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The Inca language

Quechua, also called Runa simi, was the language spoken by the Incas and is the native language that has spread the most throughout South America. Today it is spoken by an average of 12 million people in different regions of Peru, Ecuador, Chile, Colombia, Argentina and Bolivia.

Although the Inca language does not have the same popularity as in the times of the Inca Empire, today it has been preserved thanks to bilingual education programs and there are different dialects depending on the regions. It is one of the official languages in Peru.

Quechua language origin

Various studies would indicate that Quechua originated on the central coast of the Lima region. According to the director of the Caral Archaeological Project, Ruth Shady, it originated specifically in the Supe Valley, Caral, more than 5,000 years ago. The specialist claims that Quechua was spoken since the Caral civilization was formed and that it was the language used with other surrounding communities.

Later, in the expansionist period of the Inca Empire, Quechua continued to spread to Cusco and the populations of the Sacred Valley. In this way, the language expanded throughout the highland territory and the south of the Tahuantinsuyo Empire.

Quechua today

As we mentioned at the beginning, Quechua still has millions of speakers. It is spoken in the Andean regions of Peru, Chile (San Pedro de Atacama), Colombia, Ecuador, Bolivia and Argentina (Santiago de Estero). It is also spoken in the Peruvian and Ecuadorian jungle. In Peru and Bolivia we can find national programs entirely in Quechua.

Everyone can learn Quechua, as Peru and Bolivia have bilingual plans in the education of children, and the incorporation of the Inca language into the current educational curriculum is gaining more and more strength. 

Currently, in Peru, several universities and language centers offer Quechua courses to revalue our ancestral language. We have the Language Center of Universidad Nacional Mayor de San Marcos, Languages of the Pontificia Universidad Católica, Language Center of the Universidad Pacífico, Language Center of the Universidad Nacional San Agustín de Arequipa, Language Center of Universidad Ricardo Palma, the Academia Mayor de la Lengua Quechua (Cusco) and the Instituto de Quechua KUSKA.

The same occurs in the educational centers of the other countries; some examples being the Language Laboratory of the UBA (Argentina) and the School of Indigenous Languages of Santiago of the Ministry of Cultures, Arts and Heritage (Chile).

Common questions about Quechua and the Incas

The most curious people are filled with doubts as they discover more and more about the fascinating Quechua language. We will try to answer some:

  • What language did the Incas speak? At this point it is a bit obvious, but yes, the Inca language was Quechua. However, as an additional fact, we can tell you that Quechua was not always the “official” language of the Incas; they spoke Puquina and Aymara at first.
  • Is Quechua a written language? Quechua has used the Roman alphabet since the conquest of Peru. However, Quechua speakers rarely use such writing due to the lack of material.
  • What does Machu Picchu mean in the Quechua language? It means “old mountain”.

Do you want to know the places where Quechua spread? We remind you that you can travel different routes until you reach Machu Picchu on board the PeruRail Vistadome trains. Buy your train tickets here!

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