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Q is for …Quechua

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Theme: Languages of the World


Quechuan, called Runasimi in Quechua, from runa ‘people’ + simi ‘speech,’ is a family of some 45 closely-related languages spoken in the Andean region of South America by close to 10 million people.

Various theories regarding the origins of Quechua are hotly disputed. It is thought by some scholars that Quechua originated on the central coast of Peru around 2,600 BC. The Inca kings of Cuzco made Quechua their official language. With the Inca conquest of Peru in the 14th century, Quechua became Peru’s lingua franca. The Inca Empire flourished in what is today’s Peru from 1438 to 1533 AD. Although the empire lasted only about 100 years, the Incas spread Quechua to areas that today are Ecuador, Bolivia, and Chile. When the Spanish conquistadors arrived in the 16th century AD, Quechua had already spread throughout a large portion of the South American continent. The languages continued to spread into areas that were not part of the Inca empire such as Colombia, Brazil, and Argentina.

Fascinating facts about Quechua

Quechua has the status of an official language in Peru and Bolivia, along with Spanish and Aymara. In rural areas, it is used for everyday communication in informal contexts. Since most native speakers of Quechua are illiterate in their native language, it remains largely an oral language. In formal contexts, such as government, administration, commerce, education, and the media, Spanish is used. The only cultural domain where Quechua is used extensively is traditional Andean music.

Although education In Peru is exclusively in Spanish, many primary-school teachers use a combination of Spanish and Quechua with monolingual Quechua-speaking children. Efforts to promote bilingual education in Peru have not been successful.

In Bolivia and Ecuador, there is a movement to revitalise the language, which has resulted in the introduction of bilingual education programs in those countries, although efforts are held back by lack of written materials in Quechua in general, and teaching materials in particular.

Quechua is known for only having 3 vowel sounds: a, i, and u.

The Quechua language has given names to many places in Peru, including the Ancash Region. Anqash is the Quechua word for blue, and it is thought that the name refers to the blue skies of Ancash.


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