In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Quechuan and Aymaran Languages

  • Introduction
  • Surveys
  • Bibliographies
  • Dictionaries
  • Anthologies
  • Translations
  • Edited Volumes with Miscellaneous Topics
  • Journals
  • Anthropological Linguistics
  • Dialect Studies
  • Typological Studies
  • Historical-Comparative Studies
  • Language Contact Studies
  • Language Acquisition Studies
  • Multidisciplinary Studies

Linguistics Quechuan and Aymaran Languages
Willem F. H. Adelaar
  • LAST REVIEWED: 19 September 2022
  • LAST MODIFIED: 30 July 2014
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199772810-0199


The Quechuan and Aymaran language groups comprise most of the surviving native languages of the Middle Andes, an area that roughly coincides with the former Inca Empire or Tawantinsuyu. Today, the Quechuan languages are spoken by approximately 7.5 million speakers in the following countries (in order of number of speakers): Peru, Bolivia, Ecuador, Argentina, and Colombia. The Aymaran languages, also referred to in the literature as Aru (speech) or Jaqi (human being), are spoken by approximately 2.5 million speakers in Bolivia, Peru, and Chile. Although both language groups are commonly referred to as languages (Aymara, Quechua), it is more appropriate to treat them as relatively shallow language families, due to their considerable internal differentiation that has developed over time. The Quechuan language family comprises a large number of local varieties, traditionally referred to as dialects. The Aymaran language family comprises two distinct languages that are spoken today, Aymara and Jaqaru, although the latter by only a few hundred speakers. Estimates for the antiquity of the beginning of diversification within both language families differ wildly, from the beginning of the present era to around 900 AD. An outstanding characteristic of the Quechuan and Aymaran languages is the degree to which they have become structurally, phonologically, and lexically similar due to prolonged language contact with periods of higher and lesser intensity. These similarities appeared to be so strong that the two language groups were often considered genetically related (the so-called Quechumaran hypothesis) in a configuration that excludes all other Amerindian languages. Nevertheless, the impossibility of finding systematic correspondences between the two language groups has led to a general awareness that practically all observable similarities are the result of contact. Consequently, the linguistic situation in the Middle Andes features one of the most convincing examples of linguistic convergence in the entire world. It deserves a prominent place in the development of any theory of language contact. This is also why the two language families are presented together in this article, which provides a selection of bibliographical references to literature on linguistic and related topics dealing with the Quechuan and Aymaran languages in both a synchronic and a diachronic perspective.


The books included in this section are general reference works or overviews of the Quechuan and/or Aymaran families in a historical and geographical context. They can serve as introductions to a more focused study of linguistic themes related to these languages. Some surveys mentioned here are limited to one particular language group; for example, Cerrón-Palomino 1987 deals with Quechuan and Cerrón-Palomino 2000 with Aymaran. Crevels and Muysken 2009 is dedicated to one particular country: Bolivia. The other more general surveys also address, along with Quechuan and Aymaran, a number of other (mostly extinct) languages of the Middle Andes. Adelaar and Muysken 2004 deals with most of the languages presently and formerly spoken in western South America from the Panama Isthmus down to Tierra del Fuego. Torero 2002 focuses on Quechuan and on a series of minor languages of the Andean region. Büttner 1983 presents a typological overview of the languages of the Middle Andes that are still in use.

  • Adelaar, Willem F. H., with Pieter C. Muysken. 2004. The languages of the Andes. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge Univ. Press.

    DOI: 10.1017/CBO9780511486852

    An overview of the languages spoken in the western part of South America (Andes, Pacific coast, and eastern Andean slopes) presenting their main characteristics (phonology, grammatical structure, etc.) as well as historical and sociolinguistic information. The organization is by area and by language or language family.

  • Büttner, Thomas Th. 1983. Las lenguas de los Andes Centrales. Madrid: Ediciones Cultura Hispánica del Instituto de Cooperación Iberoamericana.

    An overview of the state of the art in Andean linguistic studies around 1980.

  • Cerrón-Palomino, Rodolfo. 1987. Lingüística quechua. Cuzco, Peru: Centro de estudios regionales andinos “Bartolomé de Las Casas”.

    A comprehensive reference work on many aspects of Quechuan structure and history with ample attention to local variation and its development. The product of many years of academic teaching and research.

  • Cerrón-Palomino, Rodolfo. 2000. Lingüística aimara. Lima, Peru: Centro de estudios regionals andinos “Bartolomé de Las Casas”.

    An innovative study of the Aymaran language family with a strong focus on reconstruction and historical language development.

  • Crevels, Mily, and Pieter C. Muysken, eds. 2009. Lenguas de Bolivia. Vol. 1, Ámbito andino. La Paz, Bolivia: Plenum.

    This volume features grammatical sketches of most of the languages spoken in or near the Andean highlands of Bolivia today and in the past.

  • Middendorf, Ernst W. 1890–1892. Die einheimischen Sprachen Perus. 6 vols. Leipzig: Brockhaus.

    A monumental overview of the state of knowledge of the Andean languages and their historical background at the end of the 19th century. It includes grammars of Aymara and Cuzco Quechua, as well as a very extensive Quechua dictionary and a version of the early-18th-century Quechua theatrical play Ollantay (see also the section on Text Editions).

  • Torero, Alfredo. 2002. Los idiomas de los Andes. Lima, Peru: Editorial Horizonte.

    A compilation of the previous work of one of the leading experts on Andean languages, enhanced with a number of innovative insights. It also contains several novel chapters on minor languages of the area. It contains much information on the Quechuan languages and their history (mostly revised earlier publications of the author).

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