Quechua is a language family spoken in Peru, Bolivia, Ecuador, and pockets of Argentina and Colombia. It’s the most widely-spoken indigenous language family of the Americas, with an estimated 8–10 million speakers and official status in Peru, Bolivia and Ecuador. It was widely used as a lingua franca in the Andes even before the Inca Empire, but was certainly promoted heavily by the Incas anyway, who adopted it as their official language. Quechua shares a number of features with Aymara, which are thought to be the result of language contact rather than evidence of relationship.
The Quechuan languages are not all mutually intelligible, hence why they are usually described now as a language family. There are two main subgroups, the second of which has a further three subgroups:
- Quechua I, aka Quechua B, or Central Quechua, or Waywash, spoken in central Peru
- Quechua II, aka Quechua A, or Peripheral Quechua
- Quechua II-A, which also has some Quechua I features, spoken in northern Peru
- Quechua II-B, aka Northern Quechua or Kichwa, spoken in Ecuador, northeastern Peru and Colombia
- Quechua II-C, aka Southern Quechua, spoken in southern Peru, Bolivia and Argentina – this is the most widely spoken Quechuan language today, with an estimated 7 million speakers.
Quechuan languages are regular agglutinative languages with an SOV word order. Some interesting features include:
- evidentiality (suffixes that express whether you have direct evidence of what you’re saying, whether you’ve inferred it, or whether you’re just reporting something you’ve heard)
- verbs that conjugate for both subject and object
- a distinction between inclusive and exclusive “we”
- viewing the future as being behind you and the past as being ahead, unlike European languages, because you can “see” the past but not “see” the future. It has a word, ñawpa, meaning “in front, ahead of” and “past”, and another word, qhipa, meaning “future” and “behind”
- 18 noun cases, which are signalled through the use of affixes.
Some features of its phonology are:
- only three vowel phonemes, /a i u/.
- a lack of voiced-unvoiced distinction for consonants, at least in Cusco Quechua
- a three-way series of stops, with plain, aspirated and ejective forms
- a series of uvular stop consonants (plain /q/, aspirated /qʰ/, ejective /qʼ/)