Quechua and Mayan are two indigenous languages of Latin America. Quechua is one of the two indigenous languages with the largest number of speakers today (about 14 million, considering all its variants). Mayan or, rather, the Mayan languages currently have nine hundred thousand native speakers of the languages that make up this linguistic family.
Quechua is the language of the Inca Empire and has more than 500 years of contact with Spanish, so the influence between both languages has been natural. Loanwords happen from Spanish to Quechua and from Quechua to Spanish. Today, we will see some examples of words of Quechua origin that are part of the usual lexicon of Spanish, especially the one spoken in many Latin American countries.
On the other hand, Mayan is another of the native languages of Latin America that has influenced the Spanish we speak today. Notice, however, that what is currently known as the “Mayan language” is a linguistic family of around 30 different languages spoken in the ancient Mayan territory, which ranges from southeastern Mexico, Guatemala, Belize, Honduras, and El Salvador. These languages, which still live, share specific characteristics but are very different. Among all these, Peninsular Mayan is one of the official languages of Mexico.
In today’s article, we will see what are some of the words originating from Quechua and Mayan in Spanish:
Patatús: in Mayan, it means feigned death, and in current Spanish, it is a colloquial expression used to express astonishment or fainting. For example: con esta noticia me va a dar un patatús [This news is going to give me a patatús].
Cachito: Is synonymous with a piece, rather a little piece and comes from the onomatopoeia [cach] heard when something breaks. In Mayan, cach means “broken thing” or “that breaks.”
Cacao: Cacao was “the food of the gods” since the Mayans considered its plant sacred. Today, this food is known throughout the world and is an essential ingredient to produce chocolate.
Cenote: They are the characteristic wells of Yucatán province, in Mexico. It comes from the Mayan word tz’onot, which means well or cavern with water.
Cigar: Comes from the Mayan siyar and is a word that has spread to other languages due to the custom of inhaling tobacco made in the form of a roll.
Quechuisms are words of Quechua origin assimilated into Spanish over time. Some linguistic loans remain in Peru, Bolivia, Argentina, Chile, Ecuador, and Colombia. Countries that were part of the Inca Empire. Let’s review some of these:
Cancha: It comes from the Quechua kancha and means enclosure, like the space intended for specific sports or shows.
Charqui: Dehydrated and salted meat typical of South America’s Andean and southern regions.
Chaucha: Currency of low value. Chauchera: in Bolivia and Chile, it is synonymous with a purse.
Concho: Sediment located at the bottom of a container and used to refer to the last child of a couple. In the case of the last child, the diminutive conchito is more common.
Mate: Drink made from the leaves and branches of Ilex paraguariensis, the plant itself and the container used to drink it.
Nanai: caress to soothe pain. The Chilean Academy of Language defines it as “a very tender caress that attempts to soothe pain or sorrow.” It is also used to express tenderness; for example, when one sees a very tender baby, they express “Nanai!”
Morocho: Comes from the Quechua “muruch’u”, which means “variety of tough corn.” But in Argentina, Bolivia, Paraguay, Peru, and Uruguay, it is an adjective for a person with brown skin and black hair.
Palta: Peruvians and Chileans call palta to this green and creamy fruit. It is known as aguacate in the rest of the countries in the region.
Poncho: A coat consisting of a square blanket made of wool or cloth with an opening in the centre.
Pucho: means leftover. In Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, Honduras, Paraguay, Peru, and Uruguay, it refers to a cigarette or its butt.
Guagua: Boy, girl and infant. Chile, Argentina, Bolivia, Colombia, and Ecuador use it as a synonym for baby.
Yapa: Is an Andean idiom that refers to a gift or extra addition to a product during a commercial transaction, especially in a popular context.
As a bonus track, two Nahuatl words used in current Spanish: aguacate and apapachar. Aguacate: It comes from ahuacatl, which means testicles. The avocado has this name because of the shape of this fruit. Acapachar means squeezing or giving love to another with the first impulse. It is adorable and is a verb used in Latin American Spanish to hug or, to be more precise, to pamper to another.
Now you know that you can always comfort a loved one with a “nanai” or “apapacharlo” until he or she feels better. You know the influence of Quechua and Mayan in Spanish, and you can use it to take your Spanish to the next level.
Keep learning more and more about the Spanish language and its different cultures through the articles published on our blog.