Aymara language

Last updated
Aymar aru
Pronunciation [ajmaɾ ˈaɾu]
Native to Bolivia, Peru and Chile
Ethnicity Aymara
Native speakers
1,677,100 (2007-2011) [1] [2]
  • Aymara
Official status
Official language in
Flag of Bolivia.svg  Bolivia
Flag of Peru.svg  Peru [lower-alpha 1]
Recognised minority
language in
Flag of Chile.svg  Chile
Language codes
ISO 639-1 ay
ISO 639-2 aym
ISO 639-3 aym – inclusive code
Individual codes:
ayr   Central Aymara
ayc   Southern Aymara
Glottolog nucl1667 [3]
Aymara in South America.svg
Geographic distribution of the Aymara language
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Aymara (IPA:  [ajˈma.ɾa] ( Loudspeaker.svg listen ); also Aymar aru) is an Aymaran language spoken by the Aymara people of the Bolivian Andes. It is one of only a handful of Native American languages with over one million speakers. [4] [5] Aymara, along with Spanish, is an official language in Bolivia and Peru. [6] It is also spoken, to a much lesser extent, by some communities in northern Chile, where it is a recognized minority language.


Some linguists have claimed that Aymara is related to its more widely spoken neighbor, Quechua. That claim, however, is disputed. Although there are indeed similarities, like the nearly-identical phonologies, the majority position among linguists today is that the similarities are better explained as areal features rising from prolonged cohabitation, rather than natural genealogical changes that would stem from a common protolanguage.

Aymara is an agglutinating and, to a certain extent, a polysynthetic language. It has a subject–object–verb word order.


The ethnonym "Aymara" may be ultimately derived from the name of some group occupying the southern part of what is now the Quechua speaking area of Apurímac. [7] Regardless, the use of the word "Aymara" as a label for this people was standard practice as early as 1567, as evident from Garci Diez de San Miguel's report of his inspection of the province of Chucuito (1567, 14; cited in Lafaye 1964). In this document, he uses the term aymaraes to refer to the people. The language was then called Colla. It is believed that Colla was the name of an Aymara nation at the time of conquest, and later was the southernmost region of the Inca empire Collasuyu. However, Cerrón Palomino disputes this claim and asserts that Colla were in fact Puquina speakers who were the rulers of Tiwanaku in the first and third centuries (2008:246). This hypothesis suggests that the linguistically-diverse area ruled by the Puquina came to adopt Aymara languages in their southern region. [8]

In any case, the use of "Aymara" to refer to the language may have first occurred in the works of the lawyer, magistrate and tax collector in Potosí and Cusco, Juan Polo de Ondegardo. This man, who later assisted Viceroy Toledo in creating a system under which the indigenous population would be ruled for the next 200 years, wrote a report in 1559 entitled 'On the lineage of the Yncas and how they extended their conquests'[ citation needed ] in which he discusses land and taxation issues of the Aymara under the Inca empire.

More than a century passed before "Aymara" entered general usage to refer to the language spoken by the Aymara people (Briggs, 1976:14). In the meantime the Aymara language was referred to as "the language of the Colla". The best account of the history of Aymara is that of Cerrón-Palomino, who shows that the ethnonym Aymara, which came from the glottonym, is likely derived from the Quechuaized toponym ayma-ra-y 'place of communal property'. The entire history of this term is thoroughly outlined in his book, Voces del Ande (2008:19–32) and Lingüística Aimara. [9]

The suggestion that "Aymara" comes from the Aymara words "jaya" (ancient) and "mara" (year, time) is almost certainly a mistaken folk etymology.


It is often assumed that the Aymara language descends from the language spoken in Tiwanaku on the grounds that it is the native language of that area today. That is very far from certain, however, and most specialists now incline to the idea that Aymara did not expand into the Tiwanaku area until rather recently, as it spread southwards from an original homeland that was more likely to have been in Central Peru. [10] Aymara placenames are found all the way north into central Peru. Indeed, (Altiplano) Aymara is actually the one of two extant members of a wider language family, the other surviving representative being Jaqaru.

The family was established by the research of Lucy Briggs (a fluent speaker) and Dr. Martha Hardman de Bautista of the Program in Linguistics at the University of Florida. Jaqaru [jaqi aru = human language] and Kawki communities are in the district of Tupe, Yauyos Valley, in the Dept. of Lima, in central Peru. Terminology for this wider language family is not yet well established. Hardman has proposed the name 'Jaqi' ('human') while other widely respected Peruvian linguists have proposed alternative names for the same language family. Alfredo Torero uses the term 'Aru' ('speech'); Rodolfo Cerrón-Palomino, meanwhile, has proposed that the term 'Aymara' should be used for the whole family, distinguished into two branches, Southern (or Altiplano) Aymara and Central Aymara (Jaqaru and Kawki). Each of these three proposals has its followers in Andean linguistics. In English usage, some linguists use the term Aymaran languages for the family and reserve 'Aymara' for the Altiplano branch.


There is some degree of regional variation within Aymara, but all dialects are mutually intelligible. [11]

Most studies of the language focused on either the Aymara spoken on the southern Peruvian shore of Lake Titicaca or the Aymara spoken around La Paz. Lucy Therina Briggs classifies both regions as being part of the Northern Aymara dialect, which encompasses the department of La Paz in Bolivia and the department of Puno in Peru. The Southern Aymara dialect is spoken in the eastern half of the Iquique province in northern Chile and in most of the Bolivian department of Oruro. It is also found in northern Potosi and southwest Cochabamba but is slowly being replaced by Quechua in those regions.

Intermediate Aymara shares dialectical features with both Northern and Southern Aymara and is found in the eastern half of the Tacna and Moquegua departments in southern Peru and in the northeastern tip of Chile. [12]

Geographical distribution

Aymara language domain as of 1984 Aymara-language-domain-en-001.svg
Aymara language domain as of 1984
Distribution of Aymara limited to three southern departments in Peru: Puno, Moquegua, Tacna. El aymara como lengua materna (censo nacional 2007).png
Distribution of Aymara limited to three southern departments in Peru: Puno, Moquegua, Tacna.

There are roughly two million Bolivian speakers, half a million Peruvian speakers, and perhaps a few thousand speakers in Chile. [13] At the time of the Spanish conquest in the sixteenth century, Aymara was the dominant language over a much larger area than today, including most of highland Peru south of Cusco. Over the centuries, Aymara has gradually lost speakers both to Spanish and to Quechua; many Peruvian and Bolivian communities that were once Aymara-speaking now speak Quechua. [14]



Aymara has three phonemic vowels /a i u/, which, in most varieties of the language, distinguish two degrees of length. Long vowels are indicated with a diaeresis in writing: ä, ï, ü. The high vowels are lowered to mid height when near uvular consonants (/i/[e], /u/[o]).

Vowel deletion is frequent in Aymara. Every instance of vowel deletion occurs for one of three reasons: (i) phonotactic, (ii) syntactic, and (iii) morphophonemic. [15]


As for the consonants, Aymara has phonemic stops at the labial, alveolar, palatal, velar and uvular points of articulation. Stops show no distinction of voice (e.g. there is no phonemic contrast between [p] and [b]), but each stop has three forms: plain (tenuis), glottalized, and aspirated. Sounds such as [ʃ, x, ŋ] exist as allophones of /t͡ʃ, χ, n/. Aymara also has a tapped /ɾ/, and an alveolar/palatal contrast for nasals and laterals, as well as two semivowels (/w/ and /j/).

Bilabial Dental/
Velar Uvular Glottal
Nasal m n ɲ ( ŋ )
Plosive voiceless p t t͡ʃ k q
aspirated t͡ʃʰ
ejective t͡ʃʼ
Fricative s ( ʃ )( x ) χ h
Approximant central j w
lateral l ʎ
Tap ɾ


Stress is usually on the second-to-last syllable, but long vowels may shift it. Although the final vowel of a word is elided except at the end of a phrase, the stress remains unchanged.

Syllable structure

The vast majority of roots are bisyllabic and, with few exceptions, suffixes are monosyllabic. Roots conform to the template (C)V(C)CV, with CVCV being predominant. The majority of suffixes are CV, though there are some exceptions: CVCV, CCV, CCVCV and even VCV are possible but rare.

The agglutinative nature of this suffixal language, coupled with morphophonological alternations caused by vowel deletion and phonologically conditioned constraints, gives rise to interesting surface structures that operate in the domain of the morpheme, syllable, and phonological word/phrase. The phonological/morphophonological processes observed include syllabic reduction, epenthesis, deletion, and reduplication. [15] [16]


Declaration of Independence of the United Provinces of South America (present-day Argentina) in Spanish and Aymara Acta de Independencia de las Provincias Unidas en Sud America - Espanol - Aymara.jpg
Declaration of Independence of the United Provinces of South America (present-day Argentina) in Spanish and Aymara

Beginning with Spanish missionary efforts, there have been many attempts to create a writing system for Aymara. The colonial sources employed a variety of writing systems heavily influenced by Spanish, the most widespread one being that of Bertonio. Many of the early grammars employed unique alphabets as well as the one of Middendorf's Aymara-Sprache (1891).

The first official alphabet to be adopted for Aymara was the Scientific Alphabet. It was approved by the III Congreso Indigenista Interamericano de la Paz in 1954, though its origins can be traced as far back as 1931. Rs. No 1593 (Deza Galindo 1989, 17). It was the first official record of an alphabet, but in 1914, Sisko Chukiwanka Ayulo and Julián Palacios Ríos had recorded what may be the first of many attempts to have one alphabet for both Quechua and Aymara, the Syentifiko Qheshwa-Aymara Alfabeto with 37 graphemes.[ citation needed ]

Several other attempts followed, with varying degrees of success. Some orthographic attempts even expand further: the Alfabeto Funcional Trilingüe, made up of 40 letters (including the voiced stops necessary for Spanish) and created by the Academia de las Lenguas Aymara y Quechua in Puno in 1944 is the one used by the lexicographer Juan Francisco Deza Galindo in his Diccionario Aymara – Castellano / Castellano – Aymara.[ citation needed ] This alphabet has five vowels ⟨a, e, i, o, u⟩, aspiration is conveyed with an ⟨h⟩ next to the consonant, and ejectives with ⟨'⟩. The most unusual characteristic is the expression of the uvular /χ/ with ⟨jh⟩. The other uvular segment, /q/, is expressed by ⟨q⟩, but transcription rules mandate that the following vowel must be ⟨a, e, o⟩ (not ⟨i, u⟩), presumably to account for uvular lowering and to facilitate multilingual orthography.

The alphabet created by the Comisión de Alfabetización y Literatura Aymara (CALA) was officially recognized in Bolivia in 1968 (co-existing with the 1954 Scientific Alphabet).[ citation needed ] Besides being the alphabet employed by Protestant missionaries, it is also the one used for the translation of the Book of Mormon .[ citation needed ] Also in 1968, de Dios Yapita created his take on the Aymara alphabet at the Instituto de Lenga y Cultura Aymara (ILCA).[ citation needed ]

Nearly 15 years later, the Servicio Nacional de Alfabetización y Educación Popular (SENALEP) attempted to consolidate these alphabets to create a system which could be used to write both Aymara and Quechua, creating what was known as the Alfabeto Unificado. The alphabet, later sanctioned in Bolivia by Decree 20227 on 9 May 1984 and in Peru as la Resolución Ministerial Peruana 1218ED on 18 November 1985, consists of 3 vowels, 26 consonants and an umlaut to mark vowel length.[ citation needed ] In this standard orthography, the consonants are represented as shown below.

Bilabial Dental/
Velar Uvular Glottal
Nasal mnñnh
Plosive voiceless ptchkq
aspirated phthchhkhqh
ejective p't'ch'k'q'
Fricative sxj
Approximant central yw
lateral lll
Rhotic r


Aymara is a highly agglutinative, suffixal language. All suffixes can be categorized into the nominal, verbal, transpositional and those not subcategorized for lexical category (including stem-external word-level suffixes and phrase-final suffixes), [15] as below:

Nominal suffixes

Verbal suffixes

All verbs require at least one suffix to be grammatical.

Transpositional suffixes

A given word can take several transpositional suffixes:

Suffixes not subcategorized for lexical categories

There are two kinds of suffixes not subcategorized for lexical categories:


Linguistic and gestural analysis by Núñez and Sweetser also asserts that the Aymara have an apparently unique (or at least very rare) understanding of time. Aymara is, with Quechua, one of very few [Núñez & Sweetser, 2006, p. 403] languages in which speakers seem to represent the past as in front of them and the future as behind them. Their argument is mainly within the framework of conceptual metaphor, which recognizes in general two subtypes of the metaphor "the passage of time is motion:" one is "time passing is motion over a landscape" (or "moving-ego"), and the other is "time passing is a moving object" ("moving-events"). The latter metaphor does not explicitly involve the individual/speaker. Events are in a queue, with prior events towards the front of the line. The individual may be facing the queue, or it may be moving from left to right in front of him/her.

The claims regarding Aymara involve the moving-ego metaphor. Most languages conceptualize the ego as moving forward into the future, with ego's back to the past. The English sentences prepare for what lies before us and we are facing a prosperous future exemplify the metaphor. In contrast, Aymara seems to encode the past as in front of individuals and the future behind them. That is typologically a rare phenomenon [Núñez & Sweetser, 2006, p. 416].

The fact that English has words like before and after that are (currently or archaically) polysemous between 'front/earlier' or 'back/later' may seem to refute the claims regarding Aymara uniqueness.[ citation needed ] However, those words relate events to other events and are part of the moving-events metaphor. In fact, when before means in front of ego, it can mean only future. For instance, our future is laid out before us while our past is behind us. Parallel Aymara examples describe future days as qhipa uru, literally 'back days', and they are sometimes accompanied by gestures to behind the speaker. The same applies to Quechua-speakers, whose expression qhipa p'unchaw corresponds directly to Aymara qhipa uru. Possibly, the metaphor is from the fact that the past is visible (in front of one's eyes), but the future is not.


There is increasing use of Aymara locally and there are increased numbers learning the language, both Bolivian and abroad. In Bolivia and Peru, intercultural bilingual education programs with Aymara and Spanish have been introduced in the last two decades. There are even projects to offer Aymara through the internet, such as by ILCA. [17]

See also


  1. Official only in Aymara–dominated areas.

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  1. "Aymara, Central". Ethnologue. Retrieved 2018-07-22.
  2. "Aymara, Southern". Ethnologue. Retrieved 2018-07-22.
  3. Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds. (2017). "Central-Southern Aymara". Glottolog 3.0 . Jena, Germany: Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History.
  4. "Bolivia: Idioma Materno de la Población de 4 años de edad y más- UBICACIÓN, ÁREA GEOGRÁFICA, SEXO Y EDAD". 2001 Bolivian Census. Instituto Nacional de Estadística, La Paz — Bolivia.[ permanent dead link ]
  5. The other native American languages with more than one million speakers are Nahuatl, Quechua languages, and Guaraní.
  6. "CONSTITUCIÓN POLÍTICA DEL PERÚ" (PDF). Congreso de la república. Retrieved 2020-08-10. Artículo 48°.-Son idiomas oficiales el castellano y, en las zonas donde predominen, también lo son el quechua, el aimara y las demás lenguas aborígenes, según la ley. Article 48. Castillian Spanish is official, as are Quechua, Aymara, and other local native languages in the regions where they predominate.
  7. Willem Adelaar with Pieter Muysken, Languages of the Andes, CUP, Cambridge, 2004, pp 259
  8. Coler, Matt (2015). A Grammar of Muylaq' Aymara: Aymara as spoken in Southern Peru. Brill's Studies in the Indigenous Languages of the Americas. Brill. p. 9. ISBN   978-9-00-428380-0.
  9. Rodolfo Cerrón-Palomino, Lingüística Aimara, Centro de Estudios Regionales Andinos "Bartolomé de las Casas", Lima, 2000, pp 34-6.
  10. Heggarty, P.; Beresford-Jones, D. (2013). "Andes: linguistic history.". In Ness, I.; P., Bellwood (eds.). The Encyclopedia of Global Human Migration. Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell. pp. 401–409.
  11. SIL's Ethnologue.com Archived 2007-12-27 at the Wayback Machine and the ISO designate a Southern Aymara Archived 2007-10-01 at the Wayback Machine dialect found in between Lake Titicaca and the Pacific Coast in southern Peru and a Central Aymara Archived 2012-02-11 at the Wayback Machine dialect found in western Bolivia and northeastern Chile. Such classifications, however, are not based upon academic research and are probably a misinterpretation of Cerrón-Palomino's classification of the language family.[ citation needed ]
  12. Lucy Therina Briggs, Dialectal Variation in the Aymara Language of Bolivia and Peru, Dissertation, University of Florida, Gainesville, 1976; Adalberto Salas and María Teresa Poblete, "El aimara de Chile (fonología, textos, léxico)", Revista de Filología y Lingüística de la Universidad de Costa Rica, Vol XXIII: 1, pp 121-203, 2, pp 95-138; Cerrón-Palomino, 2000, pp 65-8, 373.
  13. Ethnologue: 1.785 million in Bolivia in 1987; 442 thousand of the central dialect in Peru in 2000, plus an unknown number of speakers of the southern dialect in Peru; 900 in Chile in 1994 out of a much larger ethnic population.
  14. Xavier Albó, "Andean People in the Twentieth Century," in The Cambridge History of the Native Peoples of the Americas. Vol. III: South America, ed. Frank Salomon and Stuart B. Schwartz (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1999), 765-871.
  15. 1 2 3 Matt Coler, A Grammar of Muylaq' Aymara: Aymara as spoken in Southern Peru Archived 2014-12-20 at the Wayback Machine . Brill: Leiden, 2014.
  16. Hardman, Martha J.; Vásquez, Juana; Yapita, Juan de Dios (2001). Aymara: Compendio de estructura fonológica y gramatical. University of Florida.
  17. "CIBERAYMARA". www.ilcanet.org. Archived from the original on 11 October 2017. Retrieved 8 May 2018.


Further reading