Quechua Words and Meanings: A Beginners Guide

Quechua is the second widely spoken language in some countries within South America. Although it is predominant in the central area of the Peruvian Andes, it’s also spoken in some regions of Ecuador, Bolivia, Colombia, Chile, and Argentina. However, this language has its variations across Peru and the rest of the Andes.

According to recent stats, there are over 15 million Quechua speakers, and most of them are in the Peruvian region since over 10 million persons are bilinguals and speak Quechua and Spanish, and the other 3 million are monolinguals who only speak Quechua. 

This language is often referred to as the “Language of the Incas,” but this is a mistaken fact since it tracks back to other civilizations that had preceded this renowned culture. However, it was the Incas who imposed Quechua as the official language.

During the colonization process, the Inca Empire fell and Spanish had to be used as the “general language.” It wasn’t until the late 18th century that the Quechua language was banned due to the Tupac Amaru II rebellion. However, Quechua prevailed until the current date, but it became more restricted to isolated rural areas. 

Since Spanish and Quechua languages have stood side by side throughout history, somehow, one influenced the other by adopting slang, names, and other words from each tongue. Therefore, like most dialects, you can find resemblance in some common expressions.

Quechua Words Used in English and Spanish

Although Quechua has been phonetically and morphologically evolving, it’s still very hard to interpret due to its complexity and variations. But this doesn’t mean that you can’t learn some basic words and expressions to help you understand better this ancestral tongue. 

As aforementioned, throughout history, we’ve seen the development of dialects and how each one influences the other. Therefore, a large number of words are derived from this language. Here are some Quechua words you didn’t know you were using in English and Spanish:

  • Llama: Apparently, this is everyone’s favorite Andean animal, and its name is originally a Quechua word.
  • Jerky: It’s a dehydrated trimmed meat, dried at the sun. The word “jerky” derives from the Quechua word ch’arki, which translates to “dried, salted meat.”
  • Condor: This is the name of the third-largest bird of the Andes. It derives from the Quechua word “Kuntur.”
  • Poncho: A widely-used word in english to refer to a thick blanket-like woolen fabric. It is also used as another word for a water-resistant coat, “rain poncho.” 
  • Chullo: If you have visited the Peruvian highlands, you’ve probably seen some wool hats with earflaps, this is called “chullo” in Quechua, it is a widely-used word in Spanish.
  • Pacha: This Quechua word is used in conjunction with other words, it means earth, but can also be interpreted as world, space, and time. A popular word is Pachamama, which means “Mother Earth” or “Mother of Time.”
  • Morocho: It derives from the Quechua word muruch’u, which is the name of a type of hard corn. However, it is used in Spanish to refer to a dark-skinned person, people with dark hair, twins, and animals with dark skin.

Learn Some Quechua Phrases

Although the Quechua language has mainly influenced Spanish colloquialism, there are even more expressions that derive from this dialect and are still used in English. Likewise, we want you to know some useful Quechua phrases that will help you in your trip through the Peruvian Andes:

  1. Allillanchu/Allilanmi
    This is a typical Quechua greeting that means “Hello, how are you?” To respond you can easily say “Allilanmi” which translates to “I’m well, thank you.”
  1. Somaq Mikhuna
    While visiting the local markets in Cusco, you’ll find some food stands with Quechua-speaking cooks, and what a better way to compliment their food by saying “Somaq Mikhuna” which can be interpreted as “This is a delicious food.”
  1. Sulpayki 
    Good manners are part of the base of our society, so make sure to learn this essential word to say “thank you.”
  1. Tupananchikkama
    This word is used to say goodbye or see you later but it also can be interpreted as “Until life reunites us again,” a beautiful way to say farewell.

Quechua Names and Meanings

While traveling through Cusco, you’ll come across many words and names that come from the Quechua dialect, here we have listed the most popular, so you have a better understanding of the meaning and purpose of these locations to the local culture:

  • Qosqo: This was the original name of the city of Cusco. In Quechua, Qosqo means navel, which is why the Imperial City of the Incas is often referred to as the “Navel of the World.”
  • Machu Picchu: Etymologically, Machu means Old; and Picchu translates to Peak or Mountain. These words conjunted together means Old Mountain.
  • Wayna Picchu: It means “Young Mountain,” it is the mountain located behind the Inca Citadel.
  • Sacsayhuaman: This is the name of the Inca fortress found in Cusco’s adjacencies and it means “Satisfied Hawk.”
  • Qoricancha: This is the given name to the principal Temple of the Sun in the city of Cusco. It translates to “Golden Temple” since during Inca times, this structure was decorated with pure gold ornaments.
  • Vinicunca: It means “Hill of Colors.” This is the name of the famous Rainbow Mountain located in Cusco.

We are proud to say that Quechua has prevailed as the second widely spoken dialect in Peru. Likewise, the traditions are so well-rooted in our culture that makes it so diverse and beautiful to know. 

Therefore, we want you to know more about our cultural expression and the mysteries within our lands. Check our Peru travel packages and get to know the most authentic places in our country.

Portuguese > Viagens Machu Picchu
Spanish > Viajes Machu Picchu
English > Machu Picchu Travel

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