
nasal m n
lateral l ll
trill r
semivowel w y

The consonant inventory can be quite different from the Indo-European languages. None of the plosives or fricatives are voiced; voicing is not phonemic in Quechua. However, in the Cusco dialect, each plosive has three forms: simple, ejective, and aspirated (a feature that is considered to be of Aymara origin). For example:

simple    ejective    aspirated
  p          p'          ph
  t          t'          th
  ch         ch'         chh
  k          k'          kh
  q          q'          qh


Peruvian linguist Rodolfo Cerrn Palomino has proposed an orthography norm for all Quechua, called Southern Quechua. This norm, accepted by many institutions in Peru, has been made by combining conservative features of two most common dialects: Ayacucho Quechua and Cuzco Quechua (which is also used in Bolivia and Argentina). For instance:

 Ayacucho    Cuzco       Southern Quechua
 upyay       uhyay       upyay            "to drink"
 utqa        usqha       utqha            "fast"
 llamkay     llank'ay    llamk'ay         "to work"
 uqanchik   nuqanchis   uqanchik        "us"
 kachkay     kashay      kachkay          "to be there"
 punchaw     p'unchay    p'unchaw         "day"

Quechua morphology

Singular Plural
Person First uqa uqanchik (inclusive)

uqayku (exclusive)

Second Qan Qankuna
Third Pay Paykuna

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 are placed before nouns. Unlike Romance languages, Quechuan adjectives lack gender and number, nor are declined when accompanied by substantives, which they allways precede.

  • Numbers.
    • 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 iqin is put after the appropriate cardinal number (e.g., iskay iqin = "second"). The only exception is that, in addition to huk iqin ("first"), the phrase awpaq is also used in the somewhat more restricted sense of "the initial, primordial, the oldest".

The infinitive forms (unconjugated) have the suffix -y (much'a= "kiss"; much'a-y = "to kiss"). The endings for the indicative voice are:

Present Past Future Pluperfect
uqa -ni -rqa-ni -saq -sqa-ni
Qam -nki -rqa-nki -nki -sqa-nki
Pay -n -rqa-n -nqa -sqa
uqanchik -nchik -rqa-nchik -sun -sqa-nchik
uqayku -yku -rqa-yku -saq-ku -sqa-yku
Qamkuna -nki-chik -rqa-nki-chik -nki-chik -sqa-nki-chik
Paykuna -n-ku -rqa-nku -nqa-ku -sqa-ku

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: wauy = "to die"; waukuy = "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 ar ("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").

See also

External Links

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ca:Qutxua da:Quechua de:Quechua es:Quechua eo:Keĉua lingvo fr:Quechua nl:Quechua ja:ケチュア pl:Język keczua pt:Quchua qu:Runa Simi ru:Кечуа (язык) simple:Quechua fi:Ketua sv:Quechua


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