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    Land of winds > The people > Language | Issue 08 (Nov.-Dec. 2011)
    By Edgardo Civallero | Sara Plaza

Bolivian Quechua


Bolivian Quechua

According to traditional Torero classification, Bolivian Quechua language belongs to Quechua II, Quechua A, Peripheral Quechua or Wanp’una (the largest division within Quechua family), which in turn is subdivided into three branches Quechua II A, II B, and II C. The latter is also known as Southern Quechua (or Southern Chinchay) and includes the varieties spoken in Bolivia, southern Peru (Cusco and Ayacucho), Chile, and Argentina (Santiago del Estero). Within the varieties spoken in Bolivia we have North Bolvian Quechua (spoken in Apolo, Charazani and Chuma, La Paz departament) and South Bolivian Quechua (spoken in the departments of Cochabamba, Potosí, Chuquisaca and part of Oruro). And within South Bolivian we find the so-called “authentic” Bolivian Quechua (Chuquisaca and Potosí) and the “qhochala” Quechua, heavily influenced by Spanish and spoken in the valleys of Cochabamba.

Bolivian Quechua, like other Quechua varieties, is an agglutinating language: most words are formed by joining morphemes together. It is important to notice that the large number of suffixes changes not only the overall significance of words but also their subtle shades of meaning. Its grammatical features include verbs agrement with both subject and object, evidentiality (which refers to refers to the grammatical marking of the source of evidence for a proposition), a set of topic particles, and suffixes indicating who benefits from an action and the speaker’s attitude toward it.

Generally speaking, this native language has influenced the Spanish spoken in the region to such extent that the latter incorporates Quechua features as characteristic as the duplication of adverbs and adjectives or the placement of the verb at the end of the clause.

Quechua structure can be appreciated in the following passage from the tale “El zorro y la perdiz” (“The fox and the partridge"), collected by Donato Gómez Bacarreza in his book “Literatura quechua y aymara” (“Quechua and Aymara Literature”) (La Paz, 2006).

Uj p’unchay atuxqa purisaspa k’acha takiyta uyarisqa nin. Chay takitax sunqun ukhunkama chayasqa. Chaymanta, “pitax takisanri” nispa watukusqa.
Chay jinallaman mama yuthuqa ch’illka wasamanta takispa rikhurimusqa. Chaymanta atuxqa ajinata tapurisqa:
- Imaynatatax chay chhika k’achatapuni takinkiri imaxtin mana ajinata nuqa takiyta atiymanchuri nispa nisqa.


(The story) says that one day the Fox heard a beautiful singing while he was walking. The singing reached deep into his heart. Then, he wondered “who is singing?”
In the meanwhile, Miss Partridge has appeared from within the thickets, singing.
Then the Fox asked in this way:
- How is it that you always sing so beautifully and I cannot sing like you? – (he) said.

The earliest texts written in Bolivian Quechua were the poem “Manchay puytu” and a dozen by Juan Wallparrimachi Mayta, an indigenous soldier who fought under Juana de Azurduy’s command in the Independence wars.

At the end of the 19th century appeared two collections of poems by Carlos Felipe Beltrán and José David Berrios respectively. During the 20th century the importance of poetry continued to flourish through the works of Saturnino Olañeta, Emma Paz Noya, Blanca Revuelta de Guamán, Israel Zegarra Paniagua, and Emma Cladera. While some authors such as Adelina Anibarro de Halushka or Federico Aguiló collected popular tales, others like Héctor Fiorilo, Alicia Terán de Dick, Angel Hérbas Sandoval, and Robert Béer wrote or translated novels. For his part, Jesús Lara published a series of four collections on the literature, the poetry, and the legends of the Quechua people titled “La literatura de los quechuas”, “Poesía popular quechua”, “Leyendas quechuas” and “La poesía quechua”. This work was partially replicated by Adolfo Cáceres Romero in his “Nueva historia de la literatura boliviana”.

At present, Quechua is one of the official languages of the Plurinational State of Bolivia according to the country’s Political Constitution in force since 2009.

The alphabet used to write Bolivian Quechua is based on the “Alfabeto Único para el Idioma Quechua” made official by Supreme Decree 20227 of 1984.

According to the 2001 census, it is spoken by 28% of the population. For its part, Ethnologue indicates that there are some 120,000 North Bolivian Quechua speakers (1978) and over 2,780,000 South Bolivian Quechua speakers (1987). Clearly this language enjoys widespread use throughout the country, which can be assessed by its strong presence in society from mass media (radio, television, newspapers) to institutions and education. In addition, Quechua is the language most commonly used in certain provinces (to the west of Potosí department it is spoken by over 80% of the population) and a vehicle of cultural transmission. In recent times, several online tools and software programmes can be used both in Spanish and in Bolivian Quechua.


Quechua languages, in Wikipedia.
Lenguas quechuas periféricas (Peripheral Quechua languages), in Wikipedia [es].
Southern Quechua, in Wikipedia.
Gramática del quechua sureño (Southern Quechua grammar), in Wikipedia [es].
Book. “Diccionario bilingüe / Iskay simipi yuyayk’ancha”, by Teófilo Layme Ajacopa [es].
Quechua, North Bolivian, in Ethnologue.
Quechua, South Bolivian, in Ethnologue.
Quechua en Cochabamba [es].
Poem. “Manchay puytu” [es].
Poems by Juan Wallparrimachi Mayta [es].
Tales in Bolivian Quechua (“Qori chujchita”, P’utusi Orqo”, “Atoj Antoño”, “Kachi” y “Campo Kausay”).


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