Quechua Language, also called ‘Runa simi’ is the most widely used native language in South America. It is spoken in various regions of Peru, Bolivia, Ecuador, Colombia, Chile and Argentina.
It has several dialects and divisions. It was the language of the Incas, who spread it throughout the Tahuantinsuyo empire. There are almost 12 million Quechua-speaking people on the continent. Contrary to what many people think, this language, far from disappearing, made new roots. It is currently one of the official languages of Peru.
Definition of Quechua
The definition of Quechua is a language spoken by peoples of the Inca period and which reached, with different variants, the populations that today identify themselves as Quechua. It can be understood that Quechua is a family of languages, spoken by about ten million inhabitants of South America.
Also, the definition of Quechua refers to an union of regular roots with suffixes for the formation of concepts with variable meanings, the conjugation of verbs for the agreement between subject and object and the appeal to the agglutinating morphology are some of the main characteristics of the Quechua language.
Is Quechua one language or are there several?
Quechua is a Language family with a variety of languages, many of which have dialects within the geographic region where it is spoken. According to Alfredo Torero (1964), the oldest forms of Quechua, the original ones, are spoken in Ancash, Cerro de Pasco, Junín, Huánuco, the Sierra de Lima and Cusco.
“The varieties of the Quechua linguistic family are classified into two large groups of languages: ) those spoken in Ancash, Huánuco, Pasco, Junín and some provinces of the department of Lima, and ) those spoken in Apurímac, Huancavelica, Ayacucho, Cusco, Puno, Lambayeque, Cajamarca, San Martín, Amazonas and some areas of Loreto ”(Coombs, personal communication).
The differences that exist between Quechua Languages are comparable to the differences that exist between Spanish, Portuguese, French, and Italian. Many of the Quechua speakers do not refer to their language as “Quechua.”
The names vary by area. For example, in Colombia it is called inga, in San Martín llakwash, in Cajamarca lingwa. In southern Peru, the name given is runa simi or runa shimi, which means “language of man” or “mouth of man.”
However, today the Quechua speakers of the department of Huánuco and some other places refer to their language as “Quechua” or “Gechwa”.
Where is the origin of Quechua Language?
Automatically many people assume that Quechua originated in Cuzco, as it is the place of origin of the Empire of the Incas. However, the origin of an empire is not necessarily the place of origin of a family of languages. The expansion of Quechua began probably a thousand years before that stage; thus, for example, Quechua was already spoken in places like Chavín long before the Empire of the Incas existed.
Almost all approaches converge on similar conclusions: the original Quechua was most probably spoken somewhere in the central Peru (perhaps on the coast, although more likely in the mountainous interior) before elsewhere.
Likewise, it would have been from this area that the ancestral language would have started to spread, both north and south, at a date probably around two thousand years ago – perhaps more, perhaps less, but certainly a long time before. that the empire of the Incas.
That great last peak of Andean civilization spoke Quechua, certainly, and effectively contributed to extend it to its maximum expansion; However, the Quechua of the Incas was not the only one, nor was this the original Quechua. Quechua is much more diverse than just Cuzco Quechua, and is linked to many more native cultures of the Andes.
Quechua Language and the Incas
According to the legend of the origin of the Incas, these come from the Altiplano. The first Incas who arrived in Cusco in the 13th century did not speak Quechua. They spoke ‘Puquina’, which was a native language of the many that were spoken in the towns that surrounded Lake Titicaca in the highlands, border of Peru and Bolivia.
Upon arriving in Cusco, they adapted to the language spoken there, which was Quechua (which was already spoken in many Andean and coastal areas of Peru).
During the expansionist period of the Inca empire (at the beginning of the 15th century), the Quechua language spread mainly in the highland and southern territory of the Tahuantinsuyo empire. In many parts of the north and the coast the ‘Runa simi’ was already spoken. Elsewhere, Quechua did not replace the aboriginal languages spoken such as Mochica or Cañari.
How did Quechua Language spread to the places where it is spoken today?
Therefore, it is presumed that Quechua originates from somewhere in the central Andes. Indeed, the first great displacement and expansion of Quechua seems to have occurred in the central zone itself, in quite ancient successive waves, which partly explains the great difference between the various sub-branches of Quechua.
The following process of displacement was generated in times prior to the empire of the Incas, due to population movements and demographic changes. Quechua replaced Aymara as a local language in the southern and central Andean areas, both in areas such as the Sierra de Lima but especially in the current areas of Cusco, the Collao de Puno area and part of Apurímac.
The varieties of these areas therefore maintain a series of phonological characteristics of ancient Aymara, such as fricatives and glottalized, today specific to the Quechua of Cusco and Puno.
Later, the language would also spread to the northern highlands, partially replacing old local languages such as Culle (Torero 1964), as well as some other languages currently disappeared of which we do not have news other than toponyms and some other scattered indications.
Thus, Quechua was initially consolidated as a pan-Andean language in the Inca period, probably encouraged by the State as the language of administration and control, but also of the dissemination of knowledge, of the army, and of reciprocity and exchange between groups. With the empire, Quechua would become the general language (lingua franca) of communication between diverse populations that spoke different languages, now disappeared.
The process of expansion and consolidation of Quechua as the main language, and no longer only as a lingua franca, occurred during the colonial period. Considering that it was easier to spread Christian doctrine in a native language that the people already knew, the evangelizing priests promoted Quechua in much of the colonial territory.
It is very likely that it was the catechization in Quechua, added to the establishment of the doctrine in the reductions of indigenous people, which ended up consolidating Quechua as the majority indigenous language in the northern areas of the country (Estenssoro 2003).
As a result of these processes of linguistic change, it is possible today to identify at least nine varieties of Quechua, geographically distributed between the Andes and areas of the northern jungle (Quechua II-north), the central highlands (Quechua I) and the Sierra Sur (Quechua II-South).
The nine varieties grouped into four branches are classified in the National Document of native languages of Peru published by the Ministry of Education in 2013, within the framework of Law No. 29735, Law that regulates the use, preservation, development, recovery, promotion, and diffusion of the native languages of Peru.
How many people speak Quechua Language?
Currently there are about 12 million people who speak Quechua. Peru is the country with the most Quechua speakers. The language of the Incas is also spoken in the north of Argentina, the southeast of Bolivia, Chile (in Alto and El Loa) as well as the southwest of Colombia and the northeast of Ecuador. It is the most widely spoken native language on the continent.
Are there books written in Quechua Language?
It is said that Fray Domingo de Santo Tomás (Dominican friar), was the first missionary to learn the Quechua language. During his evangelizing work in Peru, he published the first two works in Quechua, “the grammar or art of the general language of the Indians of the kingdoms of Peru” and the “Lexicon” (vocabulary of the general language of Peru).
In 1680, the so-called golden age of Quechua literature began (mainly in southern Peru). In this period the drama “Ollantay” is written, originating from an oral tradition since the time of the Incas.
After the defeat of Túpac Amaru II (1781), the use of native clothes and languages is prohibited, as well as any manifestation of customs or ways of life, different from those of the invaders. Causing the decline of the Andean elites and generating a social stigma against the language, but without making it disappear completely.
Status of the Quechua Language writing
To date, it has an alphabet made official by the Ministry of Education through Ministerial Resolution No. 1218-85-ED and, in addition, the use of the 3 vowels “a, i, u” is established by Directorial Resolution No. 0282-2013-ED and the alphabet for the Kichwa variety is specified through Directorial Resolution No. 0293-2013-ED.
Quechua Language on the trip to Cusco and Machu Picchu
Cusco, the ancient capital of the Inca empire, is one of the places in Peru with the most Quechua speakers. It is estimated that 45% of its population speaks this language. That is why the tourist, during their visit to Cusco and Machu Picchu, will have to come across a Quechua speaker at some point.
However, in Cusco, many of the Quechua speakers are also fluent in Spanish as a second language. Some of them also know English. Therefore, tourists are recommended to know a little Spanish and, why not, Quechua for their visit to Cusco and Machu Picchu in Peru.