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Alternative Names. Aimara, Aymará.

Overview and Classification. Aymara is one the most important native languages of South America. Though it has substantial phonological and structural similarities with Quechua and share with it more than 20% of its lexicon, it has not been proven that they are genetically related. They could be the result of a long and constant interaction. The only proved relation of Aymara is with two minor Peruvian languages: Jaqaru (spoken by less than a thousand people in the Department of Lima) and Cauqui (spoken by a  few individuals in the village of Cachuy).

    The Aymara homeland was, probably, in the Andes of central or southern Peru from where it was partially displaced by Quechua into the highlands of Bolivia, particularly around Lake Titicaca. During the Spanish colonization Quechua was favored over Aymara.

    Like all South Amerindian languages Aymara was not written before the Spanish conquest. It has like Quechua three basic vowels but the consonant system is more complex including aspirated and glottalized stops. Its morphology is agglutinative adding suffixes to nouns and verbs to mark grammatical features.

Distribution. The Aymara area lies to the east and south of Lake Titicaca in Bolivia and Peru. In Bolivia it is spoken in the southern half of La Paz department (including the city of La Paz), in the department of Oruro, and in parts of the departments of Cochabamba and Potosí. In Peru, in the departments of Moquegua, Puno and Tacna. In Chile, small Aymara speaking communities are found in the mountains of the extreme north, especially in the highlands of Taparacá. In Argentina, the Aymara are migrants to the northern provinces or to the city of Buenos Aires.

Speakers. Around two million people in the following countries: Bolivia (1,500,000), Perú (500,000), Argentina (30,000), Chile (1,000).


Status. In the last four centuries Aymara has been displaced from southern and eastern Bolivian highlands and from southern Peru by Quechua which is now the dominant language. The absolute number of speakers hasn't changed much in the last decades but in percentage terms Aymara is slowly decreasing. In the Bolivian constitution of 2009, thirty-four indigenous languages (Aymara included) were recognized as official along with Spanish. It has no official recognition in Peru.

Oldest Documents

  1. 1603.Two grammars written by the Italian Jesuit Ludovico Bertonio.

  1. 1612.A dictionary written also by Ludovico Bertonio.

  1. 1616.A grammatical description by Torres Rubio.


Word structure: all Aymara nominal and verbal roots end in a vowel; they don't have initial consonant clusters but may have internal ones of two consonants at most. This simple picture is complicated when one or more suffixes are added to the root because they frequently induce the elision of the precedent vowel (of the root or of a precedent suffix); sometimes also vowels of the suffix itself are suppressed. As a result, complex consonant clusters may be formed.

Vowels (6). Aymara, like Quechua, has three vowels: high-front i, low-central a, high-back u. They can be short or long, and vowel length is phonemic. High vowels are lowered to mid vowels (e and o) in the environment of a uvular consonant.

Consonants (26) (in La Paz Aymara): all stops and affricates are voiceless; they can be plain, aspirated or glottalized. There is a contrast between velar and uvular consonants. Fricatives are also voiceless. A velar nasal consonant is present in the dialects of the border area between Bolivia, Chile and Peru.


Stress. It falls in the penultimate syllable.

Script and Orthography. Aymara is written in a Latin-based script established in 1985. There is a perfect correspondence between characters and basic sounds (represented between brackets in the International Phonetic Alphabet):



Like Quechua, Aymara has a complex but regular morphology. It is an agglutinating language based on suffixes (there are no prefixes). Up to nine consecutive suffixes may be found in a word. Suffix order is more flexible than in Quechua. There are nominal, verbal and independent suffixes.

    One important characteristic of Aymara is its fourfold personal reference system evidenced in its personal pronouns, nominal possessive suffixes and in the verbal system. It is based on the inclusion or non-inclusion of speaker and addressee. The first person includes the speaker but not the addressee, the second person includes the addressee but not the speaker, the third person includes neither the speaker nor the addressee, the fourth person includes both the addressee and the speaker. The last one is, in fact, an inclusive first person plural. To express an exclusive first person plural, a plural marker is added to the first-person-singular endings. The second and third persons can also be made plural though number is of secondary importance in the system.

  1. Nominal. Nouns are marked for number, case and possession.

  1. case: nominative, accusative, allative, ablative, genitive-locative, instrumental-comitative, benefactive.

  2. Aymara is a nominative-accusative language. The nominative is unmarked and the accusative is marked by eliminating the stem final vowel. The other cases are marked by suffixes added at the end of the noun phrase (which is usually the head-noun). The allative (motion towards a goal) is marked by -ru, and the ablative by -ta/-tha. The locative and genitive are both indicated by -na; the instrumental-comitative is marked by -mpi, and the benefactive by -taki.

  1. possession: is marked by suffixes placed usually after the plural marker, but sometimes before it. They are part of the personal reference system and constitute short versions of the personal pronouns (see below). Possession as general ownership is expressed by means of the suffix -ni.

  1. pronouns: personal, demonstrative, interrogative.

  2. Personal pronouns have four terms, one for the speaker (first person), one for the addressee (second person), one for third person, and one first person plural that includes the speaker and the addressee (4th person).



  1. Personal pronouns and possessive suffixes are ambiguous respect to number. The plural marker -naka might be added to the former but not to the latter. If it is added to the first person pronoun it expresses a 1st person plural exclusive, thus na-naka means “we but not you".

  1. Demonstrative pronouns indicate four degrees of distance: aka ('this'), uka ('that'), khaya ('that' yonder), khuri (remote).

  1. Interrogatives function also as indefinite pronouns. They are: khiti (‘who’), kuna (‘what’), kawki (‘where’), kamisa (‘how’), qawqha (‘how much’). They are usually suffixed with the interrogative suffix -sa and can take prepositional suffixes.

  1. Verbal. Tense, aspect, mood, and personal reference may be indicated. The last one includes combined suffixes for both the subject and a human direct or indirect object. Aymara lacks a verb "to be" and nominal predication is indicated by lengthening the final vowel of a noun or noun phrase.

  1. person and number: the marking of the subject is based on the four-person system already mentioned though the verbal suffixes are different from the personal pronouns. The marking of the object, direct or indirect, is also based on the four-person system though a 3rd person object is not marked formally. The subject and object suffixes are always combined and cannot be separated by a tense marker (in contrast with Quechua) giving nine possible combinations:

  1. 1 pers. subject (3 pers. object)

  2. 2 pers. subject (3 pers. object)

  3. 3 pers. subject (3 pers. object)

  4. 4 pers. subject (3 pers. object)

  5. 1 pers. subject + 2 pers. object

  6. 2 pers. subject + 1 pers. object

  7. 3 pers. subject + 1 pers. object

  8. 3 pers. subject + 2 pers. object

  9. 3 pers. subject + 4 pers. object

  1. Verbal endings have no plural counterparts but it is possible to express plurality internally in the verb form.

  1. tense: simple (aorist), near remote past, far remote past, future.

  2. Tense is expressed by using tense-specific personal endings or by tense markers.

  3. The simple tense is unmarked and can have a present or past sense. There are two past tenses that differ in evidentiality. The near remote past refers to events of the speaker’s personal recollection (often including surprise), whereas the far remote past refers to events not witnessed by the speaker. The near remote past is marked with the suffix -ya placed before the simple tense personal endings beginning with a consonant or by the suffix -ana placed after the simple tense personal endings beginning with a vowel. The far remote past is marked with the suffix -ta placed before the simple tense personal endings beginning with consonant or by reduplication when simple tense personal endings begin with a vowel. The endings of the future tense are quite different from those of the unmarked and remote past tenses.

  1. The most frequent person in the two remote past tenses is the 3S (3O) which has special personal endings (highlighted in blue). The 2S + 1O of the near remote would be identical to the 3S + 4O if the suffix -ana was used; thus the corresponding form of the far remote past tense is employed instead (highlighted in red).

  1. S = subject; O = object

  1. aspect: completive, progressive.

  2. To indicate completion of an action the suffix -xa is used; non completion is indicated by -ska. The aspect markers interact in a complex way with pluralization and negation.

  1. mood: indicative, potential, imperative.

  1. Aymara has a potential mood, which is divided into two tenses: present potential and past potential. The present potential (or desiderative) indicates the possibility of an event in the near future while the past potential (or reproacher) refers to an event that has failed to take place in the past. The imperative paradigm has second and third-person subject forms. Besides, future-tense forms can be used in a hortative sense, thus compensating for the absence of specific first- and fourth-person-subject endings.

  1. evidentiality: evidential distinctions like witnessing an action or not, inference or conjecture may also be expressed in the verb. We have considered the first case when mentioning the two past tenses. The suffix -pacha, called inferential, signals that an event has not been witnessed but is known by deduction; it is placed before the personal endings of the simple, near remote past or future tenses. The so-called non-involver suffix -chi expresses a conjecture in any indicative and potential tense.

  1. derivative conjugations: causative, reflexive-reciprocal, spatial direction, ventive, beneficial, detrimental.

  2. Aymara has a rich derivational morphology based exclusively on suffixing. For example, it has four verbal suffixes denoting direction of motion: inward, outward, upward and downward. The ventive combines the notions of motion towards the speaker and action performed in other place.


In full sentences, Subject-Object-Verb word order is predominant but not obligatory. In dependent clauses, verb-final order is obligatory. Syntactic relations in the sentence are marked by case. The subject is unmarked. Case markers are added to the last element of a noun phrase (normally the head). Aymara is a head-final language, i.e., in noun phrases all modifiers precede their heads. The possessive construction is formed  by doubly marking the possessor and the possessed:

  1. jupan                phucha-pa-wa

  2. he/she-GEN  daughter-POSS3rd-AFF

  1. She is his/her daughter

  1. n is the marker of the genitive case (whose vowel is elided)

  2. pa is the possessive marker for the 3rd person

  3. wa is an affirmative marker

Aymara is rich in independent suffixes. The independent suffix -wa, expresses affirmation or personal witness. The suffix -ti is used in negations and in polar questions. Interrogative expressions containing WH-question words are followed by -sa. Aymara has several other independent suffixes that indicate emphasis, politeness or attenuation. Complex sentences in Aymara are often constructed by juxtaposition of non-subordinate verbal clauses. The relation between clauses can be made explicit by the presence of independent affixes, the form of the verb in the first clause, and by the presence of lexical elements.


  Aymara and Quechua share a part of their lexicon and in many cases is difficult to know which language has borrowed from the other. Aymara has many loanwords from Spanish that frequently have integrated seamlessly into it.

   As all Aymara words end in a vowel, Quechua and Spanish borrowed words ending in a consonant must add a final vowel. The number of verbal roots is quite limited but is compensated by a rich derivational morphology that expands the range of meanings.

Basic Vocabulary

The words for 3, 5, 6, 10, 100 are shared with Quechua. The words for the numbers 7 and 8 are formed by joining those for 2 and 3 with an ancient name for five (qallqu). The word for 9 is a reflex of llalla-tunka ('almost ten').

one: maya

two: paya

three: kimsa

four: pusi

five: phiska

six: sujta

seven: paqallqu

eight: kimsaqallqu

nine: llatunka

ten: tunka

hundred: pataka

father: awki

mother: tayka

elder brother: xila

youger brother: sullka

younger brother (of a woman): alu

elder sister: kullaka

younger sister: chinqui

son: yuqa

daughter: phucha

head: p'iqi

eye: nayra

foot: kayu

heart: chuyma/lluqu

tongue: laxra

  1. © 2013 Alejandro Gutman and Beatriz Avanzati                                                                               

Further Reading

  1. -Outline of Aymara Phonological and Grammatical Structure. M. J. Hardman, J. Vásquez, J. de Dios Yapita Moya. University of Florida (1974).

  2. -'The Aymaran language Family'. W. F. H. Adelaar & P. C. Muysken. In The Languages of the Andes, 259-301. Cambridge University Press (2004).

  3. -'Aymará'. W. F. H. Adelaar. In Concise Encyclopedia of Languages of the World, 108-110. K. Brown & S. Ogilvie (eds). Elsevier (2009).

  4. -Lingüística Aimara. R. Cerrón-Palomino. Cuzco: Centro Bartolomé de Las Casas (2000).

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