Ecuadorian Spanish – The Mixing of Cultures

White board during lesson on basic Spanish pleasantries for volunteers upon arrival in country

White board during lesson on basic Spanish pleasantries for volunteers upon arrival in country

With 330 million native speakers, Spanish is the fourth most widely-spoken language in the world according to The Statistics Portal. Spanish is the official or national language of 19 countries in the Americas. The U.S., with some 44 million Spanish speakers, ranks #3 in number of Spanish speakers in the world, according to www.mapsoftheworld.com.

Throughout many centuries, there have been deep ethnic changes in Latin America due to processes of domination and colonization. These led to the extinction of many cultures and languages. However, in spite of this, many countries in Latin America continue to be pluricultural and multilingual in that many cultures and languages spoken by diverse ethnic groups coexist. In some countries, indigenous people constitute 40% of the population. This mixing of cultures that has occurred is evident in language as well. Undoubtedly, Spanish, when arriving in the Americas, was influenced by the indigenous languages. Quechua, the language of the Incas, is one of these languages that is still spoken in many South American countries and in some countries, such as Ecuador and Peru, is one of the official languages. Quechua has greatly influenced the Spanish spoken in Ecuador, for example.

Leonardo, the child reading here with volunteer Martin, speaks Quechua at home

Leonardo, the child reading here with volunteer Martin, speaks Quechua at home

Just as Ecuadorians are ethnically a mix of Spanish and indigenous peoples, their Spanish language reflects this mestizaje, or mix, of the two (or more) cultures. Many words that come from Quechua are used in Ecuadorian Spanish. First, names of provinces and volcanoes are almost always in Quechua. Cotopaxi is the highest active peak in Ecuador and this name – Cotopaxi – means ‘shining peak’. Tungurahua, one of the most active volcanoes in Ecuador, means ‘throat of fire’ in Quechua. ‘Pichincha’, ‘Imbabura’, and ‘Wawa’/’Guagua’ are all common household Quechua names of volcanoes and provinces in Ecuador. It is very natural for geographical names to be in indigenous languages spoken long before Christopher Columbus ever set foot on these lands. But the influence of indigenous languages in Ecuadorian Spanish extends much further, enriching this already beautiful language. For example, ñaña means ‘sister of a woman’ in Quechua. Meaning, I am a woman, I can call my sister ñaña, but there is a different term for the sister of a man. Of course, in Spanish, the word for sister is hermana. In Ecuador there is quite a difference between saying my ‘hermana’ or my ‘ñaña’ – the word in Quechua expresses much more love and affection than in Spanish. It is beautiful. And then of course, people wanted to make this word masculine so in Spanish, that would mean making it end in an ‘O’ – ñaño. This word in Ecuador means ‘brother’, ‘friend’, ‘buddy’ and is extremely affectionate. It does not exist in Quechua, but is heard throughout Ecuador. To make it even more affectionate, use the diminutive – ñañito. This is a gorgeous mix of language bursting with endearment!

Other Quechua words commonly used in Ecuadorian Spanish include:
taita for father or dad (again, very affectionate)
guaguas for children
guambra for a child (but older than a guagua)
locro for a thick soup
changa for leg
llucho for naked
cushqui for money
pacha for land or earth

And the list goes on and on.

The influence that Quechua has had on Spanish shows the intimate relationship that these two languages have shared. In Ecuador, it is entirely different to say “qué changas más bonitas” (changas = ‘legs’ in Quechua) than it is to say “qué piernas más bonitas” (entirely in Spanish). The former is much more intimate and affectionate! Likewise, to refer to your young children, “guaguas” demonstrates much more love than to simply say “hijos”.  This mixing of the languages is a representation of the ethnic mestizaje, or mix, that is the gorgeous reality of so many places in South America.

A man on the street in Quito promoting learning Quechua

A man on the street in Quito promoting learning Quechua

An indigenous woman from Otavalo, where Quechua is widely spoken

An indigenous woman from Otavalo, where Quechua is widely spoken

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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