Fake Nooz, Armadillos and Ghouls: Language of the month – Quechua

Fake Nooz, Armadillos and Ghouls: Language of the month – Quechua

Quechua, the pre-Inca language of the Andes, has an amazing syntax device which allows you to tag ‘faze nooz’. Called ‘evidential marking’, it stops you wasting time making that pouty face, raising your tiny hand like a feather duster, circling those chubby fingers and saying “fake…<pause> … noooz”.

It can save you hours on a bad news day.

Here’s how it works. There are three affixes you can stick on the end of a statement: -mi indicates that you take responsibility personally for its truth; -shi indicates that you attribute its veracity to someone else but –chi indicates that no one is verifying it. So, you might say “It’s raining right nowmi” meaning that you have just put your actual hand out of the actual the window and it got wet. Or “It seems to be rainingshi” indicating that you heard it from someone else. Lastly “You know, apparently it never rains on the moon – chi

It’s unusual in linguistic structures, but rather useful, especially if you are one of the 9m ancestors of the Incas who speak this South American language today. The Quechua speakers have a tradition of avoiding gullibility. Many of their folk tales are about people being tricked by demons and spirits. Never trust those demons – fake nooz – every time.

In fact, demons feature strongly in Quechua myths. They make Halloween ghouls and ghosts look like a nursery room lullaby.

Let’s talk about the Pishtaco. He’s, like, a nocturnal serial killer. But there’s more. The ñak’aq or lik’ichiri, extracts fats (or “unto” or “wira”) from the bodies of his victims, to be sold to industries for the lubrication of modern machinery or to pharmaceutical companies.

Can you believe that?

The Pishtaco is a pale skinned foreigner, dressed in high boots, leather jacket and wide-brimmed felt hat. He sneaks into graveyards to grind human skeletons into a paralyzing powder that he uses to incapacitate unwary travellers on nocturnal mountain roads and paths. He then uses a huge knife to behead and dismember his victims to extract their fat.

Nice. Eat your heart out, Ghost Busters. Literally.

There may, surprisingly be some basis in fact, since the early Spanish invaders (16th and 17th centuries) did use extracted body fats to treat certain illnesses. Ugh.

Here’s a nice list of the characters in the Quechua Halloween spectacle…

Layqa ~ sorceresses who bewitch unsuspecting visitors with enchanted food. Stick to KFC. You know it makes sense.

Condenado, the souls of people who have died of suicide, assassination or accidents. These “souls of the damned” appear in the form of animals: dogs, cats, lizards, snakes, toads, or birds — in particular owls. According to some accounts, the condenado’s means of obtaining salvation is to eat three human beings, having scared them to death. You don’t get to choose who gets eaten, OK?

Machukuna and Suq’a  – wretched beings of desiccated bones (or the shell of a human form) that wanders the sierra and swamps in an attempt to rebuild its flesh. Just don’t ask where it gets the flesh from, OK?

Here’s a beautiful old Quecha poem to calm you down after all that ghoulishness.

There are other linguistic oddities in Quechua. It has a slightly unusual way of expressing “we” to distinguish whether the listener is included or not. So nuqa.yku means “we (including you)” while nuqa.yku means “we (not including you)”. Oh, and there’s no gender in Quechua. Unusually, not only is there no grammatical gender, but even pronouns like he/she/it only have the one form.

You might be wondering about the armadillos in the title of this month’s piece.

It’s to do with the musical tradition of Quechua, which is quite strong. But they use the charango. That’s a sort of guitar made from the shell of an armadillo.

Simon and Garfunkel, by the way, used a Quechua tune for their hit El Condor Paso. Thankfully no armadillos were harmed in the process.

Stay away from the Pishtaco.

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