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    Land of winds > The people > Language | Issue 17 (Jan.-Feb. 2014)
    By Edgardo Civallero | Sara Plaza

Pre-Incan languages of Ecuador


Pre-Incan languages of Ecuador

Pedro Cieza de León states: "Éstos, y todos los de este reino [actual Ecuador] en más de mil y doscientas leguas, hablaban la lengua general de los Incas, que es la que se usaba en el Cuzco ... mas, no embargante que hablaban la lengua del Cuzco, como digo, todos se tenían sus lenguas, las que usaron sus antepasados: y así estos de Panzaleo tenían otra lengua que los de Caranque y Otabalo" [These, and all the others in this kingdom [today's Ecuador] within more than two hundred leagues around, spoke the general language of the Incas, which is the same language used in Cuzco ... however, regardless of their speaking in the language of Cuzco, as I say, all of them had their languages, those spoken by their ancestors: and thus these [people] of Panzaleo spoke a different language from those of Caranque and Otavalo"].

The linguistic history of today's Ecuador was carefully traced by Jijón and Caamaño (1919) and by Paz and Miño (1940), who complemented the scarce documentary evidence as best as they could with data extracted from the study of place names, person names and a relevant set of colonial accounts.

So far, in today's Ecuador there have been identified a number of languages regarded as pre-Inca that would have survived the Inca conquest and the imposition of Quechua language (today spoken in the entire Ecuadorian Sierra as a host of northern dialects generally known as Kichwa). Toward the 17th century, these languages had disappeared, but each of them left a legacy behind that can be found in the ancient words preserved in the names of places, landforms, local geographical features and people, but also in the accent and pronunciation of some variants of Kichwa.

The Panzaleo language (also called Pansaleo, Quito, Latacunga and Tacunga) was spoken in the provinces of Cotopaxi and Tungurahua, and in some parts of the province of Pichincha. Most of the scarce information available on this language and its characteristics comes from place names found in central and northern Ecuador. From the study of these toponyms we know that their characteristic endings are -aló o -alo, -leo, y -lagua o -ragua. At present, those groups who refer to themselves as "Panzaleo" speak both Kichwa and Spanish, and live to the south of the Cotopaxi province, in the region of Latacunga, La Maná, Pangua, Pujilí, Salcedo, Saquisilí and Sigchos.

Cañari (or Cañar) and Puruhá languages would be related to each other. The Cañari language was spoken in present-day provinces of Cañar and Azuay; its presence is mostly observed in the endings of some toponyms, like -pala, -pud, -deleg, -del, -bug, -cay, -copte, -zol, -huiña and -shi. The use of the Puruhá language was confined to the area where the province of Chimborazo is today. People's names in Puruhá usually end -cela and -lema, while place names common endings are -shi, -tús, -bug, -cahuan, -calpi and -tactu.

The groups today designated as "Cañari" live in the province of Cañar, while the "Puruhá" mostly inhabit the province of Chimborazo (region of Riobamba, Alausí, Colta, Chambo, Guamote, Guano, Pallatanga, Penipe and Cumandá), though some there are some groups in the neighbouring provinces of Guayas and El Oro. All of them speak both Kichwa and Spanish.

Spoken in the south of present-day Colombia, the Pasto language was also used in the northern Ecuadorian province of Carchi. In both areas there are toponyms ending in -quer, -es and -tal. Some authors suggest that this language might belong to the linguistic family of the Chibcha, while others consider it to be related to the Barbacoan languages. Today, Pasto people mostly inhabit the department of Nariño (southern Colombia) and speak Spanish.

The Cara or Karanki (Caranqui, Carangue) language was spoken in present-day Imbabura province and the northern part of the Pichincha province; -mued, -pud, -pí/-bí, -quí, -puela/-buela, -pigal, -piro and –yasel being its most characteristic endings. The analysis of colonial texts has allowed scholars to explain the meaning of some of these endings (e.g. -piro would mean "lake" and -puela or -buela, "countryside"). The Cara language seems to have been related to the Tsafiki language, spoken by the Tsáchila or Colorado. Contemporary "Karanki" live in the province of Imbabura (region of Ibarra, Antonio Ante, Otavalo and Pimampiro) and speak Kichwa and Spanish.

The Palta language was used in the province of Loja, and it is believed that it might be linked to the Jivaroan languages. The only words to have come to us are yumé, "water", xeme, "maize", capal, "fire" and let, "wood". Linked to the Palta language would have been the Malacato (which would have been spoken to the south of the city of Loja city) as well as the languages mentioned in the Spanish chronicles as Rabona, Bolona and Xiroa, of which hardly anything is known.

Other Pre-Incan languages of Ecuador somehow connected with the Andean highlands were the Quillacinga spoken to the north of Ecuador and the south of Colombia; the Esmeraldeño, in today's province of Esmeraldas; the huancavilca, in the province of Guayas; and the Manabí or Manteño in the province of Manabí.


Book. "Historia de América andina" (Vol. I – Las sociedades aborígenes - Cap. X - Las lenguas andinas) [es].


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