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Peru | Guest bloggers Marie -Louise and Una

When two unrelated languages share a word, one may assume that one of the two languages has borrowed the word from the other. However, it is often difficult to assess which language has borrowed from which. Often the phonology will provide a clue. The language of the Aztecs, Nawatl, did not use the sound written with the letter r before the invasion of the Spaniards, but after some hundred years or more Spanish words with r slowly entered Nawatl. Until then the speakers of Nawatl had adapted the Spanish pronunciation to their language, and r was pronounced l; for example, the Spanish word cruz ‘cross’ became kolo:-tzin.

Likewise the Spaniards adapted their pronunciation to words borrowed from Nawatl. Thus the sound that is written tl – which is in fact one sound - which occurs quite frequently at the end of words, was rendered te in Spanish. The Spanish word tomate - no translation should be necessary - comes from Nawatl tomatl.

It is more challenging to identify the direction of a loan when all the phonemes in a word are found in both languages. Nilda Callañaupa writes in her book (p. 36) about the vest which is part of male clothing. She terms it chilico or chaleco. Both are perfectly in agreement with the phonology of Spanish and Quechua, but since we have some etymological analyses of chaleco, which has apparently come through intricate paths from Turkish jileco via Árabic xileco, and was later passed on to French as gilet, it is natural to assume that it was borrowed from Spanish in Quechua - if it is in fact used in Quechua. This of course makes one wonder whether the word shawl, Danish sjal, Spanish chal has anything to do with chaleco, but that is in fact a different story. The word chilico is not found outside of Quechua.

The word chuspa ‘small bag’, is used both in Quechua and Spanish, but since it has no etymology in Spanish and is not in general use in Spanish outside of areas where Quechua is spoken, we must assume that the term originated in Quechua and was borrowed into Spanish.

Source: Nilda Callañaupa Alvarez, Weaving in the Peruvian Highlands: Dreaming Patterns, Weaving Memories (2013)


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