It is three months now that I am learning Quechua, and just a few weeks ago I was told that the national day of this language is celebrated today, may 27th.
Quechua is Peru’s second official language. In addition, it is spoken in Ecuador, Bolivia, Colombia, Argentina, Chile as well as Brazil´s Amazon Basin due to migration occurred at the beginning of the 20th century. Roughly, the total of people who speak Quechua sums up 8,500,000.
Quechua in Perú:
There are Quechua-speaking communities in all of Peru’s 24 departments. The largest communities, however, are in the southern departments like Apurimac, Huancavelica, Ayacucho, Cuzco and Puno.
Actually, Quechua is not one language, but a family of 3 regional dialects which are the northern, central, and southern ones with their own phonetic, grammatical, and lexical features.
The Three Dialects:
The northern is divided into the north itself which is spoken in the departments of Cajamarca and Lambayeque, and the eastern dialect spoken in the departments of Amazonas, San Martin, Loreto (Lamas region), Ucayali, and Madre de Dios.
The central is spoken in the departments of Ancash, Huanuco, Pasco, Junin and Lima, but they are so different that people hardly understand each other.
The south is spoken from the department of Huancavelica to Puno and Moquegua, and it is divided into the ayacuchana or chanca dialect, and the cusqueña or collavina one.
The north and south dialects share some similarities (even inside each group), so understanding is slightly easier than in relation to the central.
For instance, the word “day” is punchaw or diya in Cajamarca, hunaq in Ancash, pun in Junin, punchaw in Ayacucho, and p´unchay in Cusco.
The Quechua Language in History:
The first time that Quechua appeared in written form was in 1560 in the “Lexicón y Vocabulario” by fray Domingo de Santo Tomas. The Academia Mayor de la Lengua Quechua was founded in 1953. It was declared official language in 1975, though the official Quechua alphabet yet showed up in 1985.
Now it´s accepted that Quechua did not originate in Cusco, but in the central highlands. It was not the Incas´ mother tongue, but it was adopted by them. It´s likely their original language was the Puquina. The Inca Garcilazo de la Vega claims that there were 2 languages in Inca times: the common language, and the one spoken only by the Incas. This language just disappeared a few decades after the Spanish conquest (The Royal Commentaries of the Incas, Book VII, chapter I).
Quechua means ´region´ or ´balmy area´, and it was first used by the fray Pedro Acosta in 1540 to refer to the most widely spoken language in the XV century. This name is also given to the Andean valleys.
In 1653, Spanish chronicler Bernabe Cobo noted that the similarities between Quechua and Aymara were so evident that it was undeniable that both originated from the same source which is called Quechumara.
As time goes by, Quechua is less spoken because children are compelled to learn Spanish at school.
As I walk around the Plaza Regocijo I found this message carved in a small pillar:
Allin kay pachawiñaypaq kachuk
Peace prevails in the world.