Uru-Chipaya is a genetically isolated group of closely related language varieties formerly spoken by the ethnic groups called Urus living on the Altiplano, a high plateau of the Southern Central Andes located in Bolivia and Peru. Three of these language varieties have been the object of former linguistic interest and documentation:
- The language variety of Santa Ana de Chipaya and Ayparavi, two communities located north of Lake Coipasa, Bolivia
- The language variety of Irohito, a small community located at the shore of the Desaguadero River, Ingavi Province, Department of La Paz, Bolivia
- The language variety of Ch’imu, a community located at the shore of Lake Titicaca, a few kilometers south of the city of Puno, Peru
Studies on the documented materials by Rodolfo Cerron-Palomino based on an analysis of historical phonology and Alfredo Torero based on a lexical comparison, come to the result that despite the fact that there is a bigger cultural and geographical distance between Irohito and Chipaya than there is between Irohito and Ch’imu, the language varieties of Irohito and Chipaya have greater linguistic affinities. Therefore the distinction of two subgroups of Uru-Chipaya language varieties may be supposed, a Peruvian subgroup consisting of the variety formerly spoken in the village of Ch’imu and a Bolivian subgroup consisting of the varieties of Irohito on the one hand and the variety of Chipaya and Ayparavi on the other. Today only one variety spoken in Chipaya and Ayparavi remains vital, spoken by about two thousand people of all ages.
The language variety of Santa Ana de Chipaya and Ayparavi, which is in the main focus of this documentation project and which we call Chipaya, is an agglutinative language. It has a complex system of consonants distinguishing between simple, aspirated and glottalized occlusives and affricates, retroflex vs. non retroflex and labialized vs. non-labialized consonants. It has a five vowel system distinguishing between short and long vowels. The language possesses a gender distinction between male and female for animate entities and gender agreement is established on some verbal tenses and a set of pronominal clitics that may be attached to any word preceding the verb.