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Language Information

Quechua, pronounced (and sometimes spelled) Kechua, is the most widely spoken Indian language of South America. Its 7 million speakers are located mainly in Peru (5 million), Bolivia (1½ million), and Ecuador (500,000).

Quechua was the language of the great Inca Empire, which at its zenith in the late 15th century extended from Ecuador in the north to central Chile in the south. The Spanish conquest of the 16th century did not diminish the importance of Quechua, for the new conquerors continued its use throughout the area, and in fact extended it to other areas not part of the original empire. In succeeding centuries many Indian languages of the area have died out, the natives adopting Quechua in some cases, Spanish in others. There are more speakers of Quechua at present than at the time of the Spanish conquest and the number is still increasing.

For all their great technological skills, the Incas never developed an alphabet. What written records there were, were kept by means of a quipu (the Quechua word for "knot"), an arrangement of cords of various colors which were knotted in different ways. All literature prior to the Spanish conquest was handed down by oral tradition. The Spanish introduced the Roman alphabet but to this day the spelling has not been standardized. Quechua grammar, however, has been found to be extremely regular and consistent. English words of Quechua origin include llama, puma, vicuña, condor, qrnnine, coca, and guano.

Ollantay, a drama of life at the Inca court, is perhaps the best-known work of Quechua literature. It was composed by an unknown author about 1470.

Quechua is spoken/used in the following countries:
Bolivia, Ecuador, Peru.

Language Family
Family: Central South American Indian
Subgroup: Andean Equatorial

Copyright © Kenneth Katzner, The Languages of the World, Published by Routledge.

Writing Sample

Writing Sample


Pitu Salla, many times,
Only this, only this,
You say to me.
Now I will speak
The very truth.
This court, this house,
The useless life,
Days and nights I hate.
The faces of the old women.
Above all I detest.
That is all I can see
From the corner where I sit.
In this place there is no joy,
Only tears to weep.
Your wish would be
That none should live here.
They all walk, as I see,
Between laughing and crying,
Their fate in their bands,
Full of anxiety.
I am shut up here,
Because I have no mother.
Having no good nurse to tend me,
I have been to seek for one.


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