LinguWest: A South American Beauty

(INTRO: This post was first published on April 10, 2008. I am re-using it today.)

Remember the time I asked you to guess an unknown language by means of The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (Article 1)? Today I have the same excerpt and another unknown, exciting language. Here it is:

Meyqan nunapis manam pipa sirweqnin nuna kananpaqtsu yurikushqa. I nuna karninmi meyqan nunapis juk láyatsu kayanman derëchunkunachowpis. I yarpachakiyta yacharninmi i allita mana allita shonqonkunachow mákurninmi nunakuna jukninta wiyanakur kayanman. (source)

Well?

OK, I’ll tell you. This is a language called Quechua. According to Wikipedia:

Quechua is a Native American language of South America that was already spoken throughout the Andes long before the time of Incas and is an official language in Peru and Bolivia today.

1. The grammar of Quechua is fascinating in many unbelievable ways:

I told you all about agglutinating languages when discussing Estonian: they are called agglutinating because “you make words/sentences by gluing pieces together”. Like this (source):

(1) Much’ananayakapuchkasqakupuniñataqsunamá (Much’a·na·naya·ka·pu·chka·sqa·ku·puni·ña·taq·suna·má)
“So they’ve always been petting each other then”.

2. The normal word order in Quechua is SOV (subject-object-verb: “He her loves”.) and verbs contain grammatical markers for subjects and objects at the same time (must be something along the lines of saying “Gledamjo Marijo” in Slovenian, which would be “I watch-I-her Maria” in English. But actually, I don’t know.)

3. Quechua verbs can have suffixes adding different meanings to verbal roots: –cha is used when the subject provokes the action on the object and if using –ku, the action returns to the actor, etc.(source)

4. Quechua nouns have … 19 cases. That’s NINETEEN suffixes indicating things done with, to, without etc. corresponding nouns. Nouns can be reduplicated to create new meanings:

(2)
a) wasi = “a house”
b) wasi wasi = “a settlement, collection of houses”
(
source)

5. They don’t have the grammatical category of gender: the pronoun pay can mean “he/ she/ it”. (source)

6. They have seven different pronouns, the most interesting being both forms of “we”:

a) Inclusive “we”, meaning “we and you” (Ñuqanchik)
b) Exclusive “we”, meaning “we without you” (Ñuqayku)
(
source)

7. In Quechua sentences, you have to use suffixes expressing the certainty of your knowledge, the responsibility you take for your utterances. These suffixes are usually attached to expressions that convey new information in a sentence. Thus:

a) –mi expresses personal knowledge, the speaker is sure of the fact,

b) –si expresses hearsay knowledge,

c) -chá expresses probability.

(3)

a) Tayta Wayllaqawaqa chufirmi, “Mr. Huayllacahua is a driver – I know it for a fact”

b) Tayta Wayllaqawaqa chufirsi, “Mr. Huayllacahua is a driver, or so I’ve heard”

c) Tayta Wayllaqawaqa chufirchá, “Mr. Huayllacahua is a driver, most likely”

(source)

After having compiled all these lovely facts about Quechua, I realized it must be a really difficult language to learn. Very difficult.


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