A Comparative Study of the Andean Languages





Website Contents


About This Research


CD-Rom of the Sounds of the Andean Languages


Fieldwork Locations & Sources

including Map, photo pages and the traditional ‘Family Tree’ of Quechua


Our Comparative Data

including a link to download our database


Published Articles and Abstracts

Enigmas in the origins of the Andean languages:  applying new techniques to the unanswered questions.

Click here for the online errata for this article.



Research Questions, Methods and Data


Link Back to Main Quechua Website


Last updated:  08/06/06.



Back to Contents


About This Research

These webpages present a comparative study of the Andean languages, particularly the Quechua and Aymara language families.  Click on these links for more on what we hoped to find out, and how.

General information about the Andean languages is available on our Quechua Language and Linguistics website, particularly the page on Origins, History and Regional Variation in Quechua.


This study is part of a larger research project Quantitative Methods in Language Classification, which ran from July 2001 to June 2004, at the Department of English Language and Linguistics at the University of Sheffield, in the uk.  For more general information on that overall research project, see its website.

Funding:  All of this research was funded by an award from the Arts and Humanities Research Board, one of the main uk state funding bodies for research.

Staff:  Four researchers were involved in the overall project:  April McMahon, Rob McMahon, Natalia Slaska, and the researcher responsible for this study on the Andean languages, Paul Heggarty.  Again, for more background on these researchers, see our project website.



Project Timetable and Completion

Our data were collected in fieldwork trips between December 2001 and February 2004, and since then have been analysed and processed to give us results in the form of measures of the similarity between all the language varieties covered, on the lexical level so far.  We then processed these data using various ‘family tree‑drawing’ programmes, particularly the very new NeighbourNet (for more details, click here).

Two articles based on our data and results have already been published (see below), and our full lexical data can be downloaded here.


Work on comparison of these same language varieties on the phonetic level will be conducted between March and June 2007 at the department of Linguistics and English Language at the University of Edinburgh, within the research project Sound Comparisons:  Dialect and Language Comparison and Classification by Phonetic Similarity.  For more details, see the project website at www.soundcomparisons.com.

That work will result in two more articles, one in English to be submitted to a major linguistics journal, another in Spanish to be submitted to Revista Andina;  and a new database of sound changes within the Quechua language family.



Back to Contents


Published Articles and Abstracts

Our first major article based on this comparative study of the Andean languages, presenting our methods and most important results, was published in issue 40 of the leading Peruvian journal on Andean studies, Revista Andina.  As the lead article of issue 40, this consists of:

   the text of the main article, pages 9-57

   four commentaries by specialists in Quechua and Aymara linguistics:

      Willem Adelaar (Netherlands), pages 58-60

      Xavier Albó (Bolivia), pages 60-63

      Rodolfo Cerrón‑Palomino (Peru), pages 63-67

      César Itier (France), pages 67-70

   the author’s response to those commentaries, pages 70-80.


The article is published in Spanish, under the title:

Enigmas en el origen de las lenguas andinas:  aplicando nuevas técnicas a las incógnitas por resolver


We hope to publish an adapted English version soon, with the title:
Enigmas in the origins of the Andean languages:  applying new techniques to the unanswered questions.


If you’re interested in this research from the point of view of what it can teach us specifically about the origins and historical development of the main indigenous languages of the Andes, and what this can tell us about that of the peoples who spoke them, then you’re best to read this summary.

If you’re a historical linguist and more interested in the actual new methods we apply for linguistic purposes, I suggest you read this alternative summary.


The full bibliographical details for the article are:

Heggarty, Paul,  (2005)
Enigmas en el origen de las lenguas andinas:  aplicando nuevas técnicas a las incógnitas por resolver,
Revista Andina 40,  pages 9-80.  Centro Bartolomé de las Casas:  Cuzco
Spanish      Availability: CBC


Unfortunately the author was not given the opportunity of checking the proofs before publication, with the result that the article was published containing many typographical errors introduced during the publisher’s redrawing of some of the figures, and a few others with phonetic symbols in the text itself.  A full list of errata can be consulted here (in Spanish).


A second article, in English, appears as:

McMahon, April, Paul Heggarty, Robert McMahon & Natalia Slaska (2005)
Swadesh sublists and the benefits of borrowing: an Andean case study,
in: McMahon, April (ed.): Quantitative Methods in Language Comparison
Transactions of the Philological Society
103(2), 147-169. Oxford: Blackwell.



Back to Contents


A CD-Rom of the Sounds of the Andean Languages

Including seventeen regional varieties of Quechua from Ecuador, Peru and Bolivia,
as well as Jaqaru, Kawki, and three varieties of Southern (Altiplano) Aymara


As a further outcome from the above comparative research project, and a tangible output of value to the speakers of these languages far beyond the linguistic research community, in the second half of 2005 we converted our fieldwork phonetics recordings into a cd‑rom of the Sounds of the Andean Languages.  This cd‑rom is being distributed free to all the communities concerned (our twenty fieldwork locations where our sound recordings were made), and any other interested relevant institutions in the Andean countries.  An online version of the whole cd‑rom is also available on our Quechua website.

Both the cd‑rom and web versions are based principally around tables of side-by-side links that speakers need simply glide their mouse over to hear how the same word is pronounced in all twenty regional language varieties in our database.  The structure guides users through the regional differences in pronunciation, with the specific intention of supporting literacy programmes in native Andean languages. Particularly we aim to support the adoption of the neutral, harmonised spelling system now being promoted throughout the Andean countries, by helping explain those aspects of it that speakers in one region or another can at first sight find difficult and perplexing.  (It is possible to view our corresponding broad phonetic transcriptions too, which make the resource valuable also to trained linguists.)

Engaging with our audience puts a premium on our dissemination material being as user-friendly as possible.  It is cd‑roms and the internet that have allowed us to include maps, over 400 photos of our informants and their home regions, and – crucially for non-specialists and for as yet essentially unwritten languages – media that can integrate easy-to-use (clickable) sound recordings.  Equally vital is that our cd‑rom and website are available in a Spanish language version (as well as an English language one).  It also includes sample material in six varieties of Quechua and Aymara themselves.

This work was carried out by Paul Heggarty, with translations to Spanish by two Peruvian linguists, Dante Oliva León and especially Marco Ferrell Ramírez.  The production and dissemination of both the website and cd‑roms were funded entirely through a research dissemination grant from the U.K.’s Arts and Humanities Research Board.

For more project details, click to see our CD-Rom project webpage.  For the online version of the complete Sounds of the Andean Languages project, click here.



Back to Contents

Link to Main Quechua Website