Introduction to Aymaran
Aymara 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 a million speakers. Aymara, along with Quechua and Spanish, is an official language of Peru and Bolivia. It is also spoken to a much lesser extent in Chile.
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, 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 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, mutually intelligible varieties of the same 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.
It is cited by the author Umberto Eco in The Search for the Perfect Language as a language of immense flexibility, capable of accommodating many neologisms. Ludovico Bertonio published Arte de la lengua aymara in 1603. He remarked that the language was particularly useful for expressing abstract concepts. In 1860 Emeterio Villamil de Rada suggested it was "the language of Adam" (la lengua de Adán). Guzmán de Rojas has suggested that it be used as an intermediary language for computerised translation.
Linguistic and gestural analysis by Núñez and Sweetser also assert that the Aymara have an apparently unique, or at least very rare, understanding of time, and is, besides 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, and possibly the Chinese word 未來 (lit. not yet come, meaning 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.
Many languages, including English and Chinese, have words like before/前 and after/後 that are (currently or archaically) polysemous between 'front/earlier' or 'back/later'. This seemingly refutes 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.