Aymara Language Materials Program

{The following is adapted from an article in Spanish in JAYMA No. 18-19, May-June 1987, La Paz, Bolivia, and from the translation by L.T. Briggs to appear LAILJ Fall 1988.}

Aymara Linguistics in the Past 22 Years

Juan de Dios Yapita

In 1965 Dr. Julia Elena Fortún and Dr. M. J. Hardman-de-Bautista founded the Instituto Nacional de Estudios Lingüísticos) National Institute of Linguistic Studies, INEL) in La Paz, Bolivia, as a dependency of the Directorate of Anthropology of the Bolivian Ministry of Education and Culture. INEL was to undertake the formation of human resources in the field of linguistic science and thereby to contribute new knowledge to the national education system, to overcome the linguistic barriers that exist in Bolivia.

Seventy-five percent of the Bolivian population belongs to Aymara, Quechua, or other native ethnic groups. Education in Bolivia is imparted solely in Spanish without regard to the indigenous languages, and as a result, there is social, economic, and racial discrimination. INEL would work to solve the existing communication problems, in order to foster better understanding among the different social levels of the Bolivian population.

Once founded, INEL opened its doors to students. The first group of 180 consisted entirely of professionals, almost all of them educators. The courses were divided into two parts, the first a study of general linguistics at the graduate level and the second composed of courses of specialization. The courses were taught by Dr. Hardman, an anthropological linguist who came to Bolivia as a Fulbright Professor in order to prepare human resources in linguistics in Bolivia. In 1966 and 1967 scientific linguistic studies took place in Bolivia for the first time, introducing a new stage in the study of the national languages of Bolivia.

In 1968 the author introduced a phonemic alphabet of Aymara and adopted it for the writing of Aymara literature. In keeping with the linguistic structure of Aymara, the letter x was used to represent the postvelar fricative phoneme, and quotation marks (") were used after certain consonants to indicate aspiration. Initially it was intended to introduce the letter z to avoid using the digraph ch, but this idea was abandoned in order to avoid possible confusion with the letter z in the Spanish alphabet. (See the alphabet chart.)

The phonemic alphabet reflects the true Aymara phonological system. Nevertheless, it was opposed, due to the fact that a linguistic consciousness still did not exist in Bolivia. The strongest opposition came from those who were involved in translating the Bible into Aymara. But this opposition has gradually been overcome.

The majority of the graduates of INEL went abroad to finish their studies in their specialties. Linguistics is a science that studies human language. We graduates of INEL prepared ourselves to teach in different areas: some in Aymara, some in Quechua, some in Spanish and others in foreign languages. Those who returned to Bolivia began to develop courses in basic linguistics and courses in Aymara and Quechua as second languages, for monolingual Spanish speakers and others. Aymara courses were taught at the Alliance Française and by INEL under the auspices of the Casa de la Cultura in what is now the Museo de Etnografía y Folklore (MUSEF). Other courses were given in Aymara phonology for rural school teachers.

In 1967, two graduates of the INEL linguistics courses, Professor Eustaquia Terceros and the author, traveled to Perú, to participate in a bilingual education program under the auspices of the Universidad Mayor de San Marcos, in the town of Quinua at the foot of the mountain Kuntur Kunka in Ayacucho.

In 1968, in the Department of Languages of the Universidad Mayor de San Andrés (UMSA) in La Paz, then directed by Professor Luis Carrasco, the author prepared teaching materials in Aymara, and Professor Terceros prepared teaching materials in Quechua, which were used to teach groups of university students and other interested persons. In the same year, continuous courses were held in Aymara at the Casa de la Cultura under INEL auspices. We who are specialists in Aymara carried forward the work in this language.

The year 1968 is a milestone in Aymara linguistics because in that year Aymara was first taught using linguistic methods, and it was the first time that an Aymara person taught the language. Until then, the presence of the language had not been a force to contend with. The undersigned remembers a time of transition: Aymara was beginning to be taught in a methodical way just as other languages were taught in institutions of higher learning. The first course taught at the Casa de la Cultura had more than 30 students, both men and women, of different professions. This first Aymara course got off to a very successful start, and the students' interest in learning was high.

On one occasion, at the moment when I was having the students repeat the first lines of a dialogue, a person who had nothing to do with the course but who had come in to observe interrupted the class and said,

A. “That isn’t the way to greet someone in Aymara! )At that moment, I was teaching how people greet each other today.)
B. “Well then, how do you greet someone in Aymara?” (I replied.)
A. “In Aymara you say Dios aski ur churätam.”
B. “Dios aski ur churätam - That’s not Aymara either. It’s a translation from Spanish into Aymara.”
A. “Oh, you mean you’re teaching new wave Aymara?”
B. “If you like.”

The gentleman went away, and then returned a few moments later and said, “Congratulations, go on with your teaching.”

That is what happened during a first class in Aymara. The author thought to himself on hearing this kind of observation, “I’m going into a jungle where thorns will pierce me and snakes will bite me, but I will open a new road.” By this I meant that in the future, the teaching of Aymara would become a specialty and native speakers of the language would be the ones teaching it.

That same year, several of us Aymara speakers were invited to teach Aymara to North American students in the United States. In order to leave Bolivia we had to show evidence that we had paid our taxes. In one government office the following dialogue occurred the familiar is invariably the form used, showing disrespect.

A. “Where are you going?”
B. “I’m going to the United States.”
A. “Why are you going to the United States?”
B. “I’m going to teach Aymara.”
A. “To teach Aymara?”
B. “Yes.”
A. Okay, tell me, how do you say ‘captain;’ in Aymara?”
B. “‘Captain’ in Aymara…I don’t know.”
A. “If you don’t know how to say ‘captain’, how do you expect to go abroad to teach? I’ll teach you how to say it. It’s Kallach patar kimsa warawaran ichxatt'ata. (‘On top of the shoulder three stars.’) Now you know.”

The above examples clearly show a lack of respect toward the Aymara speaker. Some Spanish speakers felt free to make fun of and to criticize them, on a linguistic level. But at the same time it is clear that persons who prepare themselves scientifically in a given field have the confidence and skills they need to triumph over adversity.

In 1969-1972, Dr. Hardman, as director of the Aymara Language Materials Program and as a professor of linguistic anthropology at the University of Florida, invited two Bolivian, Juana Vásquez and the author, to participate in a team of specialists in the preparation of Aymara materials, such as Aymar ar yatiqañataki, and Aymara course; the Teacher’s Manual to explain the course materials; and the Outline of Aymara Phonological and Grammatical Structure, a reference grammar to accompany the first two.

While participating in the preparation of the materials, the author began to publish news bulletins in Aymara for the first time in the Aymara Newsletter, later edited by Juana Vásquez. The Newsletter was sent to all Bolivian universities, which responded with letters of appreciation and encouragement.

In 1970, also for the first time, the Linguistic Institute at the University of Ohio in the United States published another Aymara newsletter which was distributed to all the Institute participants, who came from different countries. The bulletin was also distributed at the Congress of Americanists held in Lima. In this way, the newsletter began to be distributed internationally.

In 1972 a short course in reading and writing Aymara was held in Tiwanaku, organized by rural development promoters in the region, among whom Vitaliano Huanca Torrez should be singled out. Of the more than 30 men and women who participated in this course, several continue to work in the promotion of Aymara language and culture, and some work in organizations devoted to research and development in the social sciences.

In the same year the Instituto de Lenguaje y Cultura Aymara (ILCA) was founded in La Paz under authority of the Bolivian Ministerial Resolution 1300/72 as a private cultural institution with the following objectives:
1. To teach Aymara as a second language to non-speakers of the language.
2. To teach Aymara speakers to read and write in Aymara so that in the future they will write their own history, in their own language, in texts for Aymara-speaking children, young people, and adults.
3. To prepare teachers for bilingual education, with courses in the following subjects:
a. General linguistics
b. Aymara grammar: Phonology, morphology, syntax, semantics
c. Sociolinguistics
d. Cultural anthropology
e. Bilingual education
4. To prepare materials for teaching the above courses and to teach Aymara language at all levels.
5. To publish newspapers and other materials in Aymara (myths, historical accounts, tales, poems, etc.).
It was also planned to prepare materials in Spanish for teaching it as a second language.

The founders of the Instituto de Lenguaje y Cultura Aymara were Pedro Nacho A., Pedro Copana Y., and myself, the present director. Shortly after its founding, ILCA organized a short course in reading and writing in Aymara at the YMCA in La Paz. The participants were all Aymara speakers; they received certificates of attendance after passing a stiff final examination.

In 1973 the Aymara materials development team at the University of Florida and students of Aymara at that institution joined together to establish The Aymara Foundation, Inc. a private, not-for-profit organization, for the purpose of supporting institutions that promote Aymara language and culture in South America (Perú, Bolivia, and Chile).

In the year 1979 a major program in Linguistics and Languages, with special concentrations in Aymara and Quechua, was created in the Universidad Mayor de San Andrés (UMSA). At present, the program has about 50 students, and a few students have already graduated. It is hoped that in future years the graduates in Aymara and Quechua linguistics will provide a new direction to the national education system, especially in bilingual education, since specialists in linguistics education are badly needed in Bolivia.


For many years, ILCA has been publishing a newspaper in Aymara called Yatiñasawa (‘We must be informed’). This is a mass communication medium in the Aymara language. At the present time it is the only periodical published solely in Aymara.

The content of the newspaper is informational and cultural, written for Aymara speakers who already know the language Its publication in Aymara is a challenge to Aymara is a challenge to Aymara writers, in view of the fact that in writing on a theme in Aymara, Aymara speakers must reflect on the profound differences between the structures of the Spanish and Aymara languages. Those responsible for the publication are conscious of the need to maintain high standards of excellence and to improve their writing with each new issues, so that reading Aymara will be an edifying and agreeable experience.

Yatiñasawa was originally published at the University of Florida by the author, and later continued in Bolivia. It reaches hundreds of readers in Bolivia, and is sent abroad to universities in Europe, North and South America, as well as to all Bolivian universities, educational centers, and the libraries of cultural institutions. It is used as teaching material by students of Aymara at the UMSA and by certain secondary school students. It is also used by Aymara speakers to practice translating from Aymara into Spanish.

A number of theoretical works exist on Aymara linguistics (see References). The linguists who have contributed most in this respect are Dr. M.J. Hardman and Dr. L.T. Briggs. It is also important to mention the study Desarrollo del alfabeto aymara (‘Development of the Aymara Alphabet’) by Felix Layme Pairumani (1980), a very positive contribution to Aymara linguistics.

Three Aymara women have brought their ideas to Aymara literary production. They are Juana Vásquez, Bertha Villanueva, and Basilia Copana Yapita. As already indicated above, the fist participated in the preparation of teaching materials at the University of Florida. The others have contributed their poems and stories in Aymara to Yatiñasawa.

At the present time the Instituto de Lenguaje y Cultura Aymara works tirelessly in the production of Aymara literature. It is important to emphasize that in the last few years it has prepared hundreds of Aymara speakers to read and write in Aymara, so that there now are writers in the Aymara language. From 1965 to the present, Aymara studies and literary production have advanced, achieving respect for Aymara language and culture over a 22-year time span.


Boynton, Sylvia. 1980. Análisis contrastivo de la fonología del castellano y del aymara. (Translated by Pedro Plaza from the English original.) La Paz: INEL.

Briggs, Lucy Therina. 1976a. Dialectal variation in the Aymara language of Bolivia and Perú. Doctoral dissertation, University of Florida.

—. 1976b. “Dialectal variation in Aymara.” Latinamericanist 12:1. Reprinted in Klein and Stark 1985.

—. 1978. “Mururata: An Aymara text.” Latin American Indian Literatures 2:1.

—. 1979. “A critical survey of the literature on the Aymara language.” Latin American Research Review 14:3. Reprinted in revised version, Klein and Stark 1985.

—. 1980. “Algunos rasgos dialectales del Aymara de Bolivia y del Perú.” Notas y Noticias Lingüísticas 3:7-8, La Paz.

— and Domingo Llanque Chana. 1979. “Humor in Aymara oral narrative.” Latin American Indian Literatures 3:1.

Cárdenas, Victor Hugo. 1981. “Rasgos gramaticales del aymara.” Notas y Noticias Lingüísticas 4:1, La Paz.

Copana, Basilia. 1986. Aymar tayka. La Paz: ILCA.

—. 1987a. “Kunjamas p'isqix p"ayasiña.” Yatiñasawa 37. La Paz: ILCA.

—. 1987b. “Juyakiw qamasta.” Yatiñasawa 38. La Paz: ILCA.

—. 1987c. “Kunjamas k'ispiñas luraña.” Yatiñasawa 38. La Paz: ILCA.

Hardman, M.J. 1972. “Postulados lingüísticos del idioma aymara.” El reto del multilingüismo en el Perú, Alberto Escobar, editor. Lima: Instituto de Estudios Peruanos.

—. 1979. “Quechua y aymara, lenguas en contacto.” Antropología 1.1. La Paz.

—, editor. 1981. The Aymara language in its social and cultural context. Gainesville: University of Florida Presses.

—, Juana Vsáquez, and Juan de Dios Yapita. 1975. Aymar ar yatiqañataki, Teacher’s Manual to accompany Aymara ar yatiqañataki, and Outline of Aymara phonological and grammatical structure. OOP

—, Juana Vaáquez, and Juan de Dios Yapita. 1988. Compendio de estructura fonológica y gramatical. La Paz: ILCA.

INEL, 1974-1981. Yatiqañataki. La Paz.

Klein, Harriet E. Manelis and Louisa R. Stark, eds. 1985. South American Indian languages, retrospect and prospect. Austin: University of Texas Press.

Layme, Felix. 1980 and 1983. Desarrollo del alfabeto aymara. La Paz: ILCA.

Martin, Herminia Eusebia. 1969. Bosquejo de la estructura de la lengua aymara. Buenos Aires: Universidad de Buenos Aires.

Yapita, Juan de Dios. 1977. Discriminación lingüística y conflicto social. La Paz: MUSEF.

—. 1981. Enseñanza del idioma aymara como segundo idioma. La Paz: Difusión Ltda.

—. 1985. Estructura morfolcóa verbal aymara. La Paz: ILCA.

—. (in press). La afirmación cultural aymara.

—, editor. Yatiñasawa, ILCA.

— and L.T. Briggs. 1980. “The origin of the charango: An Aymara tale (as told by Bertha Villanueva).” Latin American Indian Literatures 4:2.

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Aymara Language Materials Program Bibliography

Aymara Phonemic Alphabet by Juan de Dios Yapita Moya

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