Quechuan languages

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Qhichwa simi
Runa simi
Native to Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador and Peru.
Region Central Andes
Ethnicity Quechua
Native speakers
8.9 million (2007)[1]
Quechuan languages
  • Quechua
Official status
Official language in
Language codes
ISO 639-1 qu
ISO 639-2 que, qwe
ISO 639-3 que
Glottolog quec1387[2]
Quechua (grupos).svg
This article contains IPA phonetic symbols. Without proper rendering support, you may see question marks, boxes, or other symbols instead of Unicode characters.

Quechua /ˈkɛwə/, also known as runa simi ("people's language"), is an indigenous language family, with variations spoken by the Quechua peoples, primarily living in the Andes and highlands of South America. Derived from a common ancestral language, it is the most widely spoken language family of indigenous peoples of the Americas, with a total of probably some 8–10 million speakers.[3] It is perhaps most widely known for being the main language of the Inca Empire, and was disseminated by the colonizers throughout their reign.


Quechua had already expanded across wide ranges of the central Andes long before the expansion of the Inca Empire.[citation needed] The Inca were one among many peoples in present-day Peru who already spoke forms of Quechua. In the Cusco region, Quechua was influenced by local languages such as Aymara. The Cuzco variety of Quechua developed as quite distinct. In similar ways, diverse dialects developed in different areas, related to existing local languages, when the Inca Empire ruled and imposed Quechua as the official language.

After the Spanish conquest of the Inca Empire in the 16th century, Quechua continued to be used widely by the indigenous peoples as the "general language;" many Spanish learned it in order to communicate with them. Clergy of the Catholic Church adopted Quechua to use as the language of evangelization. Given its use by the Catholic missionaries, the range of Quechua continued to expand in some areas.

In the late 18th century, colonial officials ended administrative and religious use of Quechua, banning it from public use in Peru after the Túpac Amaru II rebellion of indigenous peoples.[3] The Crown banned even "loyal" pro-Catholic texts in Quechua, such as Garcilaso de la Vega's Comentarios Reales. [4]

Despite a brief revival of the language immediately after the Latin American nations achieved independence in the 19th century, the prestige of Quechua had decreased sharply. Gradually its use declined so that it was spoken mostly by indigenous people in the more isolated and conservative rural areas. But in the 21st century, those speaking Quechua language speakers number 8 to 10 million people across South America,[3] the most speakers of any indigenous language.

The oldest written records of the language are by missionary Domingo de Santo Tomás, who arrived in Peru in 1538 and learned the language from 1540. He published his Grammatica o arte de la lengua general de los indios de los reynos del Perú (Grammar or Art of the General Language of the Indians of the Royalty of Peru) in 1560.[5][6]

Current status[edit]

Map of Peru showing the distribution of individual Quechua languages by district.

In 1975 Peru became the first country to recognize Quechua as one of its official languages.[7] Ecuador conferred official status on the language in its 2006 constitution, and in 2009, Bolivia adopted a new constitution that recognized Quechua and several other indigenous languages as official languages of the country.[8]

The major obstacle to the usage and teaching of Quechua is the lack of written materials in that language, such as books, newspapers, software, and magazines. The Bible has been translated into Quechua and is distributed by certain missionary groups. Quechua, along with Aymara and the minor indigenous languages, remains essentially a spoken language.

In recent years, Quechua has been introduced in intercultural bilingual education (IBE) in Bolivia, Ecuador and Peru. Even in these area, the governments are reaching only a part of the Quechua-speaking populations. Some indigenous people in each of the countries are having their children study in Spanish for the purposes of social advancement.[9]

Radio Nacional del Perú broadcasts news and agrarian programs in Quechua for periods in the mornings.

Quechua and Spanish are now heavily intermixed, with many hundreds of Spanish loanwords in Quechua. Conversely, Quechua phrases and words are commonly used by Spanish speakers. In southern rural Bolivia, for instance, many Quechua words such as wawa (infant), misi (cat), waska (strap or thrashing), are as commonly used as their Spanish counterparts, even in entirely Spanish-speaking areas. Quechua has also had a profound influence on other native languages of the Americas, such as Mapuche.[citation needed]

Number of speakers[edit]

The number of speakers given varies widely according to the sources. The total in Ethnologue 16 is 10 million, mostly based on figures published 1987–2002, but with a few dating from the 1960s. The figure for Imbabura Highland Quechua in Ethnologue, for example, is 300,000, an estimate from 1977.

The missionary organization FEDEPI, on the other hand, estimated one million Imbabura dialect speakers (published 2006). Census figures are also problematic, due to under-reporting. The 2001 Ecuador census reports only 500,000 Quechua speakers, compared to the estimate in most linguistic sources of more than 2 million. The censuses of Peru (2007) and Bolivia (2001) are thought to be more reliable.

  • Argentina: 900,000 (1971)
  • Bolivia: 2,100,000 (2001 census); 2,800,000 South Bolivian (1987)
  • Chile: few if any
  • Colombia: 10,000 to 20,000[10]
  • Ecuador: 2,300,000 (Adelaar 1991)
  • Peru: 3,260,000 (2007 census); 3,500,000 to 4,400,000 (Adelaar 2000)

Additionally, there is an unknown number of speakers in emigrant communities, including Queens, New York, and Paterson, New Jersey, in the United States.[11]


The four branches of Quechua: I (Central), II-A (North Peruvian), II-B (Northern), II-C (Southern).

There are significant differences among the varieties of Quechua spoken in the central Peruvian highlands and the peripheral varieties of Ecuador, as well as those of southern Peru and Bolivia. They can be labeled Quechua I (or Quechua B, central) and Quechua II (or Quechua A, peripheral). Within the two groups, there are few sharp boundaries, making them dialect continua.

But, there is a secondary division in Quechua II between the grammatically simplified northern varieties of Ecuador, Quechua II-B, known there as Kichwa, and the generally more conservative varieties of the southern highlands, Quechua II-C, which include the old Inca capital of Cusco. The closeness is at least in part because of the influence of Cusco Quechua on the Ecuadorean varieties in the Inca Empire. Because Northern nobles were required to educate their children in Cusco, this was maintained as the prestige dialect in the north.

Speakers from different points within any of the three regions can generally understand one another reasonably well. There are nonetheless significant local-level differences across each. (Wanka Quechua, in particular, has several very distinctive characteristics that make the variety more difficult to understand, even for other Central Quechua speakers.) Speakers from different major regions, particularly Central or Southern Quechua, are not able to communicate effectively.

The lack of mutual intelligibility among the dialects is the basic criterion that defines Quechua not as a single language, but as a language family. The complex and progressive nature of how speech varies across the dialect continua makes it nearly impossible to differentiate discrete varieties; Ethnologue lists 44 that it judged to require separate literature.[12]

As a reference point, the overall degree of diversity across the family is a little less than that of the Romance or Germanic families, and more of the order of Slavic or Arabic. The greatest diversity is within Central Quechua, AKA Quechua I, which is believed to lie close to the homeland of the ancestral Proto-Quechua language.

Family tree[edit]

Alfredo Torero devised the traditional classification, the three divisions above, plus a fourth, a northern or Peruvian branch. The latter causes complications in the classification, however, as the northern dialects (Cajamarca–Cañaris, Pacaraos, and Yauyos–Chincha) have features of both Quechua I and Quechua II, and so are difficult to assign to either.

Torero classifies them as the following:

  • Quechua I or Quechua B, aka Central Quechua or Waywash, spoken in Peru's central highlands and coast.
    • The most widely spoken varieties are Huaylas, Huaylla Wanca, and Conchucos.
  • Quechua II or Quechua A or Peripheral Quechua or Wanp'una, divided into
    • Yungay (Yunkay) Quechua or Quechua II A, spoken in the northern mountains of Peru; the most widely spoken dialect is Cajamarca.
    • Northern Quechua or Quechua II B, spoken in Ecuador (Kichwa), northern Peru, and Colombia (Inga Kichwa)
      • The most widely spoken varieties in this group are Chimborazo Highland Quichua and Imbabura Highland Quichua.
    • Southern Quechua or Quechua II C, spoken in Bolivia, southern Peru, Chile, and Argentina.
      • The most widely spoken varieties are South Bolivian, Cusco, Ayacucho, and Puno (Collao).

Willem Adelaar adheres to the Quechua I / Quechua II (central/peripheral) bifurcation. But, partially following later modifications by Torero, he reassigns part of Quechua II-A to Quechua I:[13]

Quechua I

Ancash (Huaylas–Conchucos)

Alto Pativilca–Alto Marañón–Alto Huallaga


Wanka (Jauja–Huanca)

Yauyos–Chincha (Huangáscar–Topará)


 Quechua II 
(Quechua II-A, reduced)

Lambayeque (Cañaris)


(Quechua II-A split)


(Quechua II-A split)


 Northern Quechua 
(Quechua II-B)

Kichwa ("Ecuadorian" or Highlands and Oriente)

Chachapoyas (Amazonas)

Lamas (San Martín)

Southern Quechua
(Quechua II-C)



Puno (Collao)

Northern Bolivian (Apolo)

Southern Bolivia

Santiago del Estero

Landerman (1991) does not believe a truly genetic classification is possible and divides Quechua II so that the family has four geographical–typological branches: Northern, North Peruvian, Central, and Southern. He includes Chachapoyas and Lamas in North Peruvian Quechua so Ecuadorian is synonymous with Northern Quechua.[14]

Geographical distribution[edit]

Quechua I (Central Quechua, Waywash) is spoken in Peru's central highlands, from the Ancash Region to Huancayo. It is the most diverse branch of Quechua,[15] to the extent that its divisions are commonly considered different languages.

Quechua II (Peripheral Quechua, Wamp'una "Traveler")

  • II-A: Yunkay Quechua (North Peruvian Quechua) is scattered 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. It is also spoken in the Amazonian lowlands of Colombia, Ecuador, and in pockets in Peru
  • II-C: Southern Quechua, in the highlands further south, from Huancavelica through the Ayacucho, Cusco, and Puno regions of Peru, across much of Bolivia, and in pockets in north-western Argentina. It is the most influential branch, with the largest number of speakers and the most important cultural and literary legacy.


This is a sampling of words in several Quechuan languages:[pronunciation?]

Ancash (I) Wanka (I) Cajamarca (II-A) San Martin (II-B) Kichwa (II-B) Ayacucho (II-C) Cusco (II-C)
'one' huk
suk, huk
[suk], [huk]
'two' ishkay
[ɪʃkeˑ ~ ɪʃkɐj]
[iʃki ~ iʃkaj]
'ten' ćhunka, chunka
[ʈ͡ʂʊŋkɐ], [t͡ʃʊŋkɐ]
[t͡ʃuŋgɐ ~ t͡ʃuŋkɐ]
'sweet' mishki
'white' yuraq
[jʊɾɑq ~ jʊɾɑχ]
[julah ~ julaː]
[jʊɾax ~ jʊɾak]
'he gives' qun
[qoŋ ~ χoŋ ~ ʁoŋ]
[huŋ ~ ʔuŋ]
'yes' awmi
[oːmi ~ ɐwmɪ]

Quechua and Aymara[edit]

Quechua shares a large amount of vocabulary, and some striking structural parallels, with Aymara, and the two families have sometimes been grouped together as a "Quechumaran family". That hypothesis is generally rejected by specialists, however. The parallels are better explained by mutual influence and borrowing through intensive and longterm contact. Many Quechua–Aymara cognates are close, often closer than intra-Quechua cognates, and there is little relationship in the affixal system.


A number of Quechua loanwords have entered English via Spanish, including coca, condor, guano, jerky, llama, puma, quinine, quinoa, vicuña, and, possibly, gaucho. The word lagniappe comes from the Quechuan word yapay ("to increase; to add") with the Spanish article la in front of it, la yapa or la ñapa in Spanish.

The influence on Latin American Spanish includes such borrowings as papa for "potato", chuchaqui for "hangover" in Ecuador, and diverse borrowings for "altitude sickness", in Bolivia from Quechuan suruqch'i to Bolivian sorojchi, in Ecuador and Peru soroche.

In Bolivia, particularly, Quechua words are used extensively even by non-Quechua speakers. These include wawa (baby, infant), ch'aki (hangover), misi (cat), juk'ucho (mouse), q'omer uchu (green pepper), jacu ("lets go"), chhiri and chhurco (curly haired), among many others. Quechua grammar also enters Bolivian Spanish, such as the use of the suffix -ri. In Bolivian Quechua, -ri is added to verbs to signify an action is performed with affection or, in the imperative, as a rough equivalent to please. In Bolivia -ri is often included in the Spanish imperative to imply "please" or to soften commands. For example, the standard "pásame" (pass me), becomes pasarime.

Quechua has borrowed a large number of Spanish words, such as piru (from pero, but), bwenu (from bueno, good), iskwila (from "escuela," school), waka (from "vaca," cow) and burru (from burro, donkey).

Etymology of Quechua[edit]

At first, Spaniards referred to the language of the Inca empire as the lengua general, the general language. The name quichua is first used in 1560 by Domingo de Santo Tomás in his Grammatica o arte de la lengua general de los indios de los reynos del Perú.[16] It is not known what name the native speakers gave to their language before colonial times and whether it was Spaniards who called it quechua.[16]

There are two possible etymologies of Quechua as the name of the language. There is a possibility that the name Quechua was derived from *qiĉ.wa, the native word which originally meant the "temperate valley" altitude ecological zone in the Andes (suitable for maize cultivation) and to its inhabitants.[16]

Alternatively, Pedro Cieza de León and Inca Garcilaso de la Vega, the early Spanish chroniclers, mention the existence of a people called Quichua in the present Apurímac Region, and it could be inferred that their name was given to the entire language.[16]

The Hispanicised spellings Quechua and Quichua have been used in Peru and Bolivia since the 17th century, especially after the Third Council of Lima. Today, the various local pronunciations of "Quechua Simi" include [ˈqʰeʃwa ˈsimi], [ˈχetʃwa ˈʃimi], [ˈkitʃwa ˈʃimi], and [ˈʔitʃwa ˈʃimi].

Another name that native speakers give to their own language is runa simi, "language of man/people"; it also seems to have emerged during the colonial period.[16]


The description below applies to Cusco Quechua; there are significant differences between the different varieties of Quechua.


Quechua only has three vowel phonemes: /a/ /i/ and /u/, as in Aymara (including Jaqaru). Monolingual speakers pronounce them as [æ, ɪ, ʊ] respectively, but the Spanish realizations [ä, i, u] may also be found. When the vowels appear adjacent to the uvular consonants /q/, /qʼ/, and /qʰ/, they are rendered more like [ɑ], [ɛ] and [ɔ] respectively.


Cusco Quechua consonant phonemes
Bilabial Alveolar Postalveolar/
Velar Uvular Glottal
Nasal m n ɲ
Stop plain p t k q
aspirated tʃʰ
ejective p’ t’ tʃ’ k’ q’
Fricative s h
Approximant central j w
lateral l ʎ
Rhotic ɾ

Voicing is not phonemic in the Quechua native vocabulary of the modern Cusco variety.

About 30% of the modern Quechua vocabulary is borrowed from Spanish, and some Spanish sounds (e.g. /f/, /b/, /d/, /ɡ/) may have become phonemic even among monolingual Quechua speakers.

Cusco Quechua, North- and South-Bolivian Quechua are the only varieties of Quechua to have glottalized consonants, and those along with certain kinds of Ecuadorian Kichwa are the only varieties with aspirated consonants. Because reflexes of a given Proto-Quechua word may have different stops in neighboring dialects (e.g., Proto-Quechua čaki 'foot' becomes č’aki and čaka 'bridge' becomes čaka), these sounds are thought to be innovations in Quechua loaned from Aymara, borrowed independently after branching off from Proto-Quechua.

Gemination of the tap /ɾ/ results in a trill [r].


Stress is penultimate in most dialects of Quechua. In some varieties, factors such as apocope of word-final vowels may cause exceptional final stress.


Main article: Quechua alphabet

Quechua has been written using the Roman alphabet since the Spanish conquest of the Inca Empire. However, written Quechua is rarely used by Quechua speakers because of 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. That orthography is the most familiar to Spanish speakers and so has been used for most borrowings into English.

In 1975, the Peruvian government of Juan Velasco Alvarado adopted a new orthography for Quechua. That is the system preferred by the Academia Mayor de la Lengua Quechua: Inka, Wayna Qhapaq, Qollasuyu, Mama Oqllo, Wiraqocha, khipu, tampu, kuntur. The orthography has these features:

  • It uses w instead of hu for /w/.
  • It distinguishes velar k from uvular q, but both were spelled c or qu in the traditional system.
  • It distinguishes simple, ejective, and aspirated stops in dialects (such as that of the Cusco Region) with them, like khipu above.
  • It continues to use the Spanish five-vowel system.

In 1985, a variation of this system was adopted by the Peruvian government; it uses the Quechuan three-vowel system: Inka, Wayna Qhapaq, 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 they point to studies showing that teaching the five-vowel system to children later causes reading difficulties in Spanish.[citation needed]

For more on this, see Quechuan and Aymaran spelling shift.

Writers differ in the treatment of Spanish loanwords. Sometimes, they are adapted to the modern orthography, and sometimes, they are left as in Spanish. For instance, "I am Roberto" could be written Robertom kani or Ruwirtum kani. (The -m is not part of the name; it is an evidential suffix.)

The Peruvian linguist Rodolfo Cerrón Palomino has proposed an orthographic norm for all Southern Quechua: Standard Quechua (el Quechua estándar or Hanan Runasimi) conservatively integrates features of two widespread dialects, Ayacucho Quechua and Cusco Quechua. For instance:[17]

English Ayacucho Cusco Standard Quechua
to drink upyay uhyay upyay
fast utqa usqha utqha
to work llamkay llank'ay llamk'ay
we (inclusive) ñuqanchik nuqanchis ñuqanchik
(progressive suffix) -chka- -sha- -chka-
day punchaw p'unchay p'unchaw


Morphological type[edit]

All varieties of Quechua are very regular agglutinative languages, as opposed to isolating or fusional ones. Their normal sentence order is SOV (subject–object–verb). Their large number of suffixes changes both the overall significance of words and their subtle shades of meaning. Notable grammatical features include bipersonal conjugation (verbs agree with both subject and object), evidentiality (indication of the source and veracity of knowledge), a set of topic particles, and suffixes indicating who benefits from an action and the speaker's attitude toward it, but some languages and varieties may lack some of the characteristics.


Singular Plural
Person First Ñuqa Ñuqanchik (inclusive)

Ñuqayku (exclusive)

Second Qam Qamkuna
Third Pay Paykuna

In Quechua, there are seven pronouns. Quechua has two first-person plural pronouns ("we" in English). One is called the inclusive, which is used if the speaker wishes to include the addressee ("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 (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".


Noun roots accept suffixes that indicate person (defining of possession, not identity), number, and case. In general, the personal suffix precedes that of number. In the Santiago del Estero variety, however, the order is reversed.[18] From variety to variety, suffixes may change.

Examples using the word wasi (house)
Function Suffix Example (translation)
suffix indicating number plural -kuna wasikuna houses
possessive suffix 1.person singular -y, -: wasiy, wasii my house
2.person singular -yki wasiyki your house
3.person singular -n wasin his/her/its house
1.person plural (incl) -nchik wasinchik our house (incl.)
1.person plural (excl) -y-ku wasiyku our house (excl.)
2.person plural -yki-chik wasiykichik your (pl.) house
3.person plural -n-ku wasinku their house
suffixes indicating case nominative wasi the house (subj.)
accusative -(k)ta wasita the house (obj.)
instrumental -wan wasiwan with the house, and the house
abessive -naq wasinaq without the house
dative -paq wasipaq to the house
genitive -p(a) wasip(a) of the house
causative -rayku wasirayku because of the house
benefactive -paq wasipaq for the house
locative -pi wasipi at the house
directional -man wasiman towards the house
inclusive -piwan, puwan wasipiwan, wasipuwan including the house
terminative -kama, -yaq wasikama, wasiyaq up to the house
transitive -(rin)ta wasinta through the house
ablative -manta, -piqta wasimanta, wasipiqta off/from the house
comitative -(ni)ntin wasintin along with the house
immediate -raq wasiraq first the house
intrative -pura wasipura among the houses
exclusive -lla(m) wasilla(m) only the house
comparative -naw, -hina wasinaw, wasihina than the house


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" and ñawpa means "ahead, in front" and "past".[19] Local and temporal concepts of adverbs in Quechua (as well as in Aymara) are associated to each other reversely, compared to European languages. For the speakers of Quechua, we are moving backwards into the future (we cannot see it: it is unknown), facing the past (we can see it: it is remembered).


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

Present Past Future Pluperfect
Ñuqa -ni -rqa-ni -saq -sqa-ni
Qam -nki -rqa-nki -nki -sqa-nki
Pay -n -rqa(-n) -nqa -sqa
Ñuqanchik -nchik -rqa-nchik -su-nchik -sqa-nchik
Ñuqayku -yku -rqa-yku -saq-ku -sqa-yku
Qamkuna -nki-chik -rqa-nki-chik -nki-chik -sqa-nki-chik
Paykuna -n-ku -rqa-(n)ku -nqa-ku -sqa-ku

The suffixes shown in the table above usually indicate the subject; the person of the object is also indicated by a suffix (-a- for first person and -su- for second person), which precedes the suffixes in the table. In such cases, the plural suffixes from the table (-chik and -ku) can be used to express the number of the object rather than the subject.

Various suffixes are added to the stem to change the meaning. For example, -chi is a causative and -ku is a reflexive (example: wañuy = "to die"; wañuchiy = to kill wañuchikuy = "to commit suicide"); -naku is used for mutual action (example: marq'ay= "to hug"; marq'anakuy= "to hug each other"), and -chka is a progressive, used for an ongoing action (e.g., mikhuy = "to eat"; mikhuchkay = "to be eating").

Grammatical particles[edit]

Particles are indeclinable: they do not accept suffixes. They are relatively rare, but the most common are arí ("yes") and mana ("no"), although mana can take some suffixes, such as -n/-m (manan/manam), -raq (manaraq, not yet) and -chu (manachu?, or not?), 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").


The Quechuan languages have three different morphemes that mark evidentiality. Evidentiality refers to a morpheme whose primary purpose is to indicate the source of information.[20] In the Quechuan languages, evidentiality is a three-term system: there are three evidential morphemes that mark varying levels of source information. The markers can apply to the first, second, and third persons.[21] The chart below depicts an example of these morphemes from Wanka Quechua:[22]

Evidential morphemes -m(i) -chr(a) -sh(i)
Meaning Direct evidence Inferred; conjecture Reported; hearsay

The parentheses around the vowels indicate that the vowel can be dropped in when following an open vowel. For the sake of cohesiveness, the above forms are used to discuss the evidential morphemes. However, it should be noted that there are dialectal variations to the forms. The variations will be presented in the following descriptions.

The following sentences provide examples of the three evidentials and further discuss the meaning behind each of them.

-m(i) : Direct evidence and commitment[23][edit]

Regional variations: In Cusco Quechua, the direct evidential presents itself as –mi and –n.

The evidential –mi indicates that the speaker has a "strong personal conviction the veracity of the circumstance expressed." [24] It has the basis of direct personal experience.

Wanka Quechua [25]

ñawi-i-wan-mi lika-la-a
eye-1P-with-DIR see-PST-1

I saw them with my own eyes.

-chr(a) : Inference and attenuation[26][edit]

In Quechuan languages, not specified by the source, the inference morpheme appears as –ch(i), -ch(a), -chr(a).

The –chr(a) evidential indicates that the utterance is an inference or form of conjecture. That inference relays the speaker’s non-commitment to the truth-value of the statement. It also appears in cases such as acquiescence, irony, interrogative constructions, and first person inferences. These uses constitute nonprototypical use and will be later discussed in the changes in meaning and other uses section.

Wanka Quechua[27]

kuti-mu-n'a-qa-chr ni-ya-ami
return-AFAR-3FUT-now-CONJ say-IMPV-1-DIR

I think they will probably come back.

-sh(i) : Hearsay[28][edit]

Regional variations: It can appear as –sh(i) or –s(i) depending on the dialect.

With the use of this morpheme, the speaker "serves as a conduit through which information from another source passes." The information being related is hearsay or revelatory in nature. It also works to express the uncertainty of the speaker regarding the situation. However, it also appears in other constructions that are discussed in the changes in meaning section.

Wanka Quechua[29]

shanti-sh prista-ka-mu-la
Shanti-REP borrow-REF-AFAR-PST

(I was told) Shani borrowed it.

Hintz discusses an interesting case of evidential behavior found in the Sihaus dialect of Ancash Quechua. The author postulates that instead of three single evidential markers, that Quechuan language contains three pairs of evidential markers.[30]

Affix or clitic[edit]

It may have been noted the evidential morphemes have been referred to as markers or morphemes. The literature seems to differ on whether or not the evidential morphemes are acting as affixes or clitics, in come cases, such as Wanka Quechua, enclitics. Lefebvre and Muysken (1998) discuss this issue in terms of case but remark the line between affix and clitic is not clear.[31] Both terms are used interchangeably throughout these sections.

Position in the sentence[edit]

Evidentials in the Quechuan languages are "second position enclitics" that attach to the first constituent in the sentence as shown in the examples below.[32]

huk-si ka-sqa huk machucha-piwan payacha
once-REP be-SD one old.man-WITH woman

Once, there were an old man and an old woman.

They can also occur on a focused constituent.

Pidru kunana-mi wasi-ta tuwa-sha-n
Pedro now-DIR.EV house-ACC build-PROG-3SG

It is now that Pedro is building the house.

Sometimes, the affix is described as attaching to the focus, especially when in reference to the Tarma dialect of Yaru Quechua,[33] but that does not hold true for all varieties of Quechua. In Huanuco Quechua. The evidentials follow any number of topics, marked by the topic marker –qa, and the element with the evidential must precede the main verb or be the main verb.

However, there are exceptions to that rule as well. The more topics there are in a sentence, the more likely to deviate from the usual form.

Chawrana-qa puntataruu-qu trayaruptin-qa wamrata-qa mayna-shi Diosninchi-qa heqarkaykachisha syelutana-shi
so:already-TOP at:the:peak-TOP arriving-TOP child-TOP already-IND our:God-TOP had:taken:her:up to:heaven:already-IND

When she (the witch) reached the peak, God had already taken the child up into heaven.

Changes in meaning and other uses[edit]

Evidentials can be used to relay different meanings depending on the context and perform other functions. The following examples are restricted to Wanka Quechua.

The direct evidential, -mi

The direct evidential appears in wh-questions and yes/no questions. By considering the direct evidential in terms of prototypical semantics, it seems somewhat counterintuitive to have a direct evidential, basically an evidential that confirms the speaker’s certainty about a topic, in a question. However, if one focuses less on the structure and more on the situation, some sense can be made. The speaker is asking the addressee for information so the speaker assumes the speaker knows the answer. That assumption is whey the direct evidential comes into play. The speaker holds a certain amount of certainty that the addressee will know the answer. The speaker interprets the addressee as being in "direct relation" to the proposed content; the situation is the same as when, in regular sentences, the speaker assumes direct relation to the proposed information.[34]

imay-mi wankayuu-pu kuti-mu-la
when-DIR Huancayo-ABL return-AFAR-PAST

When did he come back from Huancayo?

(Floyd 1999, p. 85)

The direct evidential affix is also seen in yes/no questions, similar to the situation with wh-questions. Floyd describes yes/no questions as being "characterized as instructions to the addressee to assert one of the propositions of a disjunction."[35] Once again, the burden of direct evidence is being placed on the addressee, not on the speaker. The question marker in Wanka Quechua, -chun, is derived from the negative –chu marker and the direct evidential (realized as –n in some dialects).

tarma-kta li-n-chun
Tarma-ACC go-3-YN

Is he going to Tarma?

(Floyd 1999, p. 89)

The inferential evidential, -chr(a)[edit]

While –chr(a) is usually used in an inferential context, it has some non-prototypical uses.

Mild Exhortation In these constructions the evidential works to reaffirm and encourage the addressee’s actions or thoughts.

mas kalu-kuna-kta li-la-a ni-nki-chra-ri
more far-PL-ACC go-PST-1 say-2-CONJ-EMPH

Yes, tell them, "I've gone farther."

(Floyd 1999, p. 107)

This example comes from a conversation between husband and wife, discussing the reactions of their family and friends after they have been gone for a while. The husband says he plans to stretch the truth and tell them about distant places to which he has gone, and his wife (in the example above) echoes and encourages his thoughts.

Acquiescence With these, the evidential is used to highlight the speaker’s assessment of inevitability of an event and acceptance of it. There is a sense of resistance, diminished enthusiasm, and disinclination in these constructions.


I suppose I'll pay you then.

(Floyd 1999, p. 109)

This example comes from a discourse where a woman demands compensation from the man (the speaker in the example) whose pigs ruined her potatoes. He denies the pigs as being his but finally realizes he may be responsible and produces the above example.

Interrogative Somewhat similar to the –mi evidential, the inferential evidential can be found in content questions. However, the salient difference between the uses of the evidentials in questions is that in the –m(i) marked questions, an answer is expected. That is not the case with –chr(a) marked questions.

ima-lla-kta-chr u-you-shrun llapa ayllu-kuna-kta-si chra-alu-l
what-LIM-ACC-CONJ give-ASP-12FUT all family-PL-ACC-EVEN arrive-ASP-SS

I wonder what we will give our families when we arrive.

(Floyd 1999, p. 111)

Irony Irony in language can be a somewhat complicated topic in how it functions differently in languages, and by its semantic nature, it is already somewhat vague. For these purposes, it is suffice to say that when irony takes place in Wanka Quechua, the –chr(a) marker is used.

chay-nuu-pa-chr yachra-nki
that-SIM-GEN-CONJ know-2

(I suppose) That's how you learn [that is the way in which you will learn].

(Floyd 199, p. 115)

This example comes from discourse between a father and daughter about her refusal to attend school. It can be interpreted as a genuine statement (perhaps one can learn by resisting school) or as an ironic statement (that is an absurd idea).

Hearsay evidential, -sh(i)[edit]

Aside from being used to express hearsay and revelation, this affix also has other uses.

Folktales, myths, and legends

Because folktales, myths, and legends are, in essence, reported speech, it follows that the hearsay marker would be used with them. Many of these types of stories are passed down through generations, furthering this aspect of reported speech. A difference between simple hearsay and folktales can be seen in the frequency of the –sh(i) marker. In normal conversation using reported speech, the marker is used less, to avoid redundancy.


Riddles are somewhat similar to myths and folktales in that their nature is to be passed by word of mouth.

ima-lla-shi ayka-lla-sh juk machray-chru puñu-ya-n puka waaka
what-LIM-REP how^much-LIM-REP one cave-LOC sleep-IMPF-3 red cow

(Floyd 1999, p. 142)

Omission and overuse of evidential affixes[edit]

In certain grammatical structures, the evidential marker does not appear at all. In all Quechuan languages the evidential will not appear in a dependent clause. Sadly, no example was given to depict this omission.[36] Omissions occur in Quechua. The sentence is understood to have the same evidentiality as the other sentences in the context. Quechuan speakers vary as to how much they omit evidentials, but they occur only in connected speech.[37]

An interesting contrast to omission of evidentials is overuse of evidentials. If a speaker uses evidentials too much with no reason, competence is brought into question. For example, the overuse of –m(i) could lead others to believe that the speaker is not a native speaker or, in some extreme cases, that one is mentally ill.[21]

Cultural aspect[edit]

By using evidentials, the Quechua culture has certain assumptions about the information being relayed. Those who do not abide by the cultural customs should not be trusted. A passage from Weber (1986) summarizes them nicely below:

  1. (Only) one’s experience is reliable.
  2. Avoid unnecessary risk by assuming responsibility for information of which one is not absolutely certain.
  3. Do not be gullible. There are many folktales in which the villain is foiled by his gullibility.
  4. Assume responsibility only if it is safe to do so. Successful assumption of responsibility builds stature in the community.[38]

Evidentials also show that being precise and stating the source of one’s information is extremely important in the language and the culture. Failure to use them correctly can lead to diminished standing in the community. Speakers are aware of the evidentials and even use proverbs to teach children the importance of being precise and truthful. Precision and information source are of the utmost importance. They are a powerful and resourceful method of human communication.[39]


Although the body of literature in Quechua is not as sizable as its historical and current prominence would suggest, it is nevertheless not negligible.

As in the case of the pre-Columbian Mesoamerica, there are a number of surviving Andean documents in the local language that were written down in Latin characters after the European conquest, but they express, to a great extent, the culture of pre-Conquest times. That type of Quechua literature is somewhat scantier, but nevertheless significant. It includes the so-called Huarochirí Manuscript (1598), describing the mythology and religion of the valley of Huarochirí as well as Quechua poems quoted within the Spanish-language texts of some chronicles dealing with the pre-Conquest period. There are a number of anonymous or signed Quechua dramas dating from the post-conquest period (starting from the 17th century), some of which deal with the Inca era, while most are on religious topics and of European inspiration. The most famous dramas is Ollantay and the plays describing the death of Atahualpa. For example, Juan de Espinosa Medrano wrote several dramas in the language. Poems in Quechua were also composed during the colonial period.[40][41]

Dramas and poems continued to be written in the 19th and especially in 20th centuries as well; in addition, in the 20th century and more recently, more prose has been published. While some of that literature consists of original compositions (poems and dramas), the bulk of 20th century Quechua literature consists of traditional folk stories and oral narratives.[40] Johnny Payne has translated two sets of Quechua oral short stories, one into Spanish and the other into English.

Many Andean musicians write and sing in their native languages, including Quechua and Aymara. Notable musical groups are Los Kjarkas, Kala Marka, J'acha Mallku, Savia Andina, Wayna Picchu, Wara and many others.

In popular culture[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Mikael Parkvall, "Världens 100 största språk 2007" (The World's 100 Largest Languages in 2007), in Nationalencyklopedin
  2. ^ Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin; Bank, Sebastian, eds. (2016). "Quechuan". Glottolog 2.7. Jena: Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History. 
  3. ^ a b c Adelaar 2004, pp. 167–168, 255.
  4. ^ Aybar cited by Hart, Stephen M. A Companion to Latin American Literature, p. 6.
  5. ^ Torero, Alfredo (1983). "La familia lingûística quechua". América Latina en sus lenguas indígenas. Caracas: Monte Ávila. ISBN 92-3-301926-8. 
  6. ^ Torero, Alfredo (1974). El quechua y la historia social andina. Lima: Universidad Ricardo Palma, Dirección Universitaria de Investigación. ISBN 978-603-45-0210-9. 
  7. ^ Kandell, Jonathan Gay (May 22, 1975). "Peru officially adopting Indian tongue". New York Times. 
  8. ^ Borsdorf, Axel. The Andes: A Geographical Portrait. p. 142. 
  9. ^ Adelaar 2004, pp. 258–259: "The Quechua speakers' wish for social mobility for their children is often heard as an argument for not transmitting the language to the next generation.... As observed quite adequately by Cerrón Palomino, "Quechua (and Aymara) speakers seem to have taken the project of assimilation begun by the dominating classes and made it their own."
  10. ^ Alain Fabre, Diccionario etnolingüístico y guía bibliográfica de los pubelos indígenas sudamericanos
  11. ^ Claudio Torrens (2011-05-28). "Some NY immigrants cite lack of Spanish as barrier". UTSanDiego.com. Retrieved 2013-02-10. 
  12. ^ Ethnologue report for Quechua (macrolanguage) (SIL)
  13. ^ Adelaar 2004.[page needed]
  14. ^ Peter Landerman, 1991. Quechua dialects and their classification. PhD dissertation, UCLA
  15. ^ Lyle Campbell, American Indian Languages: The Historical Linguistics of Native America, Oxford University Press, 1997, p. 189
  16. ^ a b c d e Adelaar 2004, p. 179.
  17. ^ To listen to recordings of them 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.
  18. ^ Alderetes, Jorge R. (1997). "Morfoligía Nominal del Quechua Santiagueño". 
  19. ^ This occurs in English, where "before" means "in the past", and Shakespeare's Macbeth says "The greatest is behind", meaning in the future.
  20. ^ Aikhenvald 2004, p. 3.
  21. ^ a b Aikhenvald 2004, p. 377.
  22. ^ Aikhenvald 2004, p. 42.
  23. ^ Floyd 1999, p. 60.
  24. ^ Floyd 1999, p. 57.
  25. ^ Floyd 1999, p. 61.
  26. ^ Floyd 1999, p. 95.
  27. ^ Floyd 1999, p. 103.
  28. ^ Floyd 1999, p. 123.
  29. ^ Floyd 1999, p. 127.
  30. ^ Hintz 1999, p. 1.
  31. ^ Lefebvre & Muysken 1998, p. 89.
  32. ^ Aikhenvald 2004, p. 68-69.
  33. ^ Weber 1986, p. 145.
  34. ^ Floyd 1999, p. 87.
  35. ^ Floyd 1999, p. 89.
  36. ^ Aikhenvald 2004, p. 72.
  37. ^ Aikhenvald 2004, p. 79.
  38. ^ Aikhenvald 2004, p. 358.
  39. ^ Aikhenvald 2004, p. 380.
  40. ^ a b Adelaar 2004, pp. 254–256.
  41. ^ "History". Homepage.ntlworld.com. Retrieved 2012-11-09. 
  42. ^ "Peru: The State of Quechua on the Internet · Global Voices". Global Voices. 2011-09-09. Retrieved 2017-01-02. 
  43. ^ "Film Kukuli (Cuzco-Peru)". Latinos in London. Retrieved 2012-11-10. 


  • Rolph, Karen Sue. Ecologically Meaningful Toponyms: Linking a lexical domain to production ecology in the Peruvian Andes. Doctoral Dissertation, Stanford University, 2007.
  • Adelaar, Willem F. H (2004-06-10). The Languages of the Andes. ISBN 9781139451123. 
  • Adelaar, Willem. The Languages of the Andes. With the collaboration of P.C. Muysken. Cambridge language survey. Cambridge University Press, 2007, ISBN 978-0-521-36831-5
  • Cerrón-Palomino, Rodolfo. Lingüística Quechua, Centro de Estudios Rurales Andinos 'Bartolomé de las Casas', 2nd ed. 2003
  • Cole, Peter. "Imbabura Quechua", North-Holland (Lingua Descriptive Studies 5), Amsterdam 1982.
  • 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
  • Mannheim, Bruce, The Language of the Inka since the European Invasion, University of Texas Press, 1991, ISBN 0-292-74663-6
  • Rodríguez Champi, Albino. (2006). Quechua de Cusco. Ilustraciones fonéticas de lenguas amerindias, ed. Stephen A. Marlett. Lima: SIL International y Universidad Ricardo Palma. Lengamer.org
  • Aikhenvald, Alexandra. Evidentiality. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2004. Print.
  • Floyd, Rick. The Structure of Evidential Categories in Wanka Quechua. Dallas, TX: Summer Institute of Linguistics, 1999. Print.
  • Hintz, Diane. “The evidential system in Sihuas Quechua: personal vs. shared knowledge” The Nature of Evidentiality Conference, The Netherlands, 14–16 June 2012. SIL International. Internet. 13 April 2014.
  • Lefebvre, Claire, and Pieter Muysken. Mixed Categories: Nominalizations in Quechua. Dordrecht, Holland: Kluwer Academic, 1988. Print.
  • Weber, David. "Information Perspective, Profile, and Patterns in Quechua." Evidentiality: The Linguistic Coding of Epistemology. Ed. Wallace L. Chafe and Johanna Nichols. Norwood, NJ: Ablex Pub, 1986. 137-55. Print.

Further reading[edit]

  • Adelaar, Willem F. H. Modeling convergence: Towards a reconstruction of the history of Quechuan–Aymaran interaction About the origin of Quechua, and its relation with Aymara, 2011.
  • Adelaar, Willem F. H. Tarma Quechua: Grammar, Texts, Dictionary. Lisse: Peter de Ridder Press, 1977.
  • Bills, Garland D., Bernardo Vallejo C., and Rudolph C. Troike. An Introduction to Spoken Bolivian Quechua. Special publication of the Institute of Latin American Studies, the University of Texas at Austin. Austin: Published for the Institute of Latin American Studies by the University of Texas Press, 1969. ISBN 0-292-70019-9
  • Coronel-Molina, Serafín M. Quechua Phrasebook. 2002 Lonely Planet ISBN 1-86450-381-5
  • Curl, John, Ancient American Poets. Tempe AZ: Bilingual Press, 2005.ISBN 1-931010-21-8 Red-coral.net
  • Gifford, Douglas. Time Metaphors in Aymara and Quechua. St. Andrews: University of St. Andrews, 1986.
  • Heggarty and David Beresford-Jones, Paul (2009). "Not the Incas? Weaving Archaeology and Language into a Single New Prehistory". London: British Academy Review 12: 11-15 
  • Harrison, Regina. Signs, Songs, and Memory in the Andes: Translating Quechua Language and Culture. Austin: University of Texas Press, 1989. ISBN 0-292-77627-6
  • Jake, Janice L. Grammatical Relations in Imbabura Quechua. Outstanding dissertations in linguistics. New York: Garland Pub, 1985. ISBN 0-8240-5475-X
  • King, Kendall A. Language Revitalization Processes and Prospects: Quichua in the Ecuadorian Andes. Bilingual education and bilingualism, 24. Clevedon, UK: Multilingual Matters LTD, 2001. ISBN 1-85359-495-4
  • King, Kendall A., and Nancy H. Hornberger. Quechua Sociolinguistics. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter, 2004.
  • Lara, Jesús, Maria A. Proser, and James Scully. Quechua Peoples Poetry. Willimantic, Conn: Curbstone Press, 1976. ISBN 0-915306-09-3
  • Lefebvre, Claire, and Pieter Muysken. Mixed Categories: Nominalizations in Quechua. Studies in natural language and linguistic theory, [v. 11]. Dordrecht, Holland: Kluwer Academic Publishers, 1988. ISBN 1-55608-050-6
  • Lefebvre, Claire, and Pieter Muysken. Relative Clauses in Cuzco Quechua: Interactions between Core and Periphery. Bloomington, Ind: Indiana University Linguistics Club, 1982.
  • Muysken, Pieter. Syntactic Developments in the Verb Phrase of Ecuadorian Quechua. Lisse: Peter de Ridder Press, 1977. ISBN 90-316-0151-9
  • Nuckolls, Janis B. Sounds Like Life: Sound-Symbolic Grammar, Performance, and Cognition in Pastaza Quechua. Oxford studies in anthropological linguistics, 2. New York: Oxford University Press, 1996. ISBN
  • Parker, Gary John. Ayacucho Quechua Grammar and Dictionary. Janua linguarum. Series practica, 82. The Hague: Mouton, 1969.
  • Plaza Martínez, Pedro. Quechua. In: Mily Crevels and Pieter Muysken (eds.) Lenguas de Bolivia, vol. I, 215-284. La Paz: Plural editores, 2009. ISBN 978-99954-1-236-4. (in Spanish)
  • Sánchez, Liliana. Quechua-Spanish Bilingualism: Interference and Convergence in Functional Categories. Language acquisition & language disorders, v. 35. Amsterdam: J. Benjamins Pub, 2003. ISBN 1-58811-471-6
  • Weber, David. A Grammar of Huallaga (Huánuco) Quechua. University of California publications in linguistics, v. 112. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1989. ISBN 0-520-09732-7
  • Quechua bibliographies online at: quechua.org.uk

External links[edit]