Andean Orthography

Orthography (or “correct writing”) refers to the general conventions or standardized rules of writing in a particular language. An orthography may include standards for spelling, hyphenation, capitalization, word breaks, emphasis, and punctuation. Language conventions may become standardized, leading to the development of an orthography that is considered "correct." Sometimes there may be variations in a particular language's orthography, such as between American and British English, or between historic and contemporary Quechua in the Andes.

In the Andes, there was no recognizable writing system prior to the Spanish arrival in the 16th century. Following Francisco Pizarro’s arrival in the 1530s, Spanish chroniclers began recording Andean indigenous languages, such as Quechua and Aymara, in the phonetic alphabet following Spanish language rules. Certain spellings persisted through historical and modern studies. By the 20th century, emphasis on indigenous rights resulted in an official orthography for Runasimi, or Quechua, the language used as a lingua franca of the Inca Empire and by many speakers today. Modern scholarship has thus increasingly adopted the orthography established by the Peruvian government in 1975 and amended in 1985. Nevertheless, there remains ongoing discussion regarding the spelling of Andean terms when writing in languages other than Runasimi. English, Spanish, and Runasimi/Quechua, for example, transcribe sounds or pronunciations in distinct ways (for example, hard ‘c’ versus ‘k’ versus ‘q’, and ‘gua/hua’ versus ‘wa’). Certain spellings also retain historical and popular recognition.

Within the DMA, the most common historical Spanish spelling is currently maintained alongside a standardized Quechua spelling in parentheses, for example: Inca (Inka), Huari (Wari), Cuzco (Quzqu), and quipu (khipu). Through the artwork, culture, and language, we seek to honor the cultural heritage and peoples of the Andes—past through present.

Adapted from

  • Kimberly L. Jones, PhD, Inca: Conquests of the Andes / Los Incas y las conquistas de los Andes, Gallery text, 2015.
  • Kimberly L. Jones, PhD, Label text [1983.W.2169; 1983.W.2170], A.H. Meadows Gallery, 2014.