Speak like an Incan

Author: Ed Cohen

Contrary to popular perception, not everyone in South America speaks either Spanish or Portuguese. Millions speak Quechua, the language of the ancient Incas. Now Notre Dame students can learn to speak it too.

The University began offering classes in Quechua (pronounced KAY-chew-uh) last spring, becoming one of fewer than a dozen universities in the United States to do so. Only a few others in other countries offer it either, according a faculty member in the Kellogg Institute for International Studies. So far a handful of Notre Dame students have given the language a try, including two graduate students in Latin American history, both from Lima, Peru.

“They never had the opportunity at home to learn Quechua, so this is actually rather amusing,” says Sabine MacCormack, the Hesburgh Professor of History and developer of the University’s program in Latin American history.

MacCormack says Quechua is the language of the indigenous people of the Andean parts of Peru, Bolivia and Ecuador. Smaller percentages speak it in Chile and Paraguay. She estimates that about 10 million people speak the language exclusively, with a larger number who speak it along with Spanish.

Uncertainty exists as to whether the language was ever written before a Dominican priest published a Quechua grammar text in 1560. Some believe the Incas’ recording device of knotted strings called quipu was used not only for imperial accounting but also for textural records in Quechua, she says.

MacCormack says knowing an indigenous language like Quechua can help students understand the cultural diversity of Latin America. Starting this summer, Notre Dame will offer a study-abroad opportunity at a college in Cuzco, Peru, capital of the Inca empire. The classes will be taught in Spanish, but there will be plenty of Quechua speakers in the area.


Conversational Quechua

Hello Allillanchu
How are you?l Imaynalla kankichu?
I’m well Allinmi kani
What is your name? Ima sutiyki?
My name is Catherine Catalina sutinmi.
I would like some tea Mateta munani
I don’t speak Quechua Mana runasimita rimanichu.
Do you speak Spanish? Quan Castellanota rimankichu?