Cholón and the linguistic
prehistory of northern Peru: triangulating toponymy, substrate lexis, and areal
University of Tübingen
At the eve of Spanish
conquest, northern Peru is thought to have been home to a multitude of
languages of relatively modest geographical extension, especially when compared
with the widespread Quechuan and Aymaran languages. In this contribution, I
suggest the possibility that a language or several languages relatively closely
related to Cholón were spoken in a much wider part of
northern Peru than that in which Cholón is
historically attested. A prior “Cholonoid” area might
have covered not only the western part of today’s San Martín department, but
also almost the entire department of Cajamarca as well as parts of La Libertad
and Amazonas. This interpretation results from a triangulation of three
independent lines of evidence, namely the toponymic record, substrate lexis in
the local variety of Quechua at Chachapoyas, and typological properties of the
extinct northern Peruvian languages.
The original linguistic diversity
of the northern Peruvian Andes is scarcely visible today. In the course of the
centuries, Spanish has replaced most of the individual languages once spoken on
the coast, in the highlands, and on the eastern slopes of the Andes. Today,
what remains are three different Quechua varieties in the areas of Ferreñafe, Cajamarca, and Chachapoyas, the latter in
particular also threatened by extinction. Yet, studies commencing in the last
decades of the 20th century have succeeded in reconstituting a
reasonable approximation of the complex linguistic landscape that existed in
the past (e.g. Torero 1986, 1989, 1993, 2002, Adelaar 1988, Cerrón-Palomino
2004, Urban 2019b).
the coast, which in northern Peru forms a narrow strip of highly arid land that
quickly gives way in the east to the Andean highlands, at least four
distinguishable languages were spoken at the point of European contact. Moving from north to south, these languages
are conventionally called Tallán, Sechura,
Mochica, and Quingnam. Tallán
and Sechura were languages of the coast of the Piura
department, the former spoken in at least the settlements of Colán and Catacaos, the latter in
the town of Sechura and surroundings. What remains of
these languages are short wordlists, place- and personal names, and some
vocabulary items related to the local culture in Spanish (Urban 2019b).
Mochica, once spoken in the coastal areas of Lambayeque, the northern part of
the La Libertad region, and probably in the valley of the upper Piura river, is the best documented of the coastal
languages. It also survived longest, until the beginning of the 20th
century. Personal names from 16th century Cajamarca suggest that
there were at least pockets of people of Mochica origin in the highlands, too
(cf. Rostworowski de Diez Canseco 1985 and Urban
2019b for review of other evidence). Still further south, the people of the
coast of northern Peru spoke a language known as Quingnam.
In terms of both level of documentation and date of extinction it is the
opposite of Mochica, having become extinct very early with only the most
minimal documentation available. The southern limit of the Quingnam-speaking
zone is still poorly defined (cf. discussion in Salas García 2010 and Urban
2019b). In spite of the scarce documentation of the coastal languages other
than Mochica, the available lexical record shows some similarities that can be
attributed to relatively intensive language contact (Urban 2019b).
further to the east, where the Andes become lower again to finally give way to
the western Amazonian lowlands, again a different linguistic picture obtains.
The steep valley of the Marañón river can be
conceived of as a frontier between highlands and eastern slopes which is also
linguistically relevant. In the area around Jaén,
already to the east of the Marañón valley, colonial
Spanish reports mention as many as eight distinct languages in a very confined
geographic space. The same reports cite between three and five words only for
each. Torero (1993) managed to tentatively suggest affiliations with Amazonian
languages for some of the Jaén languages on the basis
of just this information; other languages remain unaffiliated. Further south,
Chachapoyas Quechua is still spoken by a relatively small number of elderly
people in the Chachapoyas province of the Amazonas department.
is strong evidence from toponymy, personal names, and ethnohistory to suggest
that Quechuan replaced an undocumented non-Quechuan language, conventionally
called Chacha, in the Chachapoyas area relatively
late in prehistory or early in prehistory (Taylor 1990). Typical Chachapoyas
toponyms ending in -mal, -lon-, and -lap (Torero
1989: 238) cannot be reconciled with a Quechuan origin. Alongside -cat, which
also extends to Chachapoyas, other characteristic endings are -huala (Taylor 1990) and -oc or
-ox (Valqui Culqui 2004).
Figure 1 shows the clustering of toponyms in -mal, lon,
and -lap, plotted as pentagons, rectangles, and crosses respectively, in the
Chachapoyas region as well as the extension of the Cat area to Chachapoyas.
Also, most of the personal names from the Chachapoyas region (assembled in Zevallos Quiñones 1966 and Rivarola 2004) are decidedly un-Quechuan. Interference from
the original language of Chachapoyas may also be responsible for some drastic
changes in Chachapoyas Quechua, such as shift of stress to the initial syllable
and subsequent reduction of unstressed vowels (Taylor 1979). To the south of
Chachapoyas, Hibito and Cholón were the dominant
local languages on the eastern slopes of the Northern Andes on the interfluve
of the Marañón and Huallaga valleys from roughly Juanjuí in the north to Tingo
María in the south (Alexander Bakkerus 2005: 33).
Hibito and Cholón will play a crucial role in the
present article, so that some details on these are provided in section 2.
summary, one can reconstruct the outlines of a linguistically extremely diverse
landscape, but available documentation of the non-Quechuan languages leaves
much to be wanted and is frequently restricted to placenames and personal
Fig. 1: Toponymic
areas of the highlands and eastern slopes of northern Peru, based on modern
data from the US National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency
(http://geonames.nga.mil/gns/html/). All variants of endings mentioned in the
text have been taken into account for plotting, and some tokens that clearly
have a non-indigenous origin were removed post hoc.
Given the absence of crucial
pieces of data, especially the linguistic identity and affiliations of the languages
known only through toponymy and/or personal names remain obscure and poorly
defined. Nevertheless, some suggestive similarities have been pointed out. As
far as the highlands and eastern slopes are concerned, one particularly notable
observation is that the ending -cat is strongly associated with bodies of water
throughout its range (Torero 1989: 236). In Chachapoyas, the same semantic link
obtains (Valqui Culqui
2004). Accordingly, the ending may be compared with the form <quiet>
‘water’ in Copallín, one of the languages of the Jaén area, and also with kot, the Cholón
word for ‘water’ (Torero 1989: 236-237, Adelaar with Muysken 2004: 405, Valqui Culqui 2004).
Torero (2002: 161), consequently, brings into play the possibility of a
genealogical relationship between the Cat language and Cholón.
this article, I employ the epistemiological approach
of the triangulation of phenomena (see e.g. Kuorikoski and Marchionni 2016) to advance the
understanding of the complex linguistic landscape of the northern Peruvian
Andes further. In particular, I suggest that different lines of evidence point
to the possibility that one or more “Cholonoid”
languages –closely related to Cholón and probably
also to Hibito, but possibly distinct from either– could once have covered much
wider areas of northern Peru than the area in which Hibito-Cholón
is historically known to have been spoken. More specifically, the evidence suggests that
the Chacha language as well as the language(s)
responsible for the formation of the Den and Cat areas are implicated.
Triangulated evidence is of three types: (i) toponymic
evidence, building and expanding on pioneering observations by Alfredo Torero,
Willem F.H. Adelaar, and Marcelo Jolkesky,
(ii) two possible cases of lexical substrate in Chachapoyas Quechua, building
on lexicographic and comparative work by Gérald
Taylor (1979), and (iii) typological observations on root structure and
phonotactics, building on my own work on Central Andean areal typology (Urban 2018,
2019a, b). Each
of the types of data comes with unique challenges, strengths, and weaknesses.
Nevertheless, together they are consistent in pointing to an affiliation for Chacha, Den, and Cat with Cholón
and possibly Hibito.
overview of Hibito-Cholón and its speakers
Given the central role of the
Hibito and Cholón languages and their speakers in the
context of the present article, I provide a somewhat more extensive (but still
necessarily incomplete) overview of them in this section. Hibito and Cholón are actually the names given primarily to two
historically known ethnic groups of the eastern slopes of the Andes, and only
then also to their languages. One particularly early report on the territory
inhabited by the groups comes from the diary of Santo Toribio
class=SpellE>Mogrovejo, a Spanish cleric who travelled widely through
Peru at the end of the 16th and the beginning of the 17th
century. In his travel diary, Mogrovejo
([1592-1605]2006) lists the places he visited, and in some cases also provides
information on the climate, people, and local languages which he encountered.
For many regions of Peru, Mogrovejo’s reports are
among the very earliest. Coming from the Chachapoyas area, Mogrovejo ([1592-1605]2006: 141-147) travelled southward
from Leymebamba, visiting inter alia Chuquibamba, Uchumarca, Cajamarquilla (modern Bolívar), and Cundumarca
(probably Condormarca). The ecclesiastic district of Cundumarca, he says, comprises some villages in mountains
called Puymal. Of these, Mogrovejo
only visited the main village, Yaro de Puymal. But he mentions also the following further
villages, of a province he calls “Zivito”: San Juan
de Ulat, Olat, and Abaoto (or Abaotot). The latter, Mogrovejo says in a side remark, marks the boundary between
“Zivito” and “Cholón” areas.
From there, he travelled further to the village and province of Quisupay, to which also the villages of Nazo,
Teputac, Chamal, Laposia, and Suyanti belong.
Because of postcolonial resettlements Cholón and
Hibito settlements became increasingly interspersed in late colonial times (Poeppig 1836: 321), which is why Mogrovejo’s
early report is particularly valuable. But the Cholón-speaking
area extended farther south, too. Cholón people are
reported as living at the missions of Monzón, Uchiza, Tocache, and Pachiza in the 19th century (Poeppig
1836: 321). Poeppig (1836: 327) says that the “Chunchos” –a derogatory generic Quechuan term for
forest-dwellers– could easily communicate with speakers of Cholón
because their languages were so similar. This could either mean that indeed
there was a relative of Cholón still further east, or
else that some speakers of Cholón itself were present
east of the Huallaga. Torero (2002: 160-161) in fact mentions an extension of
the Cholón language to the jungle of the Ucayali
department, citing a statement from the preface to Navarro’s (1903: xi) Panoan-Quechua-Spanish dictionary. This implied region is
diverse in altitude, climate, and vegetation, ranging from zones of jagged and
barren mountainland to humid and hot tropical
historical Cholón were specializing in trade, in
particular of salt and coca leaves. Even though their commercial
activities were partially instigated by Spanish missionaries (e.g. Sobreviela et al. 1923:
102-103), it is commonly assumed that they were crucial players in facilitating
interchange between the Andean highlands and the Amazonian lowlands also in
prehistoric times (Reeve 1993: 112-113, Taylor 1999: 217, Torero 2002: 160, cf. Eriksen 2011: 44), a
role that befits the location of their land at the intersection of Andes and
western Amazonia. As an example for the bridging
function of Cholón traders from colonial times, one
can mention that Cholón people from Arancai linked Huari in the highlands of Ancash with the
shores of the Huallaga (Sobreviela et al. 1923:
102-103). The intermediate position of the Cholón
between Andes and Amazonia is also reflected in the structure of their
language. This diagnosis has been facilitated in large part through Alexander-Bakkerus’s (2005) reconstitution of a 18th
century colonial grammar by Pedro de la Mata, by far the most extensive source
on Cholón. In Cholón there
is, on the one hand, a rich case system and a decimal system of numerals like
in the major Andean languages of the Quechuan and Aymaran families. On the
other hand, there are aspects of Cholón which
strongly depart from structures typically found in these languages and which make
the language align more with languages of Amazonia (on matters of areal
typology see further section 5; see also Urban 2019a for more extensive
discussion). Cholón traits that are not typical for
most Andean languages, but that are common in Amazonia, include person marking
that is prefixal rather than suffixal, and a system of numeral classifiers.
These features are exemplified in (1): the allative case marker -pi and the Quechuan loanword ayča ‘meat’ can
be seen as representing the “Andean” aspects of Cholón,
while the classifier -ta for firm and/or
stony objects and the personal reference system by means of prefixes (here in the
form of an auxiliary construction involving a copula) illustrate linguistic
structures more common in Amazonia (Alexander-Bakkerus
‘Both are eating
Even though “Andean” and
“Amazonian” language types are problematic as predefined categories for several
reasons, there clearly are traits in Cholón that make
it occupy a somewhat ambiguous typological position. This is also visible in
typological studies: in the investigation by Urban et al. (2019), which
focusses on the western parts of South America and accordingly does not feature
Amazonian languages, Cholón clearly clusters with the
sampled Quechuan and Aymaran languages. In the study by van Gijn
(2014), which does include a range of Amazonian languages, however, Cholón goes together with Arawakan, one of the major
language families of Amazonia.
what extent the grammar of Hibito aligned with either Andes or Amazonia is
largely unknown, for no grammar of the language survives. A recurrent final
sequence in numerals in the Hibito wordlist of Tessmann
(1930: 458-459) suggests the presence of numeral classifiers as in Cholón (Eloranta 2017).
documentation of both Hibito and Cholón is
incomplete. While there is no dedicated dictionary of Cholón,
a reasonable amount of lexical information has been culled from de la Mata’s
grammar by Alexander-Bakkerus (2005). The material
reveals a moderately strong Quechuan influx, which possibly extends to
borrowing of bound morphology as well. Muysken (2012:
239, table 1; 240) thinks of “close contacts in an early period”, and suggests that a Quechuan language acted as a
“dominant trading language” for speakers of Cholón.
In fact, still in the early 20th century there apparently were Cholón people on the Ucayali who spoke a variety of Quechua
(Navarro 1903: xi). Documentation of Hibito is scarcer and
restricted to two wordlists, one found among the famous wordlists of Martínez Compañón ([1782-1790]1985), the other in Tessmann (1930: 458-459). In spite of the very limited
material available for Hibito, the genetic nature of the relation between the
two languages is widely accepted, even though Torero (1986: 533) is skeptical and
considers attributing the lexical similarities to language contact rather than
inheritance from a common ancestor. Indeed, 19th century sources
report intermarriage between Cholón men and Hibito
women specifically, an assertion confirmed by present-day descendants of Cholón speakers (Alexander-Bakkerus
2005: 28). While similarities in basic vocabulary are strong and speak in favour of a genetic relationship (Adelaar
with Muysken 2004: 461), the social conditions for
strong lexical interference – intermarriage and post-contact resettlement
blurring the lines between previously distinguishable ethnolinguistic
boundaries– were present, so that a non-genetic relationship cannot be entirely
In spite of missionary activities, Cholón was still viable by the first half of the 19th
century. Cholón speakers of that time are reported to
have spoken a Spanish saliently influenced by Cholón
(Poeppig 1836: 327), so that one may assume that the
dominant language of these speakers still was Cholón.
The language in fact survived until relatively recently. Rememberers
consulted by Alexander-Bakkerus (2005) in the 1990s
reported that what they knew of Cholón was acquired
from their grandparents who still spoke the language.
3. Reconsidering the
In this section, I pursue one
line of evidence that suggests a possible Cholón
affiliation for some of the extinct languages posited for prehispanic
northern Peru. This is toponymy, the study of placenames, which has a high
potential for studies aiming to uncover the prior distribution of languages in
a given area (cf. Adelaar 2007 and Solís Fonseca 2009
for general perspectives and Cerrón-Palomino 2015 for
methodological problems). This, as the discussion in the introductory section
has already mentioned, has been masterfully demonstrated for northern Peru by
Torero’s (1989) study, which traces the distribution of recurrent endings.
Especially when overlapping with others that are logically independent, these
can be taken to bespeak the presence of a given language in a given area.
Rather than establishing toponymic areas on the basis of recurrent endings,
here I will often be concerned with the etymology of toponyms as a whole,
including recurrent endings, but also the remaining toponymic material where
possible. For matters that have mostly to do both with differences in the
toponymic record, but also quantitative and qualitative differences regarding
prior work in different regions, the discussion will have two parts. Section 3.2.
treats the Chachapoyas area, section 3.3. the Den and Cat areas in the
highlands of Cajamarca and beyond.
For the Chachapoyas area,
toponymic research begun by Torero (1989) and Taylor (1990) has recently
received new impulses by Valqui Cauqui
(2004) and Jolkesky (2016: 241, table 10). The former
concentrates on inferring the original meaning of toponymic elements through
physical characteristics of the very places they denote. The latter presents an
intriguing etymologization of Chachapoyas toponymy through Hibito and Cholón lexical material that is one of the starting points
of investigation for the present article. Jolkesky
takes the earlier observations that the ending -cat extends to Chachapoyas and
that it might be identified with Cholón kot ‘water’ as a
starting point. Indeed, incontrovertible toponymic evidence for the presence of
Cholón or a related language in regions quite close
to the Chachapoyas area exists. For instance, an eastern tributary of the Huallaga river, approx. 130kms southeast of the Chachapoyas
town of Leymebamba, appears by the name Axuacot in Martínez Compañón’s ([1782-1790]1985) map of Hibito and Cholón missions. This clearly consists of Cholón ašwa ‘fish’ and kot ‘water’
(Alexander-Bakkerus 2005) or cognates in a closely
related language. Regarding the Chachapoyas area proper, Jolkesky
goes further in identifying the toponymic ending -mal, which is of particular
frequency in Chachapoyas, with Cholón mol ‘ground, day’. Especially in the
sense of ‘ground’ this is a highly plausible item to figure in placenames. In
addition, Jolkesky suggests to
identify the Chachapoyas ending -lap with the Cholón
As Jolkesky explains in personal communication, the
idea is that toponyms of the structure x-(a)p, where x is an initial sequence
that may correspond to a noun, denote a ‘place where x exists’ or the like.
there are suggestive Chachapoyas place names not mentioned by Jolkesky (2016) which support the presence of a Cholonoid language in the Chachapoyas area as well. Table 2 presents
my own attempts to etymologize further placenames of the Chachapoyas region, taken from Valqui Culqui (2004) unless
otherwise noted, through Cholón in particular. All Cholón data are cited in the standardized orthography of
Alexander-Bakkerus (2005). Criteria were that the Cholón comparanda ought to be
plausible candidates to occur in toponyms in terms of their meaning, and that
formal differences between toponyms and Cholón comparanda are within reasonable limits.
mol ‘ground, day’
kol ‘death, hunger’
Pangamal ~ Pangomal (?)
pangala ‘forest turkey’a
Sungmal ~ Sugumal
šuŋ ‘village’, classifier for places, posts,
Yolmal (López de Velasco 1971: 239)
šuŋ ‘village’, classifier for places, posts,
1: Chachapoyas placenames with Cholón comparisons
a The connection between pangala and the toponym Pangamal
may be spurious, as the additional syllable of the lexical item is not present
in the toponym. Furthermore, this particular item is phonologically anomalous
for Cholón, an observation that suggests the
possibility of a loan etymology (Alexander-Bakkerus
c It is interesting to note
that a place called Huasingate exists in the
Chachapoyas area (Valqui Culqui
2004). This apparently is made up of Quechua wasi ‘house’ and a variant of the -cat ending; thus, the toponym is closely
related semantically to Shúngote if the
identification of the initial syllable with Cholón šuŋ is correct.
d This appears to be a distinct
item from uč,
which has the same meaning, but is a loan from Quechua. That said, there is the
remote possibility of a Quechua etymology for the initial part of the toponym,
namely through the verb mucha-
‘to kiss’; this item has been borrowed into Cholón as
mučaŋ ‘honour, prayer’, surely under missionary influence.
Even though they
do not feature traditionally recognized recurrent toponymic endings of the
Chachapoyas area, more toponyms of the area can be, if only partially,
explained through Cholón. Thus, Opipuy
(López de Velasco 1971: 239) can be related to Cholón
pey ‘earth’, a word that would plausibly
form the head of names for landmarks (indeed, we will see that relevant tokens
also occur outside the Chachapoyas area). The name of the river Shocol, on the other hand, might be partially explained
through Cholón šo(h) ‘to pour’ (note that the actual word for ‘river’ in Cholón is šokot, literally ‘pouring water’). A particularly
interesting case, however, is that of a small town called Limabamba,
situated in plain Chachapoyas territory, approximately 50 kilometres
southeast of the town of Chachapoyas proper. The etymology of -bamba is clear:
Quechua pampa ‘plain’. The initial
sequence may have a Quechua etymology as well: located at the site of a pre-Columbian
oracle, after all, the Peruvian capital is related to the Quechua root rima- ‘to speak’,
and just like the Quechua variety from which the name of Lima derives, Limabamba could reflect the root with /r/ changed to /l/.
This may be due to Aymaran influence, as suggested by Cerrón-Palomino
(2000) – indeed, a small number of Chachapoyas personal names appear to be
Aymaran (Rivarola 2004). Yet, there is a plausible
alternative, which is especially attractive because Taylor (1979: 22) mentions
that /l/, a few borrowings from other Quechua varieties and cases of
spontaneous depalatalization aside, occurs mainly in local words in Chachapoyas
Quechua. It is also attractive when considering the geography of Limabamba: as revealed by a satellite map, Limabamba is located on a small area of relatively flat land,
befitting the presence of -bamba. To its southwest and northeast, this plain is
surrounded by mountain chains in the shape of an enclosing horseshoe.
Accordingly, Cholón limaŋ ‘mountains, highland’ is a
highly plausible initial element of the placename Limabamba,
which would then have a hybrid origin in that its constituents originate from
two different languages.
toponymy, thus, is in some cases explainable through Cholón.
However, if the toponymic evidence is taken as an indication of the presence of
a Cholonoid language in Chachapoyas, it would be
unexpected if the relevant toponymic endings characterized the Chachapoyas area
only, but did not occur in the zone in which Cholón is in fact known to have been spoken as well. One
would rather expect a continuity of toponymic areas. Indeed, salient Chachapoyan toponymic endings like -cat and -mal do not
cluster sharply in the Chachapoyas region, but extend
southward to areas traditionally inhabited by Cholón-speaking
people. As far as -cat is concerned, the name of the Axuacot
river in Martínez Compañon ([1782-1790]1985) is an
example; the extension of -cat into historical Cholón
territory is shown by figure 1. But also -puy, which
we have just seen in the Chachapoyas toponym Opipuy,
is an ending which is also attested on the eastern slopes of the Andes much
further to the south in what must have been the western margins of the Cholón-speaking area. Note e.g. Culpuy, to the east of Cajabamba.
continuity is also revealed clearly by historical evidence. As Torero (1989:
238) has observed, Mogrovejo’s mentioning of a
settlement called Chamal in the Cholón
area clearly indicates that the -mal toponymic area extends into territory
originally inhabited by speakers of Hibito and Cholón,
too. The early date of attestation, before the exploitation of the region by
the Spaniards at a time when it was a dangerous border zone of Spanish control,
virtually excludes post-conquest factors as responsible. Furthermore, an
addition to de la Mata’s Cholón grammar offers a list
of Cholón and Hibito villages, apparently in some
cases with Spanish translations. Cholón villages that
are mentioned are Apizoncho, Xuñante,
Utchinaman, Chalamuy, Chillancuy, Xenquiman, Jallipñatch, Itziuat, Zalcot, and Jopeytè. Xenquiman was first written as Xenquimal,
but the <l> then crossed out in favour of <n>.
There is thus at least one, and possibly two tokens of -mal in an area of the
eastern slopes that is known to have been inhabited by speakers of Cholón historically. The translation the addition provides
for Jopeytè –‘land
like blood’– matches Cholón (ho ‘blood’, pey ‘land’). This
is, at the same time, important evidence for the occurrence of pey, attested
with the meaning ‘earth’ in the Cholón grammar itself,
in a toponym that is not only located in the right area, but that, being
identified as a Cholón settlement, is
incontrovertibly associated with the Cholón language.
3.3. Den and Cat
We have seen that the possible
link between placenames in -cat, strongly associated with bodies of water, and Cholón kot ‘water’ has played a crucial role in suggesting a
possible Cholonoid affiliation for the Chacha language of the Chachapoyas region. Also for the Cat area more generally, the connection with Cholón kot ‘water’ has been brought up (Torero 1989: 236-237; Adelaar with Muysken 2004: 405).
However, similar words for ‘water’ or bodies of water occur widely in the
Central Andes, so that Cholón is not necessarily
implied specifically. Even if it were, the affiliation with Cholón
would not be ultimately secure as a similarity in an isolated form might well
also be attributable to chance. Yet, there is more specific evidence that does
suggest a connection with Cholón specifically: Torero
(1989: 236-237) is able to compare the entire placename Salcot,
which occurs repeatedly in Cajamarca, with the name of the Cholón
village Zalcot, translated as ‘black water’ in the
handwritten addendum to de la Mata’s Cholón grammar
(cf. (tsi)tsal ‘black’ in de la Mata’s grammar,
Alexander-Bakkerus 2005). Adelaar
(2012: 580) adds another crucial observation, namely that the placename Llacanora of eastern Cajamarca may be explained partially
through Cholón lyaka ‘red’. In
personal communication, Willem Adelaar in addition
points out that Llagadén, another Cajamarcan
placename that form part of the Den toponymic area, may contain the same
Satellite maps actually reveal that both Llacanora
and Llagadén are located in close proximity to areas
of reddish-ocher land. This is, in addition to the cases pointed out by Adelaar, also true of Llacamate on
the western edge of the highlands of La Libertad. Llacamate
is located near the wildlife reserve of Calipuy that
comprises lands of a similar ocher color (the name Calipuy
itself is quite possibly related to Cholón pey ‘earth’ as are
other placenames in -puy).
Adelaar’s observations are also crucial because they extend the possible Cholón connection to the Den area, too. Accordingly, one
can attempt to compare the relevant placenames listed by Torero (1989: 254-257)
and to provide etymologies through Cholón in the same
manner as done in 3.1. for Chachapoyas. The result is in table
šuŋ ‘village’, classifier for places, posts,
Table 2: Additional placenames
from the Den toponymic area of Cajamarca and Cholón
suggestion, together with the additional comparisons in table 2, add strength
to the more general idea of a prior extension of a Cholonoid
languages far into the highlands of northern Peru, Cajamarca in particular. Once
can note that syllables in relevant Den toponyms are frequently more open, with
an additional vowel breaking up consonant clusters that would arise if form
like those from Cholón were reflected directly. Etymologizing
Cat toponyms through Cholón is, somewhat
surprisingly, less productive. Possible comparisons are in
Malcat, Melcat, Molecote
mol ‘day, ground’
Table 3: Placenames from the
Den toponymic area of Cajamarca and Cholón
anote Quechua puyu ‘cloud’ as an alternative source for the initial syllable in this
If the connection
between Cholón and the Den and Cat areas is accepted
(if only as a working hypothesis), one must again ask whether there is any
continuity with the toponymy of the known Cholón-speaking
area. This would be expected under the interpretation of Den and Cat as Cholonoid languages. Torero (1989: 233) actually has
already provided a crucial piece of the answer: from the southern frontier of
the Den area as defined by him, there is a line of relevant toponyms that leads
to the Marañón valley and also penetrates the high
jungle. Relevant placenames are Olmadén ~ Olmadón, Chuquitén, Shuendén, and finally that of the important archaeological
site of Pajatén in plain Hibito-Cholón
speaking territory which is even “supposed to be an ancient centre
of the Cholón or the Hibito” (Alexander-Bakkerus 2005: 27). Torero also notes a number of
placenames on the right shores of the Marañón in
-én that could be related. And, as we have seen
already in section 3.1., placenames in -cat straddle the modern boundary
between the departments of La Libertad and San Martín, a region in which
historically Cholón was the dominant local language.
with the puzzle of the relation between Den, Cat, and Culli,
Torero (1989: 235) considered that their initial sequences are indicative of very
different languages, saying that what coincidences exist (he mentions Aya- in Ayadén and Ayacate), lack
diagnostic value. The evidence presented in the preceding section at least
weakens that statement. Suggestive similarities are no longer restricted to the
ending -cat and Cholón kot ‘water’,
but extend beyond. Alongside placenames like Limabamba,
Llagadén, and Llacanora,
three toponymic endings link the historically known Cholón-speaking
area with Chachapoyas and large parts of the northern Peruvian highlands. And,
as summarized in table 4, all have possible etymologies through Cholón lexical items with meanings that would make their
occurrence as recurrent parts of toponyms plausible.
pey ‘earth, land’
Table 4: Summary of recurrent
endings linking the Den and Cat, Chachapoyas, and historically Cholón-speaking areas.
Also, pace Torero (1989: 235), apparently Den and Cat do share parts of
their lexical stock, as examples like Malcat ∼ Melcot
∼ Molecote : Molladén or Shúngote:
Shuendén show. Importantly, precisely this shared
material can be related to Cholón.
At least as an alternative
possibility, hence, it is worthwhile to consider Den and Cat not as the signatures of
categorically distinct languages, but as somewhat discontinuously distributed
toponymic areas that go back to Cholonoid sources
that were closely akin to one another. In addition, the discussion has shown
that a considerable number of toponymic endings previously used to identify
distinct linguistic areas actually show somewhat overlapping distributions (and,
in fact, Torero 1989 had already noted considerable areas of overlap). The
distinctiveness of Chachapoyas toponymy is considerable, but also here, there
is evidence for continuity of toponymic areas. In
the northern Peruvian Andes, the ending in -cat could be considered as defining
a continuous Cholonoid toponymic area that includes
areas where Cholón itself was dominant in historical
4. Substrate lexis
A second pillar of evidence that
suggests a prior extension of a Cholonoid language to
Chachapoyas in particular comes from a small stratum of Chachapoyas Quechua lexical items which
lack good Quechua etymologies. Taylor (1979) has provided the basic necessary
steps in investigating this stratum. Not only does he, for each Chachapoyas
Quechua item in his dictionary, mention if cognates exist outside Chachapoyas
Quechua, but he also provides short appendices listing names for local flora
and fauna. Given what is known on the semantic areas in which lexis is likely
to be retained from a substrate language, these are good candidates to have
outlasted the language shift to Quechua.
Chachapoyas Quechua lexical item that could stem from a Cholonoid
language is shalla.
Tentatively glossed by Taylor (1979) as ‘basketry’ (“cestería”),
possible Quechua parallels are semantically relatively distant. Taylor (1979)
himself points out <salla> ‘mat’ in the early
Quechua dictionary by Santo Tomás (1560). Nicholas Emlen
(p.c.) brings into play Ancash Quechua shalla, too, which means ‘thicket’ or ‘weed’, but is perhaps
significantly only attested in one of the easternmost provinces of Ancash,
namely Antonio Raimondi (Parker and Chávez 1976). There may be a semantic
bridge between the meaning attested in Chachapoyas and that given by Santo
Tomás (1560) in that baskets are made from straw, just
as mats are. Metonymy of a similar type may partially link the Ancash meaning
provided by Parker and Chávez (1976).
alternative etymology for Chachapoyas Quechua shalla, however, is through Cholón šala ‘basket’, which is much closer semantically than the comparable
items within Quechua. The
only difference that requires some discussion concerns the place of
articulation of the lateral, which is alveolar in Cholón
as documented in de la Mata’s colonial grammar, but palatal in Chachapoyas
Quechua. In the first place, it is relevant that the alveolar lateral has a
somewhat peculiar status in Chachapoyas Quechua according to the description by
Taylor (1979: 22). It results from sporadic depalatalization of the palatal
lateral, which apparently occurs across varying numbers of lexical items depending
on the region. The description provided by Taylor seems compatible with a
process of lexical diffusion, i.e. a sound change of
depalatalization in progress. Otherwise, as we have already seen in the context
of the toponym Limabamba, the main source of /l/ in
Chachapoyas Quechua are pre-Quechua elements (toponyms and terms for flora and
fauna). This, as I argue, is precisely the class of items to which shalla could belong,
too. The depalatalization which is occurring in Chachapoyas Quechua provides in
fact another link with Cholón. In the manuscript of
de la Mata’s Cholón grammar, letters representing the
palatal affricate have frequently been crossed out and replaced by alveolars
(Alexander-Bakkerus 2005: 88). In some items, this
also pertains to laterals. In word-final position, alveolar and palatal points
of articulation even appear to have varied freely (Alexander-Bakkerus 2005: 89). Responsible for the emendations that
can be observed in the manuscript may be individual variation, dialect
differences (many of the corrections seem to have been made not by de la Mata,
but by the copyist Gerónimo Clota,
who was a missionary in San Buenaventura del Valle, cf. Alexander-Bakkerus 2005: 41, 43) or sound change in progress
(Alexander-Bakkerus 2005: 89). In sum, the place of
articulation of the laterals apparently varies both in Chachapoyas Quechua and
in Cholón diatopically,
diachronically, or both. Since in addition at stake here is not Cholón itself but possibly a closely related language, this
variation appears to do little damage to the etymology of shalla through Cholón. However, a more complex scenario is not
excluded. Given the contact history Cholón must have
had with Quechua, it is not entirely impossible that Cholón
‘basket’ is ultimately from an undefined variety of Quechuan,
and was then reintroduced as a borrowing into Chachapoyas Quechua with
the specific meaning it had assumed in Cholón.
lexical link to Cholón is the Chachapoyas Quechua
Some indigenous people of the Chachapoyas region have unusually light skin and
blonde or reddish hair, an observation probably already made by the 16th
century Spanish chronicler Cieza de León (cf. Schjellerup 2005: 61). In Chachapoyas Quechua as well as
the Spanish of the Chachapoyas
province, such individuals are known as musha (Taylor 1979, Malengreau
Musha has no plausible cognates in other
Quechua varieties, as Taylor (1979) already diagnosed. I believe that a Cholón etymology is highly plausible. Specifically, I
identify musha with Cholón mušak ‘sun’ (or
its cognate in a Cholonoid language). This may seem
far-fetched at first glance, but it is not, for there is a common lexico-semantic association between the sun and unusually
light-skinned people, including specifically albinos, in indigenous languages
of South America of which the one under scrutiny here would just be another
geographically closest parallel comes from the Mochica language of Peru’s north
coast. Here, actually, the lexico-semantic
association is sensitive to gender and involves both sun and moon: according to
Brüning (2004), a male albino is known as <rrémik>, while a female albinotic
person is referred to by a word transcribed by Brüning
as <šang>, <šan’>,
<g͡y̆ang>, or <g͡y̆an’g>.
At the same time, the former is the Mochica word for the ‘moon’, the latter for
the Kuna people of Panama, there is an unusually high incidence of albinism
(cf. e.g. Carrasco 2009 for a genetic perspective).
For their language, which belongs to the Chibchan
family, Holmer (1952) gives ipekwa as one of the names for an
albino. Holmer also mentions the adverb ipekwar ‘like the
sun’, and gives Ipelele as the name of the sun
when thought of as a person. Nordenskiöld with Pérez Kantule
(1938: 420-421) states that ibe ‘sun’ also applies to albinos directly.
sum, there are two Chachapoyas Quechua lexical items with unclear or
nonexistent Quechuan etymologies that can be plausibly linked with Cholón. The
question, however, is if these must necessarily be considered as substrate
lexis which survives from the original Chacha
language or if borrowing without substrate interference provides a sufficient
scenario, in particular given the geographical proximity between Chachapoyas
Quechua and Cholón. While such a scenario could account for the
presence of shalla
‘basket’ in Chachapoyas Quechua, it seems significantly less plausible for musha, since this
word describes a phenotype that appears very specific to the Chachapoyas
region. There would be little reason why a speech community should borrow a
word for a highly salient phenotypic phenomenon that occurs among themselves
from a contact language such as Cholón.
5. Typological considerations
In the preceding sections, I have
presented evidence from toponymic distributions and Chachapoyas Quechua
vocabulary items that raise the possibility that Cholón
or a closely related “Cholonoid” language was once
present in large parts of the highlands and eastern slopes of northern Peru.
Regarding the toponymic evidence in particular, I have also discussed whether
the relevant endings extend to the area where Cholón
is in fact known to have been spoken in historical times as a kind of “sanity
check” of plausibility. In this section, I pursue such confirmatory lines of
reasoning further, but in a somewhat different and logically independent
direction. Concretely, if the evidence hitherto presented is genuine and a Cholonoid language indeed once was present in the pertinent
areas, then the remains that these Cholonoid
languages left in the form of placenames, personal names, substrate lexis, etc.
should in terms of phonotactic and syllabic structure, stress patterns etc. be
congruent to a large extent to those structures found in Cholón,
or at least not be blatantly incompatible with them.
broad and general perspective on the relevant phenomena in northern Peru is
provided in Urban (2019a, b). The general idea in particular of Urban (2019a)
is that the dominance in terms of number of individual varieties, number of
speakers, and geographic spread of the Quechuan family in particular, together
with the remarkable contact history this lineage betrays with Aymaran which is
discussed prominently in the literature, has led to an excessive weight
assigned to the features of that family in theorizing the areal typology of the
Central Andes. When the available evidence of the languages of northern Peru is
considered, shared structures that in fact differ from typical Quechuan (and
Aymaran) patterns become visible. As has first been observed by Torero (2002:
212), the languages of the northern Peruvian Andes documented by Martínez Compañón ([1782-1790]1985), including Hibito and Cholón, show a higher incidence of monosyllabic roots than
Quechuan, which has a very strong preference for disyllabic roots. This
observation can be extended seamlessly to the personal names of Chachapoyas
(Taylor 1990: 124, Valqui Culqui
2004) and also the placenames of the Den and especially the Cat area, in which
monosyllabic and disyllabic roots coexist. Furthermore, the northern languages,
again including Hibito and Cholón, apparently had
less phonotactic restrictions on plosives in word-final position than Quechuan
languages, which prohibit /t/ from that position and in which final instances
of /p/ are likely due to fossilized suffixation or borrowing from a substrate
language (Willem Adelaar p.c.). Again, these regularities
extend to Chachapoyas personal names as well as Den and Cat toponyms (cf. e.g. Septén, Cut-Cate). In some
basic properties of root structure, thus, the evidence is consistent with a Cholonoid presence in the Den and Cat toponymic areas as
well as in Chachapoyas.
there are also some differences, of which I would like to discuss two in
particular. The first concerns stress. Chachapoyas Quechua has stress on the
initial syllable, a highly unusual trait within the Quechuan language family.
It is usually assumed that the initial stress is the underlying reason for the
characteristic reduction of unstressed vowels in Chachapoyas Quechua. The
Chachapoyas Quechua stress shift may be a substrate feature, even though this
cannot be demonstrated following conservative lines of reasoning in
establishing substrate influence (Thomason 2009) simply because the Chacha stress pattern is not known. If one nevertheless
assumes a role of substrate interference in the stress shift, a problematic
situation arises since de la Mata describes Cholón as
placing stress consistently on the final syllable (Alexander-Bakkerus 2005: 79; the observation is confirmed
independently by Poeppig 1836: 327). Tessmann’s Cholón data show that
pattern, too. So while final stress in Cholón chimes well with the fact that Den toponyms very
frequently are stressed on the ending (i.e. the final syllable), explaining the
initial stress shift in Chachapoyas Quechua through
substratum influence from a Cholonoid language would
seem a difficult task. Tessmann’s (1930:
458-459) Hibito data, on the other hand, show an inconsistent pattern regarding
stress. Not all items are marked for stress; some of those that are show stress
on the last, others on the first syllable (e.g. <montsá> ~ <mantas> ‘eye’, <sótša> ‘head’).
observation worthy of discussion is the presence of letters <b>,
<d>, and <g> in initial position of Chachapoyas personal names.
These suggest that voicing in stops was phonologically contrastive in Chacha (Taylor 1990). The Cholón
grammarian de la Mata, in contrast, clearly states that “[i]n
this language, the letters B, D, F and R, [...] are not pronounced” (Alexander-Bakkerus 2005: 51fn2). Again, Tessmann’s
Hibito data show some more evidence of voiced stops and affricates than his Cholón data, but the differences are neither dramatic nor
consistent. One noteworthy item is the word for ‘tooth’, given as <dzuī> with the alternative transcription <tui> in
parenthesis. Bearing in mind that letters <b>, <d>, and <g>
could also have been used to represents something different from [b], [d], [g],
as also happened in an unsystematic rendering of the Barbacoan
language Guambiano using the Spanish alphabet (cf. Urban
submitted), the inconsistency regarding voicing in stops between Chacha personal names and placenames remain.
particular as far as Chachapoyas is concerned, then, there is evidence for some
typological discrepancies between what traits can be tentatively posited for
the original language of the region and Cholón and to
a lesser extent also Hibito. On other levels of analysis, namely root structure
and phonotactic structure, the data reinforce the ties of the languages that
created the Den and Cat areas, as well as Chacha,
with the northern Peruvian Andes generally and also Cholón
The available linguistic evidence
for many languages of the highlands is extremely restricted, and leaves the
researcher wanting for more. What little linguistic evidence there is, however,
is consistent with a scenario in which languages closely related to Cholón were once present in large parts of the highlands of
northern Peru, in particular Cajamarca. Needless to say, the type of analysis
that is possible on the basis of the available data does not even approach the
security that can be attained regarding a genealogical link by the application
of the comparative method. Even if the strength of the different lines of
evidence were stronger, which is logically possible and might even be achieved
by further research (more possible etymologies of Den and Cat toponyms through Cholón, more Chachapoyas lexical items that can be linked
to Cholón, and stronger typological affinities), by
the nature of the evidence the inference of a Cholonoid
extension into the highlands of Chachapoyas and Cajamarca would remain a matter
of probabilities only. Neither now nor in the future should the idea of a
larger extension of the Hibito-Cholón family be
accepted uncritically as fact. Also, the discovery of additional relevant data,
such as dedicated documentation of the Chacha
language or of Hibito, could necessitate a reconsideration of the posited
scenario. Moreover, in any case it is necessary to not only consider the
spatial dimension, but also the temporal dimension, a point recently made with
reference to the Peruvian North by Andrade Ciudad (2010). The point that the
Den, Cat, and Chachapoyas toponymy could indicate the presence of a Cholonoid language at certain times in prehistory does not
necessarily mean that at any one point of time such a language was the dominant
language of the entire area. It is possible that the toponymic signatures
pertain to different temporal strata, as Andrade Ciudad (2010) in fact argues.
This possibility requires further consideration in the light of the evidence
presented in this article.
even when focusing for the time being on spatial rather than temporal distributions
alone, the evidence presented here makes broader (re)considerations of a
multidisciplinary nature possible. Valqui Cauqui (2004) notes the mismatch between the hitherto
established extension of the Chacha language as
inferred by toponymy and that of the Chachapoyas culture. They overlap
reasonably in the north, but the area affiliated with the Chachapoyas culture
extends considerably farther southward into the Marañón-Huallaga
interfluve, with sites such as Nunamarca just north
of Tayabamba (Church and von Hagen 2008: 905, fig.
45.1). To be sure, modern research does not expect a one to
one match between linguistic and cultural distributions anymore as was
largely the case until well into the 20th century. Since
archaeological styles are no longer interpreted as the product of a homogeneous
people, and since these in turn need not have been linguistically homogeneous,
such a mismatch is in principle unproblematic. In this case, nevertheless, the
possibility of a prior extension of a Cholonoid
language to Chachapoyas does yield a remarkable congruence between
archaeological-cultural and linguistic data.
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