Monday, December 23, 2013

Language Profile: Quechua

This week we're taking a look at Quechua, a macrolanguage primarily spoken in the Andes mountain range of South America. Known as runa simi in its native tongue, Quechua is the most widely spoken indigenous language in the Americas, with over 8 million native speakers. It is an official language in Peru and Bolivia, and is also spoken in Colombia, Ecuador, Chile and Argentina.

As a macrolanguage, Quechua is actually a language family of several closely related varieties. Some of these varieties aren't mutually intelligible, and are in fact completely distinct languages. 

A couple of llamas enjoying a swim.
The word llama comes from Quechua.
Quechua has a long linguistic history. It was the official language of the Inca Empire. The language was also used as a lingua franca between the Spaniards and the indigenous populations after the Spanish conquest of the area in the 16th century.

It has been written using a Latin-based alphabet since the Spanish conquest, though it is primarily an oral language. Due to its main use as a spoken language, there are not many books or newspapers published in Quechua.

In recent times, there has been quite a bit of lexical transfer between Quechua and Spanish. In fact, approximately 30% of the terms in modern Quechua come from the Spanish language. A few Quechua terms have also made their way into the English language, which we covered several months ago.