Introduction to Quechua/Pronunciation

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Introduction to Quechua

Introduction: this is an introductory lesson. It should teach students how to pronounce Quechua and how to write Quechua. Near the end of this lecture, you will find a dictionary and place for global discussions.


The Quechua alphabet is the following :

a, ch, e, f, q, i, j, k, l, ll, m, n, ñ, o, p, r, s, t, u, w, y

Some letters are not used to write Quechua : b, c, d, g, v, x, z


Pronunciation rules

A simplified notation of the International Phonetic Alphabet is used, accordingly to the one chosen in "Grammaire Quechuane" from Roparz Hemon (Al Liamm - 1984).

Quechua pronunciation
Simplified IPA Quechua spelling English spelling Other
a a () a (car)
ch ch () sh (shield)
e e () e (red)
f f () f (foot)
k q () k (keel)
i i () i (engine)
j j () y (yatagan)
k k () k (keel)
l l () l (long)
l' ll () None ll (Spanish : llano)
m m () m (more)
n n () n (night)
n' ñ () None gn (French : gagne)
o o () o (pot)
p p () p (park)
r r () None r (French: rire)
s s () s (son)
t t () t (tea)
u u () oo (pool) ou (French: tout)
w w () w (twin)
y y () y (yatagan)

Here write down your own explanation of the pronunciation if you feel it different from that one up:

Because Quechua was only recently transcribed into a Latin alphabet, it does not suffer from non-phonetic spellings like English; instead, what you see is what you say. In this course we will use the Quechua writing system as approved by the Peruvian government in 1985.


There are only three vowel phonemes in Quechua: /i/ (front close unrounded), /a/ (central open unrounded), /u/ (back close rounded), forming a triangular system with two degrees of openness (open and close). In contrast, Spanish has a 5-vowel triangular system (i, e, a, o, u), with three degrees of openness (open, mid and close).

Note this means that e and o are phonemic in Spanish but not in Quechua where they are merely allophonic variants of /i/ and /u/; this is because those vowels contrast and distinguish words in Spanish, so in Spanish it makes sense to spell them differently, but this is not true for Quechua, where the choice of [i]/[e] and of [u]/[o] is determined purely by the phonetic environment in which the phonemes /i/ and /u/ appear and not by meaning.

Strange as it may seem to Westerners to have so few vowels and to not distinguish e and o as independent vowels, Quechua vowel system is far from rare or unique, as several other languages from different parts of the world, such as Classical Arabic and Inuktitut, feature analogous 3-vowel systems.

Phoneme Spelling Sound Example
IPA X-SAMPA Similar to English
/a/ a [a]
[ɑ] (*)
[A] (*)
ah; a as in father
o as in (American) hot
akupana (sunset)
qatiq (descendant)
/i/ i [i]
[e] (*)
[e] (*)
ee, as in bee
e as in met
isanka (basket)
qatiq (descendant)
/u/ u [u]
[o] (*)
[o] (*)
oo as in boot
aw as in saw
trawu (alcohol)
waylluq (lover)
(*) When in the vicinity of uvular consonants (q, q', qh)


Most Quechuan consonants are similar to their English conterparts, however some people may have trouble with glottal stops.

IPA X-SAMPA Sound English Quechua Example Translation
p p p p, as in pot p Puka Red
t t t t, as in stamp t Taki Song
tS ch ch, as in chat ch Machu Old
k k k k, as in king k Mallki Mallki Forest
s s s s, as in sit s Sunqu Heart
q q similar to a k but further down the throat (no English equivalent) q Qillqay To write
h h h h, as in hug h Harawi Poem
m m m m, as in mate m K'allma Branch
n n n n, as in band n Manka Pot
ɲ J similar to ny ny, as in canyon ñ Ñaqch'a Comb
l l l l, as in live l Lawa Soup
ʎ L similar to ly lli, as in million ll Llank'a Job
r r r r Rap'a Page
w w w w, as in wing w Wanp'u Boat
j j y y, as in yes y Yaykuy To get up

For loanwords, Quechua can use b,c (as in jam), d, f, g, x (as in khan) and z (as in throw).

Basic dictionary

Yupay -- Counting -- Contar

Listen to the sounds by down loading the files (size shown in Kilo Bytes) -- Escuche a la sonida (indicamos el tamaño en KB)

   1 Juq (Juk, hoq)
   2 Iskay (iskai)
   3 Kinsa (Kimsa)
   4 Tawa
   5 Pichq'a (pisqa)
   6 Soqta
   7 K'anchis (qanchis)
   8 Pusac (pusaq)
   9 Isqon (isk'un)
   10 Chunka

L L i m p i k u n a -- Colors -- Colores

   yellow ballK'ello (q'ellu) = Yellow, Amarillo.
   blue ballAnqas (Anjas) = Blue, Azul.
   white ballYuraq = White, Blanco.
   black ballYana = Black, Negro.
   gray ballKosñi (q'osñi) = smoke-Gray, Gris.
   light gray (oqe) (light gray)
   red ballPuka = Red, Rojo.
   green ballQ'omer = Green, Verde.
   purple ballKulli = Purple, Morado.
   brown ballCh'umpi = Brown, Marrón.

Pronunciation for English Speakers

Vowels Sounds

They are similar to:

   ay 	= 	eye
   aw 	= 	ou t
   ey 	= 	ei ght
   iy 	= 	ea t
   oy 	= 	Oi nk
   uy 	= 	whea t

Consonants Sounds

Are hard to learn without hearing Quechua. If you sound like a German, making hard consonant sounds while clearing your throat, you're getting close. "ll" and ñ are special letters from the Spanish alphabet; "ll" has an ly sound as in William; ñ sounds like the first n in onion.

The Accented syllable is similar to Spanish, (with the stress on the second to last syllable, unless there is an accent mark), except for words that end with "Y".

The pronunciation, grammar, vocabulary, and spelling varies between different Quechua dialects. Native Quechua speakers from different countries or even different provinces are sometimes suprised when they talk with each other, and find how varied their language is.