As stated before, my mission for Peru is to learn Quechua or Runa simi. Quechua is an ethnicity and a beautiful, generally unfamiliar language for Westerners, originating in the Andes. It is a language that has conquered and been conquered. The Incas spoke this tongue, and as their empire grew, Quechua spread. After the Spaniards arrived, it declined, but was still openly used by missionaries to speak with the local people.
Today, Quechua is one of the official languages of Ecuador, Peru, and Bolivia. It’s spoken in parts of Argentina as well. In Peru, it faces much discrimination. Quechua speakers in cities often promote the use of Spanish instead of their indigenous language, and the Quechua people have faced extensive racism by the government and general society.Quechua is not the only native language still spoken in Peru; there are hundreds of lesser known tongues still in practice.
A famous example is Aymara, which can be found around the heavily visited Lake Titicaca. Aymara is spoken in northern regions of Chile, generally southern Peru, and Bolivia as well. It has both influenced and been influenced by Quechua. However, Runa simi historically has enveloped many Aymara speakers. Quechua doesn’t quit!
Depending on the dialect, which there are many of, Quechua is listed as a vulnerable or endangered language. In order for its survival, Quechua must be learned, spoken, and celebrated. When a language dies, part of our cultural heritage is forever lost. Quechua’s extinction is not acceptable.
Quechua is an agglutinative language. Agglutinative languages more or less rely on “glueing” morphemes to the ends of words to express possession and description. Famous agglutinative languages include Navajo, Korean, and German. Often, these types of language are regular – Suffixes don’t change, and verbs conjugate consistently. There are very few verbs in Korean that are irregular, and Quechua has none!
Syntax usually is not an issue either; however, verbs typically go at the end of sentences. I hope with my previous linguistic background Quechua will not be an impossible task. I understand the mindset of the grammar, and that is at least a good start.
Additionally, I have learned this South American language lacks gender and articles. Essentially this means sentence structure will be a snap!
Here are some basic words …
Wasi – House; Papa – Potato; Allqu – Dog; Yana – Black; Michi/Misi – Cat Q’ellu – Yellow; Nina – Fire; Kinua – Quinoa; Yuraq – White; Altsi – Grandchild; Kay – To be; Chunka – Ten; Ñuqa – I; Qhawana – Window
Apparently, spelling is for the birds or, I guess, urpikuna. There are multiple spellings like the word for “cat” in Quechua. This could be a result of the multiple dialects. That makes my life a little more difficult. Though, I think it’s a mostly oral language, so at least I have that going for me. I’ll be learning the widely recognized Cusco dialect if any Quechua speakers reading this want to have a conversation!
As you can see, Runa simi has slowly seeped into the English language. Quinoa, the fun new food trend, is of Quechua origin. Same with the word condor, puma, cocaine, and papa. Papa, I now realize, is not English but rather Spanish. However, the sentiment is the same.
Today, Quechua is prevalent in some of the most spoken languages of the world.My lessons essentially started when I arrived in Peru. My teacher, a brilliant gentleman, told me about the history and the influences it has on the culture of Peru today. He also mentioned how Quechua draws its sounds from nature, which I think is just wonderfully mystical. It’s a little nerve wracking to jump into a new land hoping to learn a new language, but at least I have Spanish on my side.
Wish me buena suerte or hina kachun if you feel inclined! My new affair with Quechua is about to really take off. Don’t tell Spanish or Portuguese! More posts to come about my adventures in this new, linguistic frontier, the Sacred Valley, and anything else that comes along the way.