Quechua, also called Runa simi, was the language spoken by the Incas and is the native language that has spread the most throughout South America. Today it is spoken by an average of 12 million people in different regions of Peru, Ecuador, Chile, Colombia, Argentina and Bolivia.
Although the Inca language does not enjoy the same popularity as in the times of the Inca Empire, it has been preserved thanks to bilingual education programs and different dialects can be found in different regions. It is one of the official languages in Peru.
Where does the Quechua language originate?
Several studies suggest that Quechua originated on the central coast of the Lima region. According to the director of the Caral Archaeological Project, Ruth Shady, it originated specifically in the valley of Supe, Caral, more than 5,000 years ago. The specialist affirms that Quechua was spoken since the Caral civilization was formed and that it was the language used with other surrounding communities.
Later, during the expansionist period of the Inca Empire, Quechua continued to spread to Cusco and the populations of the Sacred Valley. In this way, the language spread throughout the highlands and the southern part of the Tahuantinsuyo Empire.
As mentioned at the beginning, Quechua still has millions of speakers. It is used in the Andean regions of Peru, Chile (San Pedro de Atacama), Colombia, Ecuador, Bolivia and Argentina (Santiago de Estero). In addition, it is also spoken in the Peruvian and Ecuadorian jungle. In Peru and Bolivia we can find national programming entirely in Quechua.
Learning Quechua is within everyone’s reach, as Peru and Bolivia have bilingual plans for children’s education, and the incorporation of the language of the Incas into the current educational curriculum is gaining momentum.
Currently, in Peru, several universities and language centers offer Quechua courses to revalue our ancestral language. We have the Language Center of the Universidad Nacional Mayor de San Marcos, the Catholic Language Center of the Pontificia Universidad Católica, the Language Center of the Universidad Pacífico, the Language Center of the Universidad Nacional San Agustín de Arequipa, the Language Center of the Universidad Ricardo Palma, the Academia Mayor de la Lengua Quechua (Cusco) and the KUSKA Quechua Institute.
In the educational centers of the other countries it is the same, some examples being the Language Laboratory of the UBA (Argentina) and the School of Indigenous Languages of Santiago of the Ministry of Cultures, Arts and Heritage (Chile).
Common questions about Quechua and the Incas
The most curious people are filled with doubts as they discover more and more about the fascinating Quechua language. We will try to solve some of them:
What is the language of the Incas? At this point it is a little obvious, but yes, the language of the Incas was Quechua. However, as an additional fact, let us tell you that Quechua was not always the «official» language of the Incas; they spoke Puquina and Aymara in the beginning.
Is Quechua a written language? Quechua has used the Roman alphabet since the conquest of Peru. However, Quechua speakers rarely use this script due to lack of material.
What does Machu Picchu mean in the Quechua language? It means «old mountain».