Title: Unveiling the Enigma of Incan Languages: Rodolfo Cerrón Palomino's "Las lenguas de los incas" (2023)


In the vast tapestry of human history, few civilizations have left as indelible a mark as the Incas. Renowned for their architectural marvels, cultural richness, and remarkable linguistic diversity, the Incan Empire continues to captivate the imagination of scholars and enthusiasts alike. One of the most profound inquiries into the world of Incan languages comes in the form of Rodolfo Cerrón Palomino's masterpiece, "Las lenguas de los incas." Published in 2013 by PL Academic Research, this exceptional text is a treasure trove of linguistic insight, shedding light on the intricate linguistic landscape of the Incas.

Unveiling the Three Pillars: Puquina, Aimara, and Quechua

In the early days of the Incan Empire, there existed three dominant languages: Puquina, Aimara, and Quechua. These languages were not mere linguistic curiosities but the very conduits of Incan civilization. Puquina, once widespread across the western slopes of the Andes, found its roots in the Lake Titicaca basin. Extending from Arequipa to Arica and Iquique, Puquina left behind scant linguistic records, but its geographical presence was indisputable. Virrey Toledo, in 1575, acknowledged the existence of these three foundational languages.

The enigma lies in the Incan court, where two distinct languages were spoken: the general language and a secret one. Garcilazo de la Vega, Von Tschudi, and Martín de Murúa all allude to this cryptic tongue. While some claim it to be Quechua, others argue for Aimara or even the lesser-known Puquina. Cerrón Palomino's hypothesis weaves a compelling narrative, suggesting that the Incan secret language was a hybrid of these three, evolving over time.

Evidence comes from the "Suma y narración de los Incas" by Juan Díez de Betanzos, recently discovered. It narrates a victory over the Soras, previously encoded in the secret language, believed by some to be Puquina, others Aimara. Cerrón's meticulous analysis leads us to the conclusion that the Incas transitioned from Puquina to Aimara and then to Quechua, ultimately designating Puquina as the secret tongue. This linguistic evolution is reinforced by mythological and archaeological data, including the Incas' origin myth, which traces their journey from Lake Titicaca.

Decoding the Incan Secret Language

The Incan secret language, referred to as the "Corpus garcilasiano," was exclusive to Incan nobility and featured words like "Capac," "Iqui," and "Contiti." Cerrón's investigation shows that only four words were of Quechua origin, three of Aimara, and two hybrids of Quechua and Puquina. The remaining ten are attributed to the Colla-Puquina language, painting a complex linguistic picture.

The Aimara Enigma

Aimara, the second language of the Incas, had its roots in the central Andes. Its spread occurred in stages, initially coinciding with the expansion of the Huari culture. In the second stage, Aimara pushed further south, aimarizing the Proto Quechua, reaching Cuzco, Arequipa, and engaging with Puquina. The final expansion, labeled Proto-Aimara, impacted the territory of the Aimaraes, projecting towards the highlands and halting the Puquina influence. Aimara was the dominant language of Incan administration, prevailing over Quechua until Pachacutiy Inca Yupanqui's reign.

Quechua's Origins

Pre-Proto-Quechua was situated in the central-northern Peruvian highlands, with associations to the Chavín culture. The Proto-Quechua (PQ) expanded to the central-southern coast, bifurcating into Quechua I and Quechua II. This linguistic development coincided with Chinchas and Chancas, displacing Aimara. During Huari's decline, Aimara gained prominence in Cuzco.


Rodolfo Cerrón Palomino's "Las lenguas de los incas" is a groundbreaking work that dispels long-standing myths surrounding Incan languages, toponyms, and anthroponyms. This comprehensive analysis, driven by Cerrón's interdisciplinary expertise in philology, linguistics, and history, redefines our understanding of Incan linguistics. The Incan Empire's linguistic diversity, a testament to their rich cultural tapestry, comes alive through this invaluable work. As we delve deeper into the linguistic labyrinth of the Incas, we unearth a profound testament to their heritage.

By delving into the linguistic enigma of the Incas, we gain a deeper appreciation of this remarkable civilization, fostering a greater understanding of their linguistic complexity and the intricate tapestry of history they left behind. Cerrón Palomino's work stands as a beacon illuminating the path to unraveling the secrets of the past.

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