2020 Spring Ivyanna Colon-Greider Peru SIT Study Abroad

Experiencing Quechua in Perú

Qosqo = Cusco

I’m going on my third week in Perú, and although I have seen and experienced quite a bit of the country, there is still so much to learn! This week I had my first two Quechua courses, and I also had the opportunity to travel to other cities and see its influence in the language and culture of the country.

Quechua (or Runasimi in Quechua) is one of the official languages of Perú to this day. It was the original language spoken by the great Incan civilization before the Spanish invaded in the 16th century. Amazingly, it has survived all this time, and it is even taught in some schools in Perú since 2015. Despite it being an endangered language, I am amazed to see that Quechua still has a huge influence in Peruvian language and culture. Throughout Perú there are many street signs and cities that are originally Quechuan words or derive from Quechua. For example, I went to Ollantaytambo, a city about two hours from Cusco, for two days. Ollanta was the name of an Incan captain, and the derivation of tambo means “the city that provides accommodation, food, and comfort for travelers.”

In Ollantaytambo

In addition to Ollantaytambo, another site with a Quechua name that is a lot more known is Machu Picchu. Machu translates to “old” or “ancient” in Quechua, and Picchu means “mountain.” The literal translation of Machu Picchu is “old mountain.” On the other hand, Huayna Picchu, a mountain next to Machu Picchu translates to “young mountain.” I was surprised to find out that the names of both mountains actually had significance. I knew it wasn’t Spanish, but in ignorance I always thought that Machu Picchu was just the name of the Incan archeological site.

At Machu Picchu

The more time I spend in Perú, the more I want to learn Quechua. At the beginning of the week, a shaman from the Qero Nation demonstrated an offering to the Pachamama (Quechua for Mother Earth) and gave me a blessing. The ritual was a fascinating experience. The shaman artistically arranges specific objects on a blanket. Each of these objects have a specific meaning and importance. Coca leaves are essential for the prayer to the Pachamama. It was a very interesting experience watching him prepare la ofrenda (the offering). Also, Quechua was his first language. I really enjoyed witnessing such an intimate use of Quechua first hand.

Offering to la Pachamama

There were two words that I picked up easily because before asking each person for their name for the prayer, he would say one of the two: 1) panay 2) wayqey. Both these words are used as terms of endearment, and they respectively mean 1) my sister 2) my brother. I find it interesting because wayqey is Quechuan, but I’ve also heard it used around the city among young men who don’t really speak Quechua. Curiously enough, these two words are only reserved for a male speaker. There is another set of words that is reserved for a female speaker. In my case for example, I would use ñañay for “my sister,” and turay for “my brother.”

Quechua is unique in how it sounds and functions. Although I still do not know much yet, I have already been able to notice its complexities. One of the main differences in Quechua is that it does not have articles like “the” and “a/an”. This is difficult for someone like me whose first and second language has articles. Quechua’s usage of suffixes is also rather unique. For example,

Irqi means “child”

Irqicha means “little child”

Irqichay means “my little child”

Irqichaykuna means “my little children.”

In addition to the addition of suffixes, Quechua’s sentence pattern is also interesting. In English and Spanish, we are accustomed to using the basic subject + verb+ object pattern. For example, I would say “I speak English;” however, in Quechua, the verb and the object are switched. In Quechua, I would say: “Noqa inglesta rimani” (literally: I English speak).  

Quechua is a very interesting and beautiful language! I cannot wait to continue to learn more of it. I’ve also put some other basic Quechuan words below! Enjoy!

Khumpaykuna = my friends ; sach’a = tree

T’ika = flower ; Mayu = river

Añay (thank you)!

Hope you enjoyed the post this week, and see you next time!

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