Northern Aymaran Toponymy, Revisited: A Systematic Approach to the Linguistic Origins of Place Names

Nicholas Q. Emlen, Arjan Mossel

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Andeanists have long suspected that the Aymaran language family once extended to the north of its northernmost surviving varieties in Central Peru, a proposal we call the Northern Aymaran Hypothesis. This article examines the source of evidence most frequently invoked in support of it: the presence of putative Aymaran toponyms north of the family’s current geographic distribution. It presents a novel methodology that does not propose specific etymologies but instead utilizes several parameters for assessing the plausibility of a particular toponym originating in an Aymaran language, applied to distinguishable toponymic components: interpretability as Aymaran, non-sharedness with other languages, reconstructability in Proto-Aymaran, number of phonemes, and semantic plausibility. These patterns are assessed across thousands of official Peruvian place names, resulting in a gradient Aymaran toponymic plausibility score for each name. We conclude that there is some faint evidence of a Northern Aymaran toponymic layer but that interpreting its relative chronology is challenging.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)493-530
Number of pages38
JournalInternational Journal of American Linguistics
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 2023


  • toponymy
  • linguistic prehistory
  • Aymaran languages
  • Andean languages
  • place names


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