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Native to Ecuador, Colombia, Peru
Native speakers unknown (undated figure of 2–3 million)
Language family
Language codes
ISO 639-3 Variously:
quw – Tena Lowland
Linguist List
Distribution of Quechua sub-groups. Kichwa is shown in blue.
This article contains IPA phonetic symbols. Without proper rendering support, you may see question marks, boxes, or other symbols instead of Unicode characters.

Kichwa (Kichwa shimi, Runashimi, also Spanish Quichua) is a Quechuan language which includes all Quechua varieties of Ecuador and Colombia (Inga), as well as extensions into Peru, and is spoken by 2.5 million people. The most widely spoken dialects are Chimborazo and Imbabura Highland Kichwa, with one to two million and half a million to one million speakers, respectively. Cañar Highland Quecha has 100,000–200,000 speakers; the others in the range of ten to twenty thousand. Kichwa belongs to the Northern Quechua group of Quechua II (according to Alfredo Torero).

Kichwa syntax has undergone some grammatical simplification compared to Southern Quechua, perhaps due to partial creolization with the pre-Inca languages of Ecuador.

A standardized language with a unified orthography (Kichwa Unificado, Shukyachiska Kichwa) has been developed. It is similar to Chimborazo, less some of the phonological peculiarities of that dialect.

The earliest grammatical description of Kichwa was written in the 17th century by the Jesuit priest Hernando de Alcocer.[1]


In contrast to other regional varieties of Quechua, Kichwa does not distinguish between original ("Proto Quechua") /k/ and /q/, which are both pronounced [k]. Therefore, [e] and [o], the allophones of the vowels /i/ and /u/ near /q/, do not exist, and kiru can mean both "tooth" (kiru in Southern Quechua) and "wood" (qiru [qero] in Southern Quechua), and killa can mean both "moon" (killa) and "lazy" (qilla [qeʎa]).

Additionally, Kichwa in both Ecuador and Colombia has lost possessive and bidirectional suffixes (i.e. verbal suffixes indicating both subject and object), as well as the distinction between the exclusive and inclusive first person plural.


  • Instead of yayayku / taytayku ("Our Father", the Lord's Prayer) Kichwa people say ñukanchik yaya / ñukanchik tayta.
  • In Kichwa, you do not say suyayki ("I wait for you"), but kanta shuyani.

On the other hand, other particularities of Quechua have been preserved. As in all varieties of Quechua, the words for 'brother' and 'sister' differ depending on whom they refer to. There are four different words for siblings: ñaña (sister of a woman), turi (brother of a woman), pani (sister of a man), and wawki (brother of a man). A woman reading "Ñuka wawki Pedromi kan" would therefore read aloud Ñuka turi Pedromi kan.


The missionary organization FEDEPI (2006) lists eight dialects of Quechua in Ecuador, which they illustrate with the clause "the men will come in two days". (Ethnologue 16 (2009) lists nine, distinguishing Cañar from Loja Highland Quechua.) Below are the comparisons, along with Standard (Ecuadorian) Kichwa and Standard (Southern) Quechua:

Dialect ISO code Speakers per SIL (FEDEPI) Pronunciation Orthography (SIL or official) Notes
Chimborazo [qug] 1,000,000 (2,500,000) Čay k'arikunaka iški punžažapimi šamunga. Chai c'aricunaca ishqui punllallapimi shamunga. ll =
Imbabura [qvi] 300,000 (1,000,000) Čay harikunaka iškay punžapižami šamunga. Chai jaricunaca ishcai punllapillami shamunga. ll = ž
Cañar–Loja [qxr]
(200,000) qxr: 100,000
qxl: 15,000
Čay k'arikunaka iškay punžallapimi šamunga. Chai c'aricunaca ishcai punzhallapimi shamunga.
Salasaca [qxl] 15,000 Či k'arigunaga iški p'unžažabimi šamunga. Chi c'arigunaga ishqui p'unllallabimi shamunga. ll = ž
Calderón (Pichincha) [qud] 25,000 Čay harikunaka iškay punžapižami šamunga. Chai jaricunaca ishcai punllapillami shamunga. ll = ž
Tena Lowland [quw] 5,000 (10,000) Či kariunaga iški punžallaimi šamunga. Chi cariunaga ishqui punzhallaimi shamunga.
Napo Lowland [qvo] 4,000 Ecu. & 8,000 Peru (15,000) Či karigunaga iškay punčallaimi šamunga. Chi carigunaga ishcai punchallaimi shamunga.
Northern Pastaza [qvz] 4,000 Ecu. & 2,000 Peru (10,000) Či karigunaga iškay punžallaimi šamunga. Chi carigunaga ishcai punzhallaimi shamunga.
Standard Kichwa Čay karikunaka iškay punllallapimi šamunka. Chay karikunaka ishkay punllallapimi shamunka.
Standard Quechua (Qhichwa) Čay qharikunaqa iskay p'unčawllapim hamunqa. Chay qharikunaqa iskay p'unchawllapim hamunqa.

Hip hop music in Kichwa

A band from Ecuador, "Los Nin", which raps in Kichwa and Spanish, has toured internationally. The band hails from the town of Otavalo, which is known for its traditional music.[2]



  • Ciucci, Luca & Pieter C. Muysken 2011. Hernando de Alcocer y la Breve declaración del Arte de la lengua del Ynga. El más antiguo manuscrito de quichua de Ecuador. Indiana 28: 359-393.

External links

  • Imbabura Quechua Vocabulary List (from the World Loanword Database)
  • Map of the regional varieties of Kichwa in Ecuador ( /
  • Otavalos Online: Basic Kichwa Course for Beginners, in Spanish (PDF)
  • KU Kechwa Resource Center: Learning Salasaka Kechwa (by Nina Kinti-Moss)
  • Pieter Muysken: Semantic transparency in Lowland Ecuadorian Quechua morphosyntax (PDF file)
  • Openoffice v3.2+ Kichwa Spellchecker
  • Free Quichua audiocourse in Spanish offered by the public radio of Ecuador
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