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Unravelling the Enigma of the Particular Language of the Incas


in Archaeology and Language in the Andes

Published in print: 2012 Published Online:
Publisher: British Academy
January 2013
DOI: 10.5871/bacad/9780197265031.003.0011
ISBN: 9780197265031 eISBN: 9780191754142
Item type: chapter

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

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