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    Land of winds > The people > Language | Issue 09 (Mar.-Apr. 2012)
    By Edgardo Civallero | Sara Plaza

Aymara language

Aymara language

Aymara (aymar aru) is an Aymaran family language (alongside two endangered Peruvian languages knowns as Jaqaru and Kawki) spoken across the Meseta del Collao: the Bolivian Altiplano, southern Peru, northern Chile and part of northwest Argentina. According to Ethnologue, Aymara has about 2.2 million speakers, out of which 1.8 million live in Bolivia, where is official language since 2009 (while in Peru it is co-official language since 1993).

Many linguists suggest that Aymara would have its roots in the Peruvian Sierra Central from where it would have spread southwards as a lingua franca during the expansion of the Wari or Huari Empire (7th-13th century). Replaced by the Quechua in the surroundings of Cusco it would continue to be spoken from Arequipa (Peru) to the Poopó Lake (Bolivia), at least until the arrival of the Spaniards. Since then, the use of Aymara declined in the northern part of the region, while increased to the south with immigration (Norte Grande of Chile and northwest Argentina).

The language is first referred to as “Aymara” in the publications that arose from the work of the III Concilio Provincial de Lima (1582). The etymology remains uncertain but it is often considered to be related to an ethnic group known as the Aymaraes, while the old explanation that the term would come from the words jaya-mara-aru (in Aymara, allegedly, “ancestors language”), has now been rejected by most scholars.

Italian Jesuit missionary to South America, Ludovico Bertonio, spread the term through two of the earliest written works in Aymara: “Arte de la lengua Aymara”, and “Vocabvlario de la lengva aymara”, both printed in 1612 in the town of Juli (department of Puno, Peru), near the Lake Titicaca, in the old territory of the Lupaqa (Lupaca) kingdom.

The Latin alphabet continues to be used to write in Aymara, and more than 30 different combinations have been tried since the Jesuit’s time to portray the complexity of this language phonetics. In Bolivia, however, it is preferred the unified alphabet developed by the SENALEP (in Spanish, National Service for Literacy and Popular Education) in 1983, which includes 3 vowels and 26 consonants.

From a linguistic point of view, Aymara is an agglutinating, highly synthetic language, which creates all grammatical forms and complex words by adding suffixes to basic word stems, and has a subject-object-verb (SOV) word order.

It is my personal knowledge that it is necessary for all of us, including you, to make the effort to communicate

The language has four different grammatical persons and uses a lot of suffixes to mark various shades of certainty, that is, to express whether the speaker is sure or hesitant about the information shared.

The two most distinguishing characteristics of Aymara are, on the one hand, the morphological rules that account for the omission of vowels at certain positions, often forming long consonants clusters...

[We] are your children

...and, on the other, the Aymara is the first documented language to place the past ahead and the future behind, in other words, to depart from the standard model that have not only characterized time with properties of space, but also mapped the future as if it were in front of ego and the past in back.

A few examples of this language are listed below:

Istikux tatapat juk’amp jach’awa
Esteban is bigger than his father

Qullu iramnam aywikipawayi
Sheep scattered all over the hillsides

Qullqx marpachatakiw jaytä
I will set the money for the whole year aside

Jupanakax law pallañapaxapaw utji
They have to pick up firewood

Niya ch’uq ch’uxñapti
The potato is going green

Janiñ k’awn alamti
You do not need to buy any eggs

The works led by Martha Hardman at the University of Florida are among the most relevant in the literature on Aymara. Juan de Dios Yapita at the ILCA (in Spanish, Institute of Aymara Language and Culture) followed suit of what she had done. There is an increasing number of works written and translated into Aymara, and the language is used in radio and television broadcasting, as well as in websites (i.e. Wikipedia) and computing programs. In addition Aymara oral tradition comprises tales, legends and stories in whose folds the language took refuge many centuries ago.

One of these traditional stories is Kunturimp tawaqumpi (“The condor and the maid”). The beginning of this popular tale, extracted from the book entitled “Literatura quechua y aymara” by Donato Gómez Bacarreza, is copied below:

Nayrapachax uywanakax jaqir tukusaw sum parlt’asipxirin siwa. Ukapachanakax sapa uruw mä tawakux uywanakap awatinir sariritayna. Ukjamat sapa uruw siniy panpan sapak tawaqux qapusis uyw awatirin siwa.

“A long time ago, it is said that animals became human beings and spoke like us. At that time, a maid used to drive her cattle to pasture every day; besides, she spun alone in the highland”.

Aymara language, in Wikipedia.
Map. Aymara language domain.
To learn Aymara, in Center of Latin American Studies at the University of Florida.
Ludovico Bertonio, in Wikipedia.
Wikipidiya site (Wikipedia in aymara).
ILCA website (Instituto de Lengua y Cultura Aymara) [es].
Bilingual Dictionary castellano-aymara, by Félix Layme Pairumani.
Article. “El idioma de los aymara”, by J. P. Arpasi. In Aymara Uta [es].
Article. “La lengua aymara”, in Ilcanet [es].
Article. “Backs to the future. Aymara Language and Gesture Point to Mirror-Image View of Time”, by Inga Kiderra in UC San Diego.
Article. “A critical survey of the literature on the Aymara language” by Lucy Therina Briggs in UCB San Pablo.
Book. “Aymara: compendio de estructura fonológica y gramatical”, by Martha J. Hardman, Juan de Dios Yapita and others. In Vitanet (Biblioteca Municipalidad Vitacura, Chile) [es].

Video 01. “Lenguas”, short documentary on Aymara language discrimination.
Video 02. Short documentary (tale) in Aymara language.
Video 03. Aymara language writing rules.
Video 04. Huayno in Aymara.
Video 05. TV programme in Aymara language.
Video 06. Commercial in Aymara language.

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