Supplementary Information



for the article: 


Heggarty, Paul, 2008

Linguistics for archaeologists:  a case-study in the Andes

Cambridge Archaeological Journal 18(1)


the full text of this article will be available for download as a .pdf from Feb. 2008  [1.08 mb  ]

Note:    This article is the second of a pair of articles on ‘Linguistics for archaeologists’; 
for information on the first article and a download link,
click here.



The Numerals 1 to 10 in Quechua and Aymara

as an Illustration of the Complex Relationships Between these Language Families


In Heggarty 2008, the numerals systems of the Aymara and Quechua languages are described as “a microcosm of the complex relationships” between these language families.  This page sets out the relevant linguistic data and analysis in detail, as a further illustration of how linguistics can be used to make deductions about the origins and contacts between the speakers of given languages in the past.  We begin with a list of these numerals in Quechua and Aymara.


Words for the Numerals 1 to 10 in Quechua and Aymara

these words are given here in phonemic transcription (see below),
using the International Phonetic Alphabet





















tawa  /  ʈʂuʂku




























Colours in this table are used to identify which word roots are assumed to be original to which languages: 

   dark blue is used for original Quechua roots

   brown for original Aymara roots

   and a dim grey-blue to indicate roots which Aymara appears to have borrowed as loanwords from Quechua.


Phonemic rather than phonetic transcription is used here as the standard linguistic analysis at the level of a language’s sound system, abstracting away from more precise sound differences which are not significant in the language concerned (such as the difference between [u] and [o] in the Andean languages).  If you wish to see the more detailed phonetic transcriptions and hear the corresponding pronunciations, please click on the following links:

     numerals 1 to 5 in the Andean languages
  numerals 6 to 10 in the Andean languages


The Numerals as Clues to Language Origins and Contacts

The basic numerals are commonly looked to in linguistics as potentially valuable indicators of language origins and contact.  Many languages show evidence of having at an earlier stage had a numeral system that did not count far beyond the lower numerals, and having later acquired words for the higher numerals as loanwords from other languages.  A number of indigenous languages today have native words only for the lowest few numerals, say for example one, two and three, while above that just a cover-term like many...;  for higher numerals they typically borrow terms from other languages with which they are in contact (often European ones).  Studies of the higher Indo-European numerals have often suggested that similar loans may have occurred in the early history of that language family too. 

More specifically, different cultures may use counting systems of different bases, i.e. not necessarily decimal (base 10), but others such as base 5, in which case their language can be expected not to have separate words for numbers above 5.

Of the numerals from 1 to 10, then, it is the lowest few that are normally assumed to reflect a language’s native, ancestral roots, indeed they are usually among the most stable of all parts of the lexicon resistant to borrowing:  almost all languages retain native roots at least for 1 and 2, for instance, whatever the source of their words for the higher numerals.  These higher numerals, then, can be much more prone to being borrowed from other languages, especially in situations of contact between cultures whose counting systems are of different bases.  In such cases, one culture may eventually switch to the counting system used by the other, and in doing so either borrow words for the ‘new’ higher numerals required, or derive new words by combining words for the lower numerals.

A comparison of the numerals 1 to 10 in Quechua and Aymara suggests that many of these processes occurred in the earlier histories of the languages.


Lower Numerals

Quechua and Aymara show entirely unrelated roots for the lowest numerals 1, 2 and 4.  Even this very simple fact powerfully suggests that the languages are unlikely to be ultimately related to each other (as supported by a much wider body of other linguistic evidence).  From 5 upwards, meanwhile, Central Aymara shares identical roots with Quechua, while Southern Aymara has some roots identical with Quechua, and others derived in more complex ways (see below).

It is true that even 3 shows a perfect match between Quechua and Aymara, but suspiciously so, in fact, for any claims of a deep shared origin between the languages.  For it is clear from the very significant differences between these languages on all levels (there is no mutual intelligibility between them whatsoever, apart from isolated loanwords) that they do not go back to any remotely recent common origin (i.e. counted at least in many millennia), if ever.  In this light, the ‘perfect’ phonetic match of Quechua kimsa (3) with Aymara kimsa (3) is suspicious in the sense that even if the languages did have an ultimate common origin, over so many millennia since that time, one would have expected natural sound changes to have ensured that their modern pronunciations of any originally common word would no longer be perfectly identical.  Recall the illustration in Heggarty (2007) with the words all derived from Latin septem (seven), no longer the same in any of the major Romance languages after just two millennia. 

That Aymara kimsa is identical to the word in many Quechua regions clearly seems to reflect a borrowing from Quechua in relatively recent times, which must have replaced the original Aymara root, now lost.  That this happened even for so low a numeral as 3 is to be taken in this case as evidence of just how heavily the influence of Quechua has weighed upon Aymara, especially in the numerals system.


Higher Numerals

In Central Aymara, all the numbers for 5 and above were simply borrowed wholesale from Quechua.  However, since Aymara does not tolerate words that end in a consonant, it also made automatic phonetic adaptations to the Quechua pronunciations, by adding an extra final vowel to those that did not already end in a vowel in Quechua.

Most revealing of all is what happened with the higher numerals in Southern Aymara. 

   The terms for 5, 6 and 10 were borrowed straight from Quechua.

   The term for 9 uses the Quechua root for 10, but prefixed with the native Aymara lla, meaning something like almost:  i.e. 9 is said literally as almost 10.

   The terms for 7 and 8 are derivations, formed respectively from the Aymara word for 2 (paya, here reduced to pa), and the Quechua word for 3, in each case followed by the root qallqu.  This root qallqu is of uncertain provenance, but perhaps it was the original Aymara word for 5, which survives now only in these derivations, while in the simple meaning 5 it has now been replaced by the Quechua word.

All of this seems to suggest that Aymara originally had a base 5 system, and only moved to base 10 later on the model of the Quechua, some of whose numerical terms it borrowed for the switch.