Cartas de América #3: my favorite language is the one I forgot

I may not have retained Quechua from my professor, but I learned how much I had to learn from him. That’s why I look back on that class with such gratitude. It fundamentally changed my attitude toward language learning, which I used to consider mainly in terms of grammar manipulation and vocabulary translation. There’s onlyContinue reading “Cartas de América #3: my favorite language is the one I forgot”


One of the very first things I learned in Quechua was paqarinkama, which means “see you tomorrow,” one of those words you pick up when memorizing initial dialogues that is encoded as a phrase of itself and filed away without further understanding. But that was months ago, and as I’ve gone on, I’ve begun toContinue reading “paqarinkama”

today in language is never just grammar

1. In Quechua there is no naturally occurring word for “to have, to possess,” so when the Spanish came and introduced money, they had to mangle their word for “to be” into a possessive. DO YOU EVER METAPHOR SO HARD 2. There is a specific word in Quechua for men with large beards (chhapu), whichContinue reading “today in language is never just grammar”


Quechua has one word for to know and to learn: yachay. “You cannot ever really know something, after all,” my professor says. Even in Spanish, saber (to know) comes from sapere (to taste). It is a flavorful but incomplete action, and we all know it. I am grateful for this one word, yachay, because learning this language has required more and more self-knowledge withContinue reading “yachay”


In Quechua, the word for boyfriend/girlfriend is yana. Yana means servant. It’s also the only language I know where that word is genderless. There is no word for thanks in Quechua. “We don’t need it,” my professor says, “we have reciprocity.” No word for hello, either, or for good morning. “No rhetorical language, just concreteContinue reading “runasimi”