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Discovering idioms in Quechua

What is Quechuan?

Quechua, often referred to as Runasimi (“people’s language”), is an indigenous language family spoken by several million people in South America. Quechua was the main language family of the Incan empire, which rose from the Peruvian highlands sometime in the early 13th century, and survived until 1572. Although the colonists tried to suppress Quechua, it survived extinction thorough a handful of native speakers. In modern days, Quechua is spoken in Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador, Colombia, and Argentina.

To get a better understanding over the vocabulary and the general tone of any language, an essential endeavor for all translators and polyglots, it’s important to understand local idioms. An idiom is a formulaic or figurative phrase that expresses sentiments through metaphorical meaning, that is different from the literal meaning of its words. For additional notes on idioms, see Why language-learners should study idioms.

Idioms allow us to express ourselves in ways which are not possible with simple phrases. To get a better understanding of the Quechua language, here are a few popular phrases:

 

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Sonsochakoq

This literally means that a person is “acting dumb.” In a more general context, it refers to a person who is fooling around; not actively applying themselves to the task at hand and in reality just pretending to work!

 

Warmichakoq

The literal translation is “hunting for women”, and this idiom is used when someone (usually a man) leaves the house unexpectedly, without any proper explanation. The inferrance is that when a man goes out suddenly, he must surely be looking for a girlfriend!

 

Champ’a Uma

The literal translation is “head, weed.” It is used to refer to a woman who has messy, unkempt hair wigs – as if there were weeds growing from her head!

 

Suwasqa wasi hina simiyoq

This idiom describes individuals who do not have any teeth. (Sadly, this situation is mostly due to the lack of dentists in the region, as well as generally low wages.) The literal (and glorious) translation is “your mouth is as empty as the house that you just robbed.”

 

Muyoq siki

A Muyoq siki is a women who loves to dance! It applies regardless of how she dances. However colloquially this usually describes a woman who dances with sexy (maybe jerky) movements. The literal translation for this phrase is “a rear end that goes around in a circle.”

 

Ruiro siki

The literal translation is a “round rear end” but this refers to someone who can’t sit still on her seat! Like a ball that rolls off the chair, because it is round on the bottom; they keep moving or standing up constantly for nothing, often annoying other people!

 

Iskay siki

The literal translation is “two rear ends”! However, this idiom refers to “a person who wants to sit down in two homes.” For example, a husband who spends as much time at his parents home, as with his wife, and is therefore undecided about which home he should be in.

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