Adventures in Runa Simi

Disclaimer: This post contains Quechua. Some of my sentences may not be 100% correct. Hopefully, if any Quechua speakers read this, they will be able to understand it. Pampachaykuway! (Sorry!)

Any new language someone learns needs practice. Luckily in Pisaq, there are many native speakers; many of whom actually speak Quechua as their first language. My Projects Abroad friends on the other side of town live in a house with bilingual host parents. I live in a home with Quechua too, but only my host mother speaks it fluently.
(Photo credits by PintsizedPioneer)

Runa Simi, or Quechua, is coming along. My teacher is a Quechua Peruvian man with much spirit for life and teaching. He often comes in the mornings, and we traverse the markets and streets during our lessons. We stop to point out vocabulary in Quechua, and he often explains certain customs native to this country.

The class is taught in Spanish, so I must always be on my toes to not miss a word. Some mornings are grueling four hours or a simple two. Nevertheless, it is an experience. I have learned much about Quechua and its culture since arriving. My host mother is conversant, so she often peppers her conversations with me in Quechua so I may practice. However, there seems to be some dissimilarities between what my teacher and my host mother speak. I think it has to do with colloquial v. traditional forms of the language.

I currently am versed in basic nouns, syntax, and phrases useful in beginnings of conversations and shopping. I luckily can conjugate verbs. As stated before in an article, Quechua is agglutinative. This type of language often lacks irregularities, so all verbs can be conjugated simply in the same way with the same endings. There are five types of verbs in Quechua: -ay, -uy, -ey, -oy and -iy. -Ay verbs are the most common, and their conjugation, personally, is the most simple. I haven’t been really given that many verbs to conjugate, so -ay are my most familiar.

Quechua is littered with important morphemes as well. The ones that come to mind include -manta (from), -ta (object marker), -cha (diminutive marker), -shi (gerund marker), -man (directional marker), and -puni (for verbs that someone always does).

For example, “I want to dance” is Nuqa tusuyta munani in Quechua. Looking at it grammatically, it is: I + to dance (object marker) + want (1st person present conjugation).

Here is another example: Nuqayku wasiman riyshiku. Broken up grammatically again, we see: We (exclusive form) + house (directional marker) + go+ing (1st person plural exclusive conjugation) + -shi (gerund marker). The translation is … We are going to the house.

As seen above, the 1st person plural in Quechua is a little tricky. I, personally, love it. They are two ways to distinguish we, which results in a demonstration of inclusivity and exclusivity. Nuqayku is the exclusive form, and Nuqanchis is the inclusive. Anthropologically, I think it shows the importance of connection and relationship in the Quechua culture. To distinguish “with us or without us” is an important characteristic to note for a language.

So far, I’ve mostly just spoken Quechua in broken sentences with my teacher and host mother. However, I have tried to start a conversation with the venders and locals here. It is a little awkward because I don’t want to assume that they speak Quechua just because they live here. I ask, “¿Habla usted Quechua?”, but I just want to jump into it. The majority of my conversations are like this:

Nuqa (Me): ¿Habla Quechua? (Do you speak Quechua?)

Runa (Person): Sí. (Yes)

Nuqa: Allillanchu kashianki? (Hello, How are you?)

Runa: Allillanmí! Qanrí? (I’m fine! You?)

Nuqa: Allillanmí! Sumaq p’unchay riki? Nuqa runasimita yachushiani. Necesito practicar. (I am fine! Beautiful day isn’t it? I am learning Quechua. I need to practice.)

Runa: Oh! Arí. (Yes.)

[Silencio incomodo/Awkward silence]

Nuqa: Solpaykuy! (Thank you!)

I have attempted to barter and shop in Quechua too. Most of my vocabulary is what can be found on a previous post about shopping. The accent is what is really throwing me for a loop. I can read it fairly well, but it’s generally an oral language. Most Quechua speakers are just conversant. For this reason, people understand me only about 50% of the time. The first time I spoke to a woman, she just flat out told me she didn’t know what I was saying.

The next woman I spoke to was friendly, and we actually chatted for a little while. I quit when I was ahead.

Recently, I was reminded why I was learning Quechua. While waiting for the Perurail in Aguas Calientes, I started a conversation in Spanish with a food stall worker. She asked why I was here in Peru, and I told her I was learning Quechua. She lit up, called over the other workers, and we talked in Quechua/ Spanish for a little while.

She was impressed by my Spanish and was thrilled I was trying Quechua. It is a reaction like this that reminds me of why I am here. I am here to become more familiar with South American/ Andean culture, learn to communicate more fluently with people, and to learn a useful language that will make it easier to become connected with the native people. Quechua is important for anyone who loves the Andes and the Spanish language. Even though my classes have been infrequent and a little unstructured, I am achieving this goal.

My teacher doesn’t give me conjugation charts for verbs or much traditional language teaching practices. He is very free flowing, but this can be unhelpful at times too. For example, he hasn’t exactly given me a schedule yet … There is a 50% chance he will show up at my house on the daily. Don’t get me wrong, he is a great guy. However, sometimes it leaves everyone in my house wondering what will happen next.

More to come real soon about the upcoming festival and cuy! I have yet to have guinea pig or much traditional Andean cuisine. Let’s hope I get to have some this trip!