How did the Quechua language spread throughout the Andes?
11 September 2019
The Quechua language is the most widespread indigenous language in all the Americas, with around eight to ten million speakers (approx. 4 million in Peru).
Quechua is spoken mainly in the Andean highland regions of Peru, Ecuador, Bolivia and Argentina. Quechua is also known as Runasimi (the people’s language).
Aymara, the other principal native language of the Andes , is very different and not related to Quechua. Aymara is spoken mainly in Bolivia, and in the Puno region of southern Peru.
Additionally, 40 Peruvian languages , are spoken by smaller tribes of indigenous people in the Amazon region of Peru.
Although Quechua is unrelated to any other language, it is actually a widespread Andean family of languages or dialects, and Quechua pronunciation and vocabulary is quite varied across the Andes.
History of the Language
Quechua history suggests that the language originated very early, with the early inhabitants of the central Andean highlands, long before the Incas.
Around the fifth century A.D. the language spread south and north, and divided into its two main branches.
Later, in the 15th century, the Incas spread Quechua and made it the Empire’s oficial language, as a way of uniting the many smaller cultures the Incas conquered and assimilated.
Quechua is an official language in Peru since 1975, and is taught at most Peruvian schools. Although younger Cusqueños are less likely to speak fluent Quechua, most people in Cusco can understand and speak a certain amount, and often mix Spanish and Quechua.
Quechua language now-a-days
Although use of the language diminished in the 19th and 20th centuries, efforts in Peru to rescue and promote Quechua through intercultural language education programs has resulted in an increase in Quechua speakers.
Today, the ancient capital of the Incas, Cusco , and the surrounding region is a center of Quechua language use. It is spoken everywhere, but is especially prevalent in more rural areas.
It is also spoken by many people in Cusco city, especially by older people and those closer to the traditional culture. Quechua is often heard in the local public markets.
Quechua is a fascinating language, difficult to learn and characterized by deep, throaty (or glottal) sounds. The language has only three main vowel sounds, but uses many consonants. Its structure is complex, and terms are often formed by combining syllables.
The evolution of the Quechua Language
Early Quechua evolved without a written form but has been written using the Roman alphabet since Colonial times.
A few Quechua words and phrases might be helpful as you travel in the Andes. The usual “hello” greeting is allillanchu, the response: allillanmi. A few more phrases:
- Imayna kashanki? – How are you doing?
- Iman sutiyki? – What is your name?
- Noqaq sutiymi _____ – My name is ____.
- Maypi tiyanki? – Where do you live?
- Noqa kani _____manta. – I am from _____.
- Arí. – Yes.
- Manan. – No.
- Sullpayki. – Thank you.
As you can see, Quechua is not an easy language. However, you can meet Andean people and enjoy hearing them speak and sing in Quechua without having to know the language.
Hearing traditional people speak in their beautiful native language is one of the great joys and mysteries of world travel.
Andean Lodges invites you to join our amazing trekking programs to Ausangate, where local Quechua people welcome you and offer their hospitality and excellent services at our wonderful ecolodges.
You’ll hear legends and songs in Quechua, and our bilingual hosts and guides will make sure that you understand it all. Please contact us at andeanlodges.com to reserve your immersion experience in the amazing Quechua culture of the Andes.