A look at two major South American Indian languages, Quechua and Aymara with a view towards how difficult they are to learn for an English speaker. Aymara, which is actually at least two separate languages, is declining in Bolivia, Chile and Argentina and is only doing well around Lake Titicaca in Peru. Quechua is actually made up of up to 46 different languages spoken in Peru, Ecuador, Colombia, Argentina, Chile and Bolivia. Quechua is probably one of the easiest Amerindian languages to learn, but that’s not saying much. Aymara is probably a lot more difficult.
Quechua (actually a large group of languages and not a single language at all) is one of the easiest Amerindian languages to learn. Quechua is a classic example of a highly regular grammar with few exceptions. Its agglutinative system is more straightforward than even that of Turkish. The phonology is dead simple.
On the down side, there is a lot of dialectal divergence (these are actually separate languages and not dialects) and a lack of learning materials. Some say that Quechua speakers spend their whole lives learning the language.
Quechua has inconsistent orthographies. There is a fight between those who prefer a Spanish-based orthography and those who prefer a more phonemic one. Also there is an argument over whether to use the Ayacucho language or the Cuzco language as a base.
Quechua has a difficult feature known as evidential marking. This marker indicates the source of the speaker’s knowledge and how sure they are about the statement.
-mi expresses personal knowledge:
Tayta Wayllaqawaqa chufirmi.
Mr. Huayllacahua is a driver. (I know it for a fact.)
-si expresses hearsay knowledge:
Tayta Wayllaqawaqa chufirsi.
Mr. Huayllacahua is a driver (or so I’ve heard).
chá expresses strong possibility:
Tayta Wayllaqawaqa chufirchá.
Mr. Huayllacahua is a driver (most likely).
Quechua is rated 4, very difficult.
Aymara has some of the wildest morphophonology out there. Morpheme-final vowel deletion is present in the language as a morphophonological process, and it is dependent on a set of highly complex phonological, morphological and syntactic rules (Kim 2013).
For instance, there are three types of suffixes: dominant, recessive and a 3rd class is neither dominant nor recessive. If a stem ends in a vowel, dominant suffixes delete the vowel but recessive suffixes allow the vowel to remain. The third class either deletes or retains the vowel on the stem depending on how many vowels are in the stem. If the root has two vowels, the vowel is retained. If it has three vowels, the vowel is deleted.
Aymara gets a 5 rating, hardest of all.