Central Aymará

Aymar aru
Native to Bolivia, Peru and Chile.
Ethnicity Aymara people
Native speakers 2.8 million  (2000–2006)
Language family
  • Aymara
Official status
Official language in  Bolivia
Recognised minority language in  Peru
Language codes
ISO 639-1 ay
ISO 639-2 aym
ISO 639-3 aym – ayc – Southern Aymara
Linguist List
Geographic Distribution of the Aymara language
This article contains IPA phonetic symbols. Without proper rendering support, you may see question marks, boxes, or other symbols instead of Unicode characters.

Aymara (Aymar aru) is an Aymaran language spoken by the Aymara people of the Andes. It is one of only a handful of Native American languages with over three million speakers.[1][2] Aymara, along with Quechua and Spanish, is an official language of Bolivia. It is also spoken around the Lake Titicaca region of southern Peru and, to a much lesser extent, by some communities in northern Chile and in Northwest Argentina.

Some linguists have claimed that Aymara is related to its more widely spoken neighbour, Quechua. This claim, however, is disputed — although there are indeed similarities such as the nearly identical phonologies, the majority position among linguists today is that these similarities are better explained as areal features resulting from prolonged interaction between the two languages, and that they are not demonstrably related.

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


The old suggestion that the word "Aymara" comes from the Aymara words "jaya" (ancient) and "mara" (year, time) is almost certainly a quite mistaken folk etymology. Many linguists now favor the theory that the term came from an ethnic group from the Apurimac region known as the Aymaraes, but the etymology remains unclear. A full discussion of the possible origins of the word can be found in the book Lingüística Aimara by the respected Peruvian linguist Rodolfo Cerrón-Palomino.[3]


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

The first official alphabet to be adopted for Aymara was the scientific alphabet. This system 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). This is not to say that this was the first effort at a general alphabet, only that it was the first official record of such. In 1914 Sisko Chukiwanka Ayulo and Julián Palacios Ríos recorded what may be the first of many attempts to have one alphabet for both Quechua and Aymara. Theirs was called Syentifiko Qheshwa-Aymara Alfabeto and was composed of 37 graphemes. Several other attempts followed at various degrees of success to do the same. 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. 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 unique characteristic is the expression of the uvular /x/ with {jh}. The other uvular segment, the /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 with the intent to facilitate multilingual orthography.

The alphabet created by the Comisión de Alfabetización y Literatura Aymara (CALA) which was officially recognized in Bolivia in 1968 (coexisting with the 1954 Scientific Alphabet) and aside from being the alphabet employed by Protestant missionaries, it is also the one used for the translation of the Book of Mormon. It was also in 1968 that de Dios Yapita created his take on the Aymara alphabet at the Instituto de Lenga y Cultura Aymara (ILCA).

Nearly fifteen 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. This alphabet, later sanctioned in Bolivia by Decree 20227 on 9 May 1984 and in Peru as la Resolución Ministeral Peruana 1218ED on 18 November 1985 consists of 3 vowels and 26 consonants and an umlaut to mark vowel length.



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


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 (unaspirated), glottalized, and aspirated. Aymara also has a trilled /r/, and an alveolar/palatal contrast for nasals and laterals, as well as two semivowels (/w/ and /j/).

  Bilabial Dental/
Palatal Velar Uvular
Nasal m n ɲ
Stop unaspirated p t k q
aspirated tʃʰ
ejective tʃʼ
Fricative s x χ
Rhotic r
Lateral l ʎ
Approximant j w


Stress is usually on the penult (the syllable before the last one), but long vowels may shift it. Also, the final vowel of words is elided except at the end of a phrase, but the stress remains on its original syllable.

Syllable structure

The vast majority of roots are bisyllabic and, with few exceptions, suffixes are monosyllabic. Roots conform to one of two templates: CV(C)CV or V(C)CV. The former is the most common, with CVCV being predominant. As for the suffixes, the majority 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 give 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.[4]


Aymara morphemes can be divided into the following categories:

  • Inflectional
  • Derivational
  • Transpositional
  • Independent
  • Sentence suffixes

Inflectional and derivational morphemes can be subdivided into nominal and verbal categories. So for example, the inflectional sub-categories are as follows:

Verbal inflection

  • Tense (aorist, future, proximal past, distal past)
  • Aspect (completive, progressive, sustainer, etc.)
  • Mood / Modality
  • Person (1, 2, 3, 4)
  • Number (plural)

Nominal inflection

  • Number (plural)
  • Possession
  • Location
  • Case (nominal, accusative, commitative, allative, etc.)

The same division can be done for the derivational morphemes. Verbal derivation is characterized by a range of morphemes which indicate spatial direction and direction of motion.

Derivational morphemes: Direction of motion

  • upward -ta, -ja
  • downward -qa
  • outward -su
  • inward -nta

Note that the downward morpheme -qa also expresses the act of division or splitting.

Geographical distribution

There are roughly two million Bolivian speakers, half a million Peruvian speakers, and perhaps a few thousand speakers in Chile and Argentina.[5] 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 Cuzco. Over the centuries Aymara has gradually lost speakers both to Spanish and to Quechua; many Peruvian and Bolivian communities which were once Aymara-speaking now speak Quechua.[6]


There is some degree of regional variation within the Aymara language, although all the dialects are mutually intelligible.[7] Most study of the language has 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 of these 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 Potosí and southwest Cochabamba, but it 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.[8] .

Wider language family

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. This is very far from certain, however, and most specialists now incline to the idea that Aymara only expanded into the Tiwanaku area rather late, as it spread southwards from an original homeland more likely to have been in Central Peru. Aymara placenames are found all the way north into central Peru, and indeed (Altiplano) Aymara is actually but one of the two extant languages of a wider language family, the other surviving representative being Jaqaru/Kawki.

This family was established by the research of Martha James 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. Jaqaru has approximately 2,000 native speakers, nearly all Spanish bilinguals. Kawki is spoken in a neighboring community by a very small number of mostly elderly individuals and is a dying language. It was originally proposed by Dr Hardman that Jaqaru and Kawki should be classified as languages quite distinct from each other, but other more recent research classifies them as two very closely related varieties of the same mutually intelligible language.

Terminology for this wider language family is not yet well established. Dr 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 (i.e. Jaqaru and Kawki). Each of these three proposals has its followers in Andean linguistics. In English usage, some linguists use the term Aymaran for the family, reserving 'Aymara' for the Altiplano branch.


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, and Aymara is, with Quechua, one of very few languages where speakers seem to represent the past as in front of them and the future as behind them. Their argument is situated 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 this metaphor. In contrast, Aymara seems to encode the past as in front of individuals, and the future in back; this is typologically a rare phenomenon.

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. However, these words relate events to other events, i.e., are part of the moving-events metaphor. In fact, when before means in front of ego, it can only mean 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 these 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 that the past is visible to us (in front of our eyes), while 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.[9]


Syntactic relations in Aymara are generally case-marked, with the exception of the unmarked subject. Case is affixed to the last element of a noun phrase, usually corresponding to the head. Aymara has 14 cases.


The allative -ru denotes direction towards a certain goal:

¿Mukiwarut sarajatast?
{Mukiwa-ru-t(i) sara-jata-st(i)}
Moquegua-ALL-NEG go-2FUT-IR
‘Is it to Moquegua that you’ll go?’
¿Mukiwarut sarajatast Sankristarucha?
{Mukiwa-ru-t(i) sara-jata-st(i) Sankrista-ru-cha}
Moquegua-ALL-NEG go-2FUT-IR San.Cristobál-AlL-BC
‘Will you go to Moquegua or San Cristóbal?’

Instrumental / comitative

This declension is marked with the –mpi suffix which functions as the conjoiner and as a marker of the instrumental case.

When functioning as a conjoiner, it may be affixed to one or both of the declined words. In the first, it is affixed only to the word tutu 'toasted corn:

Tutump lich jucht’asim.
{tutu-mp(i)-cØ lich(i)-cØ juch(a)-t’a-si-m(a)}
toasted.corn-COM-ACC milk-ACC drink-M-REFL-2IMP
‘Drink your milk with toasted corn.’

Next, it is attached to both juma 'you' and na 'I':

¡Jumamp nampix nuwasiskapunitanw!
{juma-mp(i) na-mpi-x(a) nuwa-si-s.ka-puni-tan(a)-w(a)}
‘You and I really must fight!’


The –layku morpheme expresses ‘for the purpose of’:

Jumalaykuw kutiniskix.
{juma-layku-w(a) kuti-ni-s.k(a)-i-x(a)}
you-purpose-AFF return-H-PROG-3AOR-TOP
‘She is returning for you.’

See also



  • With the Future Behind Them : Convergent Evidence From Aymara Language and Gesture in the Crosslinguistic Comparison of Spatial Construals of Time. Cognitive Science, 30(3), 1-49.

Further reading

  • Gifford, Douglas. Time Metaphors in Aymara and Quechua. St. Andrews: University of St. Andrews, 1986.
  • Guzmán de Rojas, Iván. Logical and Linguistic Problems of Social Communication with the Aymara People. Manuscript report / International Development Research Centre, 66e. [Ottawa]: International Development Research Centre, 1985.
  • Hardman, Martha James. The Aymara Language in Its Social and Cultural Context: A Collection Essays on Aspects of Aymara Language and Culture. Gainesville: University Presses of Florida, 1981. ISBN 0-8130-0695-3
  • Hardman, Martha James, Juana Vásquez, and Juan de Dios Yapita. Aymara Grammatical Sketch: To Be Used with Aymar Ar Yatiqañataki. Gainesville, Fla: Aymara Language Materials Project, Dept. of Anthropology, University of Florida, 1971.
  • Hardman, Martha James. learning Aymara resources by Dr. Hardman.

External links

  • Aymara Swadesh vocabulary lists (from 's Swadesh-list appendix)
  • http://clas.uchicago.edu/language_teaching/aymara.shtml
  • www.aymara.org An extensive website about the language in English, Spanish and Aymara.
  • The Sounds of the Andean Languages listen online to pronunciations of Aymara words, see photos of speakers and their home regions, learn about the origins and varieties of Aymara.
  • Bolivians equip ancient language for digital times
  • Encyclopedy in Aymara
  • The Rosetta Edition.
  • Andean language looks back to the future - article on Aymara's reversed concept of time, with the past ahead and the future behind
  • JACH'AK'ACHI. Patpatankiri markana kont’awipa An aymara page dedicated to this city in aymara language.
  • Beginning Aymara - a course book in pdf form
  • Vocabulario de la Lengua Aymara, a historical dictionary by Ludovico Bertonio (1612).
  • Yatiqirinaka Aru Pirwa, Qullawa Aymara Aru, a children's Aymara dictionary by the Peruvian Ministry of Education (2005).
  • AruSimiÑee, Aymara pedagogical vocabulary by the Bolivian Ministry of Education (2004).


  • Aymara - Compendio de Estrutura Fonológica y Gramatical, 20 downloadable PDF files
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