Quechua,  Kechua (both: kĕchˈōə, –wä) [key], or Quichua kēchˈwä, linguistic family belonging to the Andean branch of the Andean-Equatorial stock of Native American languages (mainly in South America). Encompassing far more native speakers than any other aboriginal language group in the Americas, the languages of the Quechuan family are spoken by peoples in Peru, Ecuador, Bolivia, Brazil, Argentina, Colombia, and Chile. There is a modern standard language of this family spoken by close to 10 million indigenous people in Peru and 2 million in Bolivia, as well as smaller populations in Ecuador and Argentina. Some 28 Quechuan languages are still in use. The official language of the ancient Inca empire, also called Quechua, was of this family. In the early 1400s, Quechua was dominant in S Peru. As the Incas' empire expanded, their language became the administrative and commercial tongue from N Ecuador to central Chile. After their conquest of the Incas in the 16th cent., the Spaniards spread the use of Quechua beyond the Inca empire.

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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