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Archaeology and Language in the Andes$
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Paul Heggarty and David Beresford-Jones

Print publication date: 2012

Print ISBN-13: 9780197265031

Published to British Academy Scholarship Online: January 2013

DOI: 10.5871/bacad/9780197265031.001.0001

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Unravelling the Enigma of the ‘Particular Language’ of the Incas

Unravelling the Enigma of the ‘Particular Language’ of the Incas

(p.264) (p.265) 11 Unravelling the Enigma of the ‘Particular Language’ of the Incas
Archaeology and Language in the Andes


British Academy

Sixteenth- and seventeenth-century chroniclers call attention to the Incas having had a ‘particular language’, used exclusively by members of the court. The sparse linguistic material attributed to it consists of barely a dozen proper names which ‘El Inca’ Garcilaso de la Vega, unable to explain through his Quechua mother tongue, assumed must belong to the purported secret language. On closer inspection most of these words do turn out to be explicable in terms of either a Quechua or an Aymara origin. Nevertheless, a small amount of extant onomastic material — mostly Inca institutional names — cannot be traced back to either, and points to a third language instead. This chapter makes the case that this could have been Puquina, once a major language of the Titicaca Basin, whence the mythical Incas set out on their journey to Cuzco. Linguistic, mythohistorical, and archaeological evidence are offered support of this hypothesis.

Keywords:   Incas, Garcilaso de la Vega, Quechua, secret language, onomastic material, Puquina

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