Mochica language

Mochica (also Yunga, Yunca, Chimú, Muchic, Mochika, Muchik, Chimu) is an extinct language formerly spoken along the northwest coast of Peru and in an inland village. First documented in 1607, the language was widely spoken in the area during the 17th century and the early 18th century. By the late 19th century, the language was dying out and spoken only by a few people in the village of Etén, in Chiclayo. It died out as a spoken language around 1920, but certain words and phrases continued to be used until the 1960s.[1]

Native toPeru
Extinctca. 1920
  • Mochica
Language codes
ISO 639-3omc
Mochica language.png
Approximate extent of Mochica before replacement by Spanish.

It is best known as the supposed language of the Moche culture, as well as the Chimú culture/Chimor.


Mochica is usually considered to be a language isolate,[2] but has also been hypothesized as belonging to a wider Chimuan language family. Stark (1972) proposes a connection with Uru–Chipaya as part of a Maya–Yunga–Chipayan macrofamily hypothesis.[3]

Language contactEdit

Jolkesky (2016) notes that there are lexical similarities with the Trumai, Arawak, Kandoshi, Muniche, Barbakoa, Cholon-Hibito, Kechua, Mapudungun, Kanichana, and Kunza language families due to contact. Jolkesky (2016) also suggests that similarities with Amazonian languages may be due to the early migration of Mochica speakers down the Marañón and Solimões.[4]


"Southern Chimú" varieties listed by Loukotka (1968) are given below.[5]


Mochica is typologically different from the other main languages on the west coast of South America, namely the Quechuan languages, Aymara, and the Mapuche language. Further, it contains rare features such as:

  • a case system in which cases are built on each other in a linear sequence; for example, the ablative case suffix is added to the locative case, which in turn is added to an oblique case form;
  • all nouns have two stems, possessed and non-possessed;
  • an agentive case suffix used mainly for the agent in passive clauses; and
  • a verbal system in which all finite forms are formed with the copula.


The reconstruction or recovery of the Mochican sounds is problematic. Different scholars who worked with the language used different notations. Both Carrera Daza like Middendorf, devoted much space to justify the phonetic value of the signs they used, but neither was completely successful in clearing the doubts of interpretation of these symbols. In fact their interpretations differ markedly, casting doubt on some sounds.

Lehman made a useful comparison of existing sources, enriched with observations of 1929. The long-awaited field notes of Brüning from 1904 to 1905 have been kept in the Museum of Ethnology, Hamburg, though still unpublished. An additional complication in spellings interpretation of different scholars is the fact that between the 16th and the 19th century the language experienced a remarkable phonological change that make even more risky to use the latest data to understand older material.[6]


The language probably had six simple vowels and six more elongated vowels: /i, iː, ä, äː, e, eː, ø, øː, o, oː, u, uː/. Carrera Daza and Middendorf gave mismatched systems that can be put in approximate correspondence:

Carrera Daza a, â e i o, ô u, û œ
Middendorf a, ā, ă e (ē) ī, (i), ĭ ō, (o), ŏ u, ū, ŭ ä, ů


Some suffixes in Mochica as reconstituted by Hovdhaugen (2004):[7]

  • sequential suffix: -top
  • purpose suffix: -næm
  • gerund suffixes: -læc and -ssæc
  • gerund suffix: -(æ)zcæf
  • gerund suffix: -(æ)d


Some examples of lexical items in Mochica from Hovdhaugen (2004):[7]


Possessed and non-possessed nouns in Mochica:

gloss possessed noun non-possessed noun
'lord' çiec çiequic
'father' ef efquic
'son' eiz eizquic
'nostrils' fon fænquic
'eyes' locɥ lucɥquic
'soul' moix moixquic
'hand' mæcɥ mæcɥquic
'farm' uiz uizquic
'bread, food' xllon xllonquic
'head' falpæng falpic
'leg' tonæng tonic
'human flesh' ærqueng ærquic
'ear' (but med in medec 'in the ears') medeng medquic
'belly, heart' (pol and polæng appear to be equivalents) polæng / pol polquic
'lawyer' capæcnencæpcæss capæcnencæpæc
'heaven' cuçias cuçia
'dog' fanuss fanu
'duck' felluss fellu
'servant' ianass yana
'sin' ixllæss ixll
'ribbon' llaftuss llaftu
'horse' colæd col
'fish' xllacæd xllac
'(silver) money' xllaxllæd xllaxll
'maiz' mangæ mang
'ceiling' cɥapæn cɥap
'creator' chicopæcæss chicopæc
'sleeping blanket' cunur cunuc
'chair' (< fel 'to sit') filur filuc
'cup' (< man 'to drink, to eat') manir manic
'toy' (< ñe(i)ñ 'to play') ñeñur ñeñuc

Locative forms of Mochica nouns:

noun stem locative form
fon 'nostrils' funæc 'in the nostrils'
loc 'foot' lucæc 'on the feet'
ssol 'forehead' ssulæc 'in the forehead'
locɥ 'eye' lucɥæc 'in the eyes'
mæcɥ 'hand' mæcɥæc 'in the hand'
far 'holiday' farræc 'on holidays'
olecɥ 'outside' olecɥæc 'outside'
ssap 'mouth' ssapæc 'in the mouth'
lecɥ 'head' lecɥæc 'on the head'
an 'house' enec 'in the house'
med 'ear' medec 'in the ears'
neiz 'night' ñeizac 'in the nights'
xllang 'sun' xllangic 'in the sun'


Quantifiers in Mochica:

quantifier meaning and semantic categories
felæp pair (counting birds, jugs, etc.)
luc pair (counting plates, drinking vessels, cucumbers, fruits)
cɥoquixll ten (counting fruits, ears of corn, etc.)
cæss ten (counting days)
pong ten (counting fruits, cobs, etc.)
ssop ten (counting people, cattle, reed, etc., i.e. everything that is not money, fruits, and days)
chiæng hundred (counting fruits, etc.)


Mochica numerals:

Numeral Mochica
1 onæc, na-
2 aput, pac-
3 çopæl, çoc-
4 nopæt, noc-
5 exllmætzh
6 tzhaxlltzha
7 ñite
8 langæss
9 tap
10 çiæcɥ, -pong, ssop, -fælæp, cɥoquixll
20 pacpong, pacssop, etc.
30 çocpong, çocssop, etc.
40 nocpong, nocssop, etc.
50 exllmætzhpong, exllmætzhssop, etc.
60 tzhaxlltzhapong, tzhaxlltzhassop, etc.
70 ñitepong, ñitessop, etc.
80 langæsspong, langæssop, etc.
90 tappong, tapssong, etc.
100 palæc
1000 cunô

Surviving recordsEdit

The only surviving song in the language is a single tonada, Tonada del Chimo, preserved in the Codex Martínez Compañón among many watercolours illustrating the life of Chimú people during the 18th century:

Ja ya llunch, ja ya lloch
In poc cha tanmuisle pecan
muisle pecan e necam
Ja ya llunch, ja ya lloch
Emenspochifama le qui
ten que consmuifle Cuerpo lens
emens locunmunom chi perdonar moitin ha
Ja ya llunch, ja ya lloch
Chondocolo mechecje su chrifto
po que si ta malli muis le Mey po lem
lo quees aoscho perdonar
Mie ñe fe che tas
Ja ya llunch, ja ya lloch

Quingnam, possibly the same as Lengua (Yunga) Pescadora, is sometimes taken to be a dialect, but a list of numerals discovered in 2010 which is suspected to be Quingnam or Pescadora is not Mochica.

Learning programEdit

The Gestión de Cultura of Morrope in Peru has launched a program to learn this language, in order to preserve the ancient cultural heritage in the area. This program has been well received by people and adopted by many schools, and also have launched other activities such as the development of ceramics, mates, etc.

Further readingEdit

  • Brüning, Hans Heinrich (2004). Mochica Wörterbuch / Diccionario mochica: Mochica-castellano, castellano-mochica. Lima: Universidad San Martín de Porres.
  • Hovdhaugen, Even (2004). Mochica. Munich: LINCOM Europa.
  • Schumacher de Peña, G. (1992). El vocabulario mochica de Walter Lehmann (1929) comparado con otras fuentes léxicas. Lima: UNSM, Instituto de Investigación de Lingüística Aplicada.


  1. ^ Adelaar, Willem F. H. (1999). "Unprotected languages, the silent death of the languages in Northern Peru". In Herzfeld, Anita; Lastra, Yolanda (eds.). The social causes of the disappearance and maintenance of languages in the nations of America: papers presented at the 49° International Congress of Americanists, Quito, Ecuador, July 7–11, 1997. Hermosillo: USON. ISBN 978-968-7713-70-0.
  2. ^ Campbell, Lyle (2012). "Classification of the indigenous languages of South America". In Grondona, Verónica; Campbell, Lyle (eds.). The Indigenous Languages of South America. The World of Linguistics. Vol. 2. Berlin: De Gruyter Mouton. pp. 59–166. ISBN 978-3-11-025513-3.
  3. ^ Stark, Louisa R. (1972). "Maya-Yunga-Chipayan: A New Linguistic Alignment". International Journal of American Linguistics. 38 (2): 119–135. doi:10.1086/465193. ISSN 0020-7071. S2CID 145380780.
  4. ^ Jolkesky, Marcelo Pinho de Valhery (2016). Estudo arqueo-ecolinguístico das terras tropicais sul-americanas (Ph.D. dissertation) (2 ed.). Brasília: University of Brasília.
  5. ^ Loukotka, Čestmír (1968). Classification of South American Indian languages. Los Angeles: UCLA Latin American Center.
  6. ^ Cerrón Palomino, Rodolfo (1995). The language of Naimlap. Reconstruction and obsolescence of the mochica. Lima: Fondo Editorial de la Pontificia Universidad Católica del Perú. ISBN 978-84-8390-986-7.
  7. ^ a b Hovdhaugen, Even (2004). Mochica. Munich: LINCOM Europa.

External linksEdit