Friday, September 08, 2006

Approaches for Discerning Narrative in Khipus - III - Accounting for Characteristics of the Quechua Language

While it is clear from the previous post in this series that the encoding capacity in khipus is vast, practicality would suggest that the actual encoding system(s) used by the Incas and their Andean predecessors would be relatively simple.

It turns out that there are several characteristics of the Quechua language that make it suitable for being transposed in some way by means of Khipus.

These include:

(1) There are relatively few numbers of sounds, both consonant and vowels, present in the Quechua language.

Now, over the centuries both Spanish and English based systems have been used to transcribe Quechua into written form using the Latin alphabet. Thus often there has been a duplication of letter assignments for the same sounds appearing the Quechua language but which are written differently in English or Spanish. Examples of such letter duplications for equivalent sounds include q/k, ll/y.

Additionally, various foreign (mostly Spanish) words have entered into the Quechua vocabulary, which require sounds that are not normally present in the Quechua language. Thus letters b, d, f, g, j/kh, l exist in the modern Quechua language even though they appear almost exclusively in words borrowed from Spanish.

Transcription of vowel sounds has been similarly problematic. While, various Quechua dictionaries include the full complement of English vowels a, e, i, o , u. The Runasimi-Quechua / English dictionary recognizes only three vowels: a,i,u with some modified by the letter y.

Taking the data from the Runasimi-Quechua / English dictionary and a Basic Quechua grammar (also available online)

the number of both vowels and consonants in quechua are rather limited:

The consonants are: (absent), ch, f, k/q, ll/y, m, n/ñ, p, r, s, t, w = 12.

The possible vowels are: (stop), a, i, u

The number of letter combinations to produce syllables are C x V = 15 x 4 = 36.

Even allowing for native sounds, not well expressed using the Latin Alphabet, the number of possible syllable combinations is much < 100.

Further, William Burns Glynn has worked out an ancient Quechua consonant system, which may have even found expression in written form which involved only 10 consonants. (More on this system in a later post).

(2) The meanings of root words in Quechua (both nouns and verbs) are generally modified through the addition of suffixes. A visually obvious characteristic of khipus is that subsidiary chords are often attached to its pendant chords. While this does not guarantee that there is a link between Quechua suffixes and the presence of subsidiary (modifying) chords attached to the pendant chords of Khipus, it's a visually interesting coincidence.

In the absence of any other means of communication between one another and memory keeping, one would suspect that the khipu system would lean heavily on the one means of communication / memory keeping at the chord-makers' disposal. That would be the characteristics of their speech.

Dennis (moderator)

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