Quechua is the language of the native people of the Andes, and also the name of those who speak it. Although they are more often known by the title of their leader, the Inca, the Quechua was the dominating people of South America until they met with Francisco Pizarro and a cruel fate. In the 15th century, the Quechua controlled an advanced, thousand-mile empire, stretching from Ecuador to Chile.
Today there are about 8 million (official) speakers, which makes it probably the largest surviving Amerindian language, challenged only by Maya and Guarani. It has the most speakers in Peru, Ecuador and Bolivia, but is also spoken in Argentina, Colombia, Brazil, and Chile. Words derived from Quechua in English include: coca, condor, guano, gaucho, guanaco, Inca, jerky, lagniappe, lima (bean), llama, pampas, puma, quipu, quinine, quinoa, and vicuña.
The Quechua call themselves Runa, 'the people'. Most of them are bilinguals who speak Spanish as well, but about a third of the Peruvian Quechua population is thought to be monolingual. Speaking it, however, is considered shameful by many inhabitants of the racially layered countries, and so many city-dwellers will claim
they do not know it to avoid stigma.
Quechua is divided into several varied dialects, roughly divided into Central
Quechua. They are different, but can with some effort be mutually intelligible
. The language is agglutinative
, in that it glues together small word parts to make up a large, conjugate
d word. An extreme example
of this comes from my first source:
Much'ananayakapushasqakupuniñataqsumamariki - loosely translated, As far as I know they've always been petting each other, wouldn't that be right?.