Mochica language

Mochica (also Yunga, Yunca, Chimú, Muchic, Mochika, Muchik, Chimu) is a Chimuan 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.[2]

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

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

Linguistic category

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.

Mochica appears to be a language isolate with no clear links to any other American Indian language.


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 The long-awaited field notes of Brüning from 1904-05 have been kept in the Museum of Ethnology, Hamburg, though still unpublished.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.[3]


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, âeio, ôu, ûœ
Middendorf a, ā, ăe (ē)ī, (i), ĭō, (o), ŏu, ū, ŭä, ů

Surviving records

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 in 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 program

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.


  1. Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds. (2017). "Mochica". Glottolog 3.0. Jena, Germany: Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
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