Quechuan and Aymaran spelling shift

In recent years, the spelling of place names in Peru and Bolivia has been revised among Quechua and Aymara speakers. A standardized alphabet for Quechua was adopted by the Peruvian government in 1975; a revision in 1985 moved to a three-vowel orthography.[1]

The major changes are to replace the digraph hu with the single letter w, and to replace the consonants c/q[u] with either k or q, as appropriate in the word in question. K and q represent different sounds in most Andean languages: k is a velar stop, as in Spanish and English; q is a uvular stop [q]. As Spanish does not have uvular [q], traditional spellings lose this distinction (although sometimes a double cc was used to represent the k-like sounds of Quechua that differed from the "plain k" sound known in Spanish; e.g., in place names such as Ccarhuacc, Chopcca, Cconocc, Llacce, Manyacc, Chihuilluyocc, Chilcahuaycco, etc.), and Quechua or Aymara sources must be consulted to select the right consonant. For instance, the Temple of the Sun in Cusco is named Qurikancha in Quechua, with both sounds (quri = gold, kancha = courtyard, enclosure), and is spelled Coricancha in Spanish.

Additionally, the phoneme inventory of Quechua and Aymara includes just three vowels, /a/, /i/, and /u/. Older Spanish transcriptions (as well as the 1975 standard) used the letters o and e as well; this is because the pronunciation of /u/ and /i/ opens to [o] and [e] adjacent to a /q/,[2] an instance of allophonic variation. For instance, Quechua qucha 'lake' sounds to Spanish speakers like cocha, as in the sample Huiracocha below. Some sources, such as dictionary published by the Academia Mayor de la Lengua Quechua, still use the five-vowel 1975 orthography.

In Bolivia and Southern Peru, including Cuzco, there are three versions of all the stop consonants: the basic unaspirated sounds (p, t, ch, k, q), an aspirated series spelled with an h (ph, th, chh, kh, qh); and finally an ejective series spelled with an apostrophe (p', t', ch', k', q'). In Aymara and Southern Quechua, these are distinct sounds, making a total of 15 stop consonants, and these differences must be shown in the spelling: in the example words below, the kh in khipu is not the same as the k in Inka or in Tiwanaku; nor is the qh sound at the start of "qhapaq" the same as the q sound at the start of "Qusqu". In most regions north of Cusco, these variants do not exist, and only the basic unaspirated sounds are used.

These changes are considered to be part of a general process of spelling standardisation and reassertion of the right of these native languages to their own spelling system appropriate for their sound systems, which are very different from that of Spanish. This accompanies a growth of pride in the Andean heritage of these countries, and moves to recover the prestige of their indigenous languages. These spelling changes are part of the official alphabets for Quechua and Aymara in Peru, Bolivia and Ecuador, though debate continues on the extent to which they are to be used when writing in Spanish.

Quechuan and Aymaran Wikipedias are also a good example of using of the modern spelling.

Hispanic spelling Official modern spelling Spanish English
cuy/ccuy/ccoy/ccoui quwi cuy/coy guinea pig
Cusco/Cuscco/Ccozcco Qusqu Cuzco/Cusco/Cozco Cuzco
Tiahuanaco/Tiahuanacco Tiwanaku Tihuanaco/Tiahuanaco Tiwanaku
Sacsayhuaman Saksaywaman Sacsayhuaman Sacsayhuaman
Inca Inka Inca Inca
Huayna Capac/Ccapacc Wayna Qhapaq Huayna Capac Huayna Capac
Huiracocha/Huiraccocha Wiraqucha Viracocha/Huiracocha Viracocha
quipu khipu quipu quipu (knotting system)


  1. ^ Bruce Mannheim, The Language of the Inka since the European Invasion, University of Texas Press, Austin, Texas,1991, p. 235
  2. ^ Rodolfo Cerrón-Palomino, Lingüística Quechua, Centro de Estudios Rurales Andinos "Bartolomé de Las Casa", 1987, p. 255

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