Kichwa language

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Kichwa Shimi, Runa Shimi
Native toEcuador, Colombia, Peru
Native speakers
450,000 (2008–2012)[1]
Official status
Recognised minority
language in
Language codes
ISO 639-3Variously:
inb – Inga
inj – Jungle Inga
qvo – Napo Lowland
qup – Southern Pastaza
qud – Calderón Highland
qxr – Cañar Highland
qug – Chimborazo Highland
qvi – Imbabura Highland
qvj – Loja Highland
qvz – Northern Pastaza
qxl – Salasaca Highland
quw – Tena Lowland
Distribution of Quechua sub-groups. Kichwa is shown in light blue (II B).
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Kichwa (Kichwa shimi, Runashimi, also Spanish Quichua) is a Quechuan language that includes all Quechua varieties of Ecuador and Colombia (Inga), as well as extensions into Peru. It has an estimated half million speakers.

The most widely spoken dialects are Chimborazo, Imbabura and Cañar Highland Quechua, with most of the speakers. Kichwa belongs to the Northern Quechua group of Quechua II, according to linguist Alfredo Torero.


Kichwa syntax has undergone some grammatical simplification compared to Southern Quechua, perhaps because of partial creolization with the pre-Inca languages of Ecuador.

A standardized language, with a unified orthography (Kichwa Unificado, Shukyachiska Kichwa), has been developed. It is similar to Chimborazo but lacks some of the phonological peculiarities of that dialect.

The earliest grammatical description of Kichwa was written in the 17th century by Jesuit priest Hernando de Alcocer.[2]

First efforts for language standardization and bilingual education[edit]

According to linguist Arturo Muyulema, the first steps to teach Kichwa in public schools dates to the 1940s, when Dolores Cacuango founded several indigenous schools in Cayambe. Later, indigenous organizations initiated self-governed schools to provide education in Kichwa in the 1970s and 1980s (Muyulema 2011:234).

Muyulema says that the creation of literary works such as Caimi Ñucanchic Shimuyu-Panca, Ñucanchic Llactapac Shimi, Ñucanchic Causaimanta Yachaicuna, and Antisuyu-Punasuyu provided the catalysts for the standardization of Kichwa. This was initiated by DINEIB (National Board of Intercultural Bilingual Education).[3]

Afterward a new alphabet was created by ALKI (Kichwan Language Academy). It comprises 21 characters; including three vowels (a, i, u); two semi-vowels (w, y); and 16 consonants (ch, h, k, l, ll, m, n, ñ, p, r, s, sh, t, ts, z, zh), according to Muyulema's article "Presente y Futuro de la lengua Quichua desde la perspectiva de la experiencia vasca (Kichwa sisariy ñan)" (Muyulema 2011:234).

Later, the bigger and much more comprehensive dictionary Kichwa Yachakukkunapa Shimiyuk Kamu was published in 2009 by the linguist Fabián Potosí, together with other scholars sponsored by the Ministry of Education of Ecuador.[4]


In contrast to other regional varieties of Quechua, Kichwa does not distinguish between the original (Proto-Quechuan) /k/ and /q/, which are both pronounced [k]. [e] and [o], the allophones of the vowels /i/ and /u/ near /q/, do not exist. Kiru can mean both "tooth" (kiru in Southern Quechua) and "wood" (qiru [qero] in Southern Quechua), and killa can mean both "moon" (killa) and "lazy" (qilla [qeʎa]).

Additionally, Kichwa in both Ecuador and Colombia has lost possessive and bidirectional suffixes (verbal suffixes indicating both subject and object), as well as the distinction between the exclusive and inclusive first person plural:

  • Instead of yayayku / taytayku ("Our Father", the Lord's Prayer) Kichwa people say ñukanchik yaya / ñukanchik tayta.
  • In Kichwa, you do not say suyayki ("I wait for you"), but kanta shuyani.

On the other hand, other particularities of Quechua have been preserved. As in all Quechuan languages, the words for 'brother' and 'sister' differ depending on to whom they refer. There are four different words for siblings: ñaña (sister of a woman), turi (brother of a woman), pani (sister of a man), and wawki (brother of a man). A woman reading "Ñuka wawki Pedromi kan" would read aloud Ñuka turi Pedromi kan (if she referred to her brother). If Pedro has a brother Manuel and the sisters Sisa and Elena, their mother could refer to Pedro as Manuelpak wawki or Sisapaj turi. And to Sisa as Manuelpak pani or as Elenapak ñaña.



Imbabura Kichwa consonants[5]
Bilabial Alveolar Post-alv./
Velar Glottal
Nasal m n ɲ (ŋ)
Stop voiceless p t k
voiced ɡ
Affricate ts
Fricative voiceless ɸ s ʃ h
voiced (z) ʒ
Approximant central j w
lateral l
Rhotic ɾ
  • /z/ only occurs rarely phonemically, and is mostly an allophone of /s/.
  • Affricate sounds /ts, tʃ/, are often voiced after nasal sounds as [dz, ].
  • /ɸ/ is often heard as [f] before a front vowel /i/.
  • Sounds /ɾ, w/, are heard in free variation as fricatives [ʐ, β]. A combination /nɾ/ can be heard as [ɳɖʐ].
Chimborazo Kichwa consonants[6]
Bilabial Dental/
Palatal Velar Glottal
Nasal m n ɲ (ŋ)
Stop voiceless p t k
voiced b d ɡ
Affricate voiceless ts
aspirated tʃʰ
Fricative voiceless ɸ s ʃ x h
voiced z ʒ
retroflex ʐ
Rhotic ɾ
Approximant central j w
lateral l
  • /n/ is heard as [ŋ] before a velar consonant.
  • /k/ can be heard as fricatives [x] before a voiceless obstruent, and [ɣ] before a voiced obstruent.


Front Central Back
Close i u
Open a
  • /a, i, u/ can become lax as [ə, ɪ, ʊ] in free variation.
  • In the Chimborazo dialect, /a/ is heard as a central [ä], and can also be heard as a back [ɑ] in lax form.


The missionary organization FEDEPI (2006) lists eight dialects of Quechua in Ecuador, which it illustrates with "The men will come in two days." (Ethnologue 16 (2009) lists nine, distinguishing Cañar from Loja Highland Quechua.) Below are the comparisons, along with Standard (Ecuadorian) Kichwa and Standard (Southern) Quechua:

Dialect ISO code Speakers per SIL (FEDEPI) Pronunciation Orthography (SIL or official) Notes
Imbabura [qvi] 300,000 (1,000,000) tʃay xarikunaka iʃkay punʒapiʒami ʃamuŋga Chai jaricunaca ishcai punllapillami shamunga. ⟨ll⟩ = ʒ
Calderón (Pichincha) [qud] 25,000 tʃay xarikunaka iʃkay punʒapiʒami ʃamuŋga Chai jaricunaca ishcai punllapillami shamunga. ⟨ll⟩ = ʒ
Salasaca [qxl] 15,000 tʃi kʰarigunaga iʃki pʰunʒaʒabimi ʃamuŋga Chi c'arigunaga ishqui p'unllallabimi shamunga. ⟨ll⟩ = ʒ
Chimborazo [qug] 1,000,000 (2,500,000) tʃay kʰarikunaka iʃki punʒaʒapimi ʃamuŋga Chai c'aricunaca ishqui punllallapimi shamunga. ⟨ll⟩ = ʒ
Cañar–Loja [qxr]
(200,000) qxr: 100,000
qxl: 15,000
tʃay kʰarikunaka iʃkay punʒaλapimi ʃamuŋga Chai c'aricunaca ishcai punzhallapimi shamunga.
Tena Lowland [quw] 5,000 (10,000) tʃi kariunaga iʃki punʒaλaimi ʃamuŋga Chi cariunaga ishqui punzhallaimi shamunga.
Napo Lowland [qvo] 4,000 Ecu. & 8,000 Peru (15,000) tʃi karigunaga iʃkay puntʃaλaimi ʃamunga. Chi carigunaga ishcai punchallaimi shamunga.
Northern Pastaza [qvz] 4,000 Ecu. & 2,000 Peru (10,000) tʃi karigunaga iʃkay punʒallaimi ʃamunga. Chi carigunaga ishcai punzhallaimi shamunga.
Standard Kichwa Chay karikunaka ishkay punllallapimi shamunka.
Standard Southern Quechua (Qhichwa) tʃæy qʰarikunaqa iskæy p'untʃawllapim hamunqa. Chay qharikunaqa iskay p'unchawllapim hamunqa.


A band from Ecuador, "Los Nin", which raps in Kichwa and Spanish, has toured internationally. The band hails from the town of Otavalo, which is known for its traditional music.[7]

The Ecuadorian band "Yarina", which sings in Kichwa and Spanish, won Best World Music Recording with their album "Nawi" in the 2005 Native American Music Awards.[8]

In the Ecuadorian diaspora, the radio station Kichwa Hatari works to revive use of the Kichwa language, music, and culture in the United States.[9]


  1. ^ Inga at Ethnologue (24th ed., 2021) closed access
    Jungle Inga at Ethnologue (24th ed., 2021) closed access
    Napo Lowland at Ethnologue (24th ed., 2021) closed access
    Southern Pastaza at Ethnologue (24th ed., 2021) closed access
    Calderón Highland at Ethnologue (24th ed., 2021) closed access
    Cañar Highland at Ethnologue (24th ed., 2021) closed access
    (Additional references under 'Language codes' in the information box)
  2. ^ Ciucci, Luca; Muysken, Pieter C. (2011). "Hernando de Alcocer y la Breve declaración del Arte y Bocabulario de la lengua del Ynga conforme al estilo y vso de la provincia de Quito. El más antiguo manuscrito de quichua del Ecuador" [Hernando de Alcocer and la Breve declaración del Arte y Bocabulario de la lengua del Ynga conforme al estilo y vso de la provincia de Quito. The oldest Quichua text from Ecuador]. Indiana (in Spanish). 28: 359–393. doi:10.18441/ind.v28i0.359-393.
  3. ^ (Muyulema 2011:234)
  4. ^ (Muyulema 2011:234-5)
  5. ^ Gualapuro, Santiago David Gualapuro (2017). Imbabura Kichwa Phonology. University of Texas at Austin.
  6. ^ Guacho, Juan N.; Burns, Donald H. (1975). Bosquejo gramatical del quichua de Chimborazo. Quito, Ecuador.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: location missing publisher (link)
  7. ^ Manuela Picq. "Hip-hop Kichwa: Sounds of indigenous modernity". Al Jazeera English. Retrieved 2012-08-21.
  8. ^ "NAMA 7". Retrieved 2019-02-06.
  9. ^ "Meet the Young Ecuadorians Behind the First Kichwa-Language Radio Show in the US". Remezcla. 2016-12-23. Retrieved 2019-08-27.


  • Ciucci, Luca & Pieter C. Muysken 2011. Hernando de Alcocer y la Breve declaración del Arte de la lengua del Ynga. El más antiguo manuscrito de quichua de Ecuador. Indiana 28: 359–393.
  • Conejo Muyulema, Arturo. “Presente y futuro de la lengua quichua desde la perspectiva de la experiencia vasca (Kichwa sisariy ñan)” Voces E Imagenes De Las Lenguas En Peligro. Ed. Marleen Haboud and Nicholas Ostler. 1st ed. Abya-Yala, 2014. 234-5.

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]