Quechua is a language that is well-known in the Andean countries of South America and is spoken by approximately 8 million people. Its influence stretches from not just Peru but to neighboring countries like Bolivia, Chile, and Columbia.
Quechua was a particular favorite of the Inca civilization and is believed to have spread wherever they exercised power during their reign. They were known to control and subdue neighboring communities and populations which in part explains why the language is still so widely spoken today.
The Basics To Know About Quechua
Runa Simi is another name for the Quechua language and translated into English it means ‘the people’s tongue.’ Linguists have found that Quechua is actually a derivation of a much older language specific to the region.
A Story Of Dialects
In modern times, Quechua is actually the name of about 26 languages with different dialects that all fall into the same category.
With regards to dialects, there is no standard scale to differentiate. Some of the languages within the same Quechua family cannot be used interchangeably as the speakers may be able to speak one dialect and not understand another.
With regard to Peru, Quechua is one of the main languages, used almost as much as Aymara or Spanish. For many rural locals, it is the language of best fit and the one they enjoy communicating in the most. It is also preferred for informal day to day conversation in both urban and rural set-ups.
Many South American countries are now realizing the historical importance of the Quechua language family so it is making more appearances in formal education.
The Historical Aspect Of Quechua
There is some speculation by historians in the light of new evidence that the Quechua language may actually have existed well before the epoch of the Inca civilization. It is possible that it was used more than 600 years ago by pre- Incan civilizations.
However, when the Incas came to power, they made it their language of choice, almost imposing its use in the local and neighboring communities. In conjunction with Quechua, other local languages would have been used by the common people.
Quechua continued to be important in some respects even after the Spanish Invasion but not in the way it was during the expansion of the Inca Empire.
The Spanish Rule
Under the Spanish period of power, the language was an important aid in bolstering communication between two different races.
The Spanish did not discourage its growth amongst the local population and actually utilized its popularity to communicate with the locals.
Even the Roman Catholic Church at the time used Quechua as the language of choice to disseminate religious beliefs to the locals. Missionaries learned the language so they could do their work more effectively.
In the 18th Century, a man called Tupac Amaru II who claimed to be a descendent of a famous Inca ruler of the same name rebelled against the Spanish. The rebellion did not last long but it led to a bitter turn of events with Quechua being disallowed.
As the years of colonization progressed, Quechua as a language suffered as even Catholic documents written in it were not allowed.
In the 19th Century, it underwent a small-scale renaissance as Peru was made independent and finally free from Spanish rule.
Writing In Quechua
There is no writing available in the language from the Inca period as they did not believe in preserving their histories in this method.
The Incas would maintain a number of skilled people who would orally learn all the rituals, beliefs and history and then spread it amongst the people and children on special occasions.
Incas did, however, have a way of maintaining records in a form that was vaguely numeric and was known as Khipu. Cords used to be hung up in a horizontal fashion and knots would be tied depending on what they were keeping track of.
Its most common use was to keep track of the growing population as each group of people was appointed a task important for the community as a whole.
Post Spanish Invasion
Quechua was adapted to the Roman alphabet in 1560 and its use in various texts (mainly those pertaining to religion) was fairly regular.
Apart from a brief ban after the rebellion, it continued to thrive and more and more texts were translated to and published in Quechua. Quechua was also written with a Spanish style which had the effect of increasing its reach during the colonial period.
In 1975 however, written Quechua deviated from Spanish additions and became more true to its traditional pronunciation and style. This was due to action taken by the government of Peru to preserve one of their most important indigenous languages.
Theory Of Quechua’s Coastal Origin
This theory was put forward by a Peruvian historian called Manuel Gonzalez De La Rosa who stated that there is a strong chance that Quechua had a long and illustrious history before it was adopted by the Incas.
The reason given behind this premise is the relatively short reign of the Incas (approximately 100 to 200 years). This time period is not considered long enough by linguists to explain the large number of dialects that Quechua is spoken in. Hence, there is a strong likelihood of Quechua predating the Inca civilization by a significant margin.
Historical accounts speculate that Quechua originated on the central coast and came all the way to Cuzco. Cuzco at the time was the cultural and administrative capital of the Incas and was called the ‘City of the Sun.’
From Cuzco, it is believed to have subsequently spread mainly due to the Inca emperor’s preference for it.
Huaihuash is a dialect of Quechua that has linguists and historians puzzled as it is speculated to be much older than all the other dialects of the language combined. It is also dated as being pre-Inca and its exact origins are unknown. The theory claims that it started from the coast of Peru and worked its way to the highlands.
A Symbol Of Ethnicity
Quechua has survived through the centuries because a large number of the locals in Peru and surrounding countries associate it closely with their heritage.
It has been a means of preserving the rich culture in Peru despite colonial influences which affected everything from the general architecture to the official languages.
There are proponents of unifying the Quechua language; making a single official version of it that can be exclusively taught at schools. It remains unlikely however that that will take place as each dialect boasts of a slightly different history and thus should be maintained.
The Quechua People
Many of the local speakers of the Quechua language are also known as the Quechua people. They are divided into different groups depending on the region they belong to such as Kichwa people in Ecuador.
The Quechua people live in the traditional way, often wearing their own cultural clothing, rearing animals and practicing agriculture.
While there is a dialect difference dependent on the region, the Quechua people exhibit many similarities. These are largely on the basis of a common Andean and Aymara culture specific to parts of South America.