Quinoa: way more than one way to pronounce it

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From a colleague:

A question about quinoa. Linguistic, not gustatory or political-economic. How do / would you normally say it?

kee-NO-ah?  kwee-NO-ah?
KEE-no-ah?  KWEE-no-ah?
KEEN-wah?  KWEEN-wah?
keen-WAH?  kween-WAH?
(or? )

And apart from your own production of it, what pronunciations can you semi-statistically report from the mouths of others, grouped according to nationality or any other category?

Do not feel the need to argue knowledge-based reasons for or against certain pronunciations on the basis of Qechua/Spanish origin. After all, pronunciation of loanwords can be relatively autonomous of their origins (even when the origin is consciously known, which is not always the case). Some people will fall into a state of agitation over this, denouncing from the very treetops various renditions of quinoa — one pole as 'ignorant', the other as 'pretentious' .

(The word's ultimate origin, though, is evidently Peruvian Quechua kinuwa, with the stress in the middle: kee-NU-wa. No audio but the word can be seen in the online (pdf) bilingual pictoral dictionary Yachakuqkunapa Simi Qullqa – Qusqu Qullaw Qhichwa Simipi (en quechua sureño y español) (Lima: Ministerio de Educación del Perú). See also 'Stress is penultimate in most dialects of Quechua'.)

For the record, I (VHM) say kwee-NO-ah, though I know that some people will probably look askance at that pronunciation.  The "correct" pronunciation of the word is so hotly contested that I have decided not to be vexed about trying to get it "right".

See, for example:

"Why 'Keen-Wah'?" by SERIOUSB on Serious Eats (9/20/10), with plenty of comments expressing all sorts of opinions about how to pronounce it.

"Why is Quinoa Pronounced As Though It Were French?" by Melanie Cr on Take Our Word For It (1/1/15).

BTW, there is a Quechwa Wikipedia (in the Wikipedia language menu it's called "Runa Simi").  For quinoa, see here:

'Kinuwa,[1][2][3][4] Kinwa,[5][6][1] Kiwina[7] icha Kiwna[7]' […] .

 I assume these are dialectal variations. This page favors "kinwa".


  1. Stan Carey said,

    November 30, 2015 @ 6:15 am

    I saw it in print before I heard it spoken (or recognised it that way), so at first I thought it was like 'qui-NO-a'. Then I learned it was more properly 'KEEN-wa', i.e., /ˈkiːnwɑː/, so I switched to that. I've since heard both forms used, and others besides. Native English speaker, west of Ireland dialect.

  2. Anschel Schaffer-Cohen said,

    November 30, 2015 @ 6:49 am

    In La Paz, Bolivia, where it's a standard grain if not a staple (maybe like barley in the US) it's universally pronounced KEEN-wah, which happens to be how I learned to say it in English.

  3. George said,

    November 30, 2015 @ 6:55 am

    What were the chances that your second data point would be another native English speaker from Ireland (living in the West now, what's more, but with what I would have to describe as a generic 'vaguely-middle-class-but-none-of-your-weird-diphthongs-stuff-Dublin-or-thereabouts' dialect).

    KEEN-wa for me. I occasionally hear KIN-wa.

    Jesus. 'Tis far from quinoa we were reared.

  4. George said,

    November 30, 2015 @ 6:56 am

    Edit that to 'third data point'…

  5. empty said,

    November 30, 2015 @ 7:25 am

    KEEN-wa is how we say it in my family. I don't think I've ever heard it pronounced any other way except maybe by someone asking how to pronounce it.

  6. r said,

    November 30, 2015 @ 7:26 am

    I say it "kee-NO-ah". I'm one level of pretentious hipster above the average pretentious hipster. More prosaically, I am a lot more used to Spanish loanwords than Quechua loanwords.

    I also don't really like it. Rice flour for me, please!

  7. Dick Margulis said,

    November 30, 2015 @ 7:41 am

    My niece in Quito, Ecuador, was introduced to it by her Ecuadoran housekeeper and in turn introduced me to it as KEEN-wah.

  8. Gordon said,

    November 30, 2015 @ 7:53 am

    Australian here. KEEN-wah

  9. C said,

    November 30, 2015 @ 8:56 am

    South-east England here:

    I saw it written many times and silently pronounced it kwee-NO-ah, or more like kwi-NO-ah.

    Then I read a lighthearted article in The Guardian discussing this very issue, and saying that KEEN-wah was how the cognoscenti pronounced it. (If you know the stereotype of newspaper's readers, it's the perfect place to be told.)

    I'm now too self-conscious to say it at all, rather as I struggle with another food, pie-ELL-uh or pie-AY-uh.

  10. Ralph Hickok said,

    November 30, 2015 @ 9:25 am

    I pronounced it (in my head) as "kwee-NO-a" when I first saw it on a menu. Later, I heard a waiter pronounce it as "KEEN-wa" and that pronunciation has been reinforced several times since then, most notably by a daughter who is something of a foodie.

  11. Ken Miner said,

    November 30, 2015 @ 9:35 am

    Slightly OT:

    "Why is Quinoa Pronounced As Though It Were French?"

    Another Native American word "pronounced as if it were French" is 'Chicago'. However, 'Chicago' is actually spelled as though it were French. It's Menominee sekakoh "skunk run" which in the 20s would have been pronounced [ʃɪkakoh]. So the pronunciation is original or nearly so. The frenchy spelling isn't surprising; there were plenty of French in the area back in the day, and most Menominee given names are Menominized French.

  12. Irene Hahn said,

    November 30, 2015 @ 9:36 am

    I am so glad about this article! I say kwee-NO-a and have been corrected by the language police.

  13. Keith said,

    November 30, 2015 @ 9:37 am

    I first found this food in around 1992, and seeing that it was from South America imagined that it was pronounced /kiˈno.a/ and have been using that ever since.

    When I went to northern Chile in 1997 I used that pronunciation, and everybody understood it, so I took that as confirmation that it was acceptable.

    Whether it is strictly speaking "correct" or not, it works and people understand what I mean when I use that pronunciation.

  14. Faldone said,

    November 30, 2015 @ 9:54 am

    Wikipedia says /ˈkiːnoʊ.ə/. I've never heard it pronounced that way. I pronounce it /kiːnˈwɑː/ and that is the only way I've heard it. Originally North American Chicago dialect but I've lived around the country. I can only attest to how I've heard it pronounced in upstate New York, Finger Lakes.

  15. FM said,

    November 30, 2015 @ 10:09 am

    I started with kin-OH-uh when I first learned the word from spelling in Southern California, then at some point switched to KEEN-wah, which seems to be mostly the consensus in my circles. I've never heard a variant with /kw/ or with stress on the last syllable (except in my Russian family, where we say /kin'va/.)

  16. Nathan Emmett said,

    November 30, 2015 @ 10:29 am

    I went with /kwin-O-uh/ for ages (I had only read it) as did my friends (but I think they heard if from me first…).

    That is also how the Koreans in the restaurant I visited in Seoul pronounced it when I was there.

    Kee-NOH-ah seems to be the favourite in my partner's (American) family and over here in SW England though.

  17. Stitch said,

    November 30, 2015 @ 10:51 am

    This is one time I follow the common advice, "Don't eat anything you can't pronounce."

  18. MattF said,

    November 30, 2015 @ 11:51 am

    I pronunce it KEEN-wa and cook it in a rice cooker. Can't get much hipper than that. Still gets stuck in my teeth, though.

  19. eilidh said,

    November 30, 2015 @ 12:48 pm

    In Greece we write it κινόα, which is pronounced kee-NO-ah.

  20. Victor Mair said,

    November 30, 2015 @ 1:51 pm

    Japanese: kinoa キノア.

  21. Victor Mair said,

    November 30, 2015 @ 1:53 pm

    From an Austrian relative:

    As I studied Spanish linguistics at university, the only acceptable pronunciation for me seems to be kee- no-ah, the word stress being on the second syllable.

  22. Neil Dolinger said,

    November 30, 2015 @ 2:08 pm

    US Midatlantic native speaker of English here, and somewhat towards the first pole mentioned by your colleague. Started off pronouncing it "kee NO uh" from sight, then started hearing "everybody" pronouncing it "KEEN wah" and adopting that pronunciation. However, now that I know that the original Quechua pronunciation is closer to "kee NU wa", I will probably start using that. I won't beat myself up for having used the previous two iterations, and won't correct anyone else's usage, but I would have a hard time using a pronunciation that clearly (to me) deviates from the original.

  23. languagehat said,

    November 30, 2015 @ 2:52 pm

    American here (though I've lived all over): KEEN-wah.

    now that I know that the original Quechua pronunciation is closer to "kee NU wa"

    But it's not. See the Quechwa Wikipedia page linked in the post, where several spellings are given but Kinwa (presumably KEEN-wah) is preferred.

  24. Johan P said,

    November 30, 2015 @ 3:13 pm

    How do french speakers actually pronounce it, out of interest? Kee-no-AH?

    Doing a study of different languages may be revealing. Swedes universally pronounce it Ki-NAW-ah.

  25. Bloix said,

    November 30, 2015 @ 3:19 pm

    "I (VHM) say kwee-NO-ah"

    This seems to be wrong in every language – no pronunciation takes the "qu" to be "kw," and the English long "ee" sound is entirely foreign to Spanish. It does make it sound more or less like English, which is a step in the right direction, but not far enough.

    But I would say that the least distorting way to make it sound like an English word, not some foreign intruder that demands that we pretend that we're speaking some other language, is "Kih-NO-ah."

    I first came across quinoa over 20 years ago on the shores of Lake Titicaca, in a tourist hostel run by a Swiss national. It was served in a fish stew, as if it were rice. The staff at the hostel were Bolivian nationals, mostly of Quechua heritage. They said "KIN-wah." Unfortunately, this is very un-English and also (to an English speaker) quite an ugly word.

    If it were up to me I would pick Kih-NO-uh, because imho words in English should be pronounced like English words.

    PS- Quinoa is delicious and very pretty on the plate, especially if you mix the red and white varieties. It has a distinctive nutty flavor and it holds the flavors of the liquid it's cooked in very nicely. Tastier in soup or stew than rice or couscous. Also better for you.

  26. languagehat said,

    November 30, 2015 @ 3:21 pm

    If it were up to me I would pick Kih-NO-uh, because imho words in English should be pronounced like English words.

    Does Kih-NO-uh really sound more English to you than KIN-wa? It doesn't to me.

  27. Jim said,

    November 30, 2015 @ 3:24 pm

    I always stumble over it. It "looks like" "kwee-NO-a". I have the same problem with the name Joaquin….must have been a little too hooked on phonics…

  28. Bloix said,

    November 30, 2015 @ 4:32 pm

    Language Hat –
    It does, yes. That said, KIN-wa is certainly more English-sounding than KEEN-wah. But I find that the transition from the n to the w is difficult and foreign-sounding. (Can you think of another word that has it?)

    (There's no xenophobia in my opinion, BTW. This is about the name of a food that, IMHO, should be a staple of our diet, and if people are going to eat it, they need to be able to say it. I personally don't mind saying arugula but I do wish we said rocket, like the English do.)

  29. languagehat said,

    November 30, 2015 @ 5:31 pm


  30. Scott McClure said,

    November 30, 2015 @ 5:39 pm

    Indeed! And Fenway, Steinway, unwed, stonewalled, cottonwood, Conway…

  31. Bloix said,

    November 30, 2015 @ 5:50 pm

    I still don't like it.

  32. Scott McClure said,

    November 30, 2015 @ 6:31 pm

    Fair enough, Bloix.

    With respect to the Austrian relative, it sounds like ⟨quínoa⟩ and ⟨quinua⟩ are two Spanish spellings that are usually taken to represent [ˈkin.wa], while ⟨quinoa⟩ is a Spanish spelling usually taken to represent [kiˈno.a]:

  33. Scott McClure said,

    November 30, 2015 @ 6:36 pm

    On second glance, I probably didn't represent the orthography/pronunciation correspondences very well in my previous comment. I think this is what's meant in the Castellano Actual article:

    ⟨quínoa⟩ ↔ [ˈki.noa]
    ⟨quinua⟩ ↔ [ˈkin.wa]
    ⟨quinoa⟩ ↔ [kiˈno.a]

  34. Philip Chimento said,

    November 30, 2015 @ 10:57 pm

    This recording shows the only pronunciation I use: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1visYpIREUM

  35. David P said,

    November 30, 2015 @ 11:59 pm

    I think I've always heard it as KEEN-wah or keen-WAH (Virginia near Washington, D.C.). I probably heard it before I saw it spelled, but the pronunciation and the spelling seem conformable to me. But I never had a problem with Joaquin either (unlike @Jim said). It's interesting that Joa-quin and Quin-oa are such close matches. Growing up where I did (Arizona near Mexico), the 'oa' as in Oaxaca is a plausible spelling for 'wah'.

  36. phanmo said,

    December 1, 2015 @ 2:37 am

    @Johan P

    I currently live in France (Nantes) and I originally intended to comment on how quinoa is actually pronounced here. I'm pretty sure it's pronounced "ki-NO-a" by the French but ,unfortunately, after having read the comments and mentally spoken all the variants listed, I'm no longer sure!!

    Torontonian Anglophone

  37. Nathan Myers said,

    December 1, 2015 @ 4:52 am

    I am interested in the meaning of "currently" above. The sentence would appear to mean the same thing without. Such usage is very firmly established among "the IT crowd", and may be leaking out. I always stumble over it because it seems to set up a contrast not then forthcoming.

    Does it mean anything in this context, or is it a tic? I hazard that if it is meant to mean anything, it should be taken to remind us that everything is transient, a sort of memento mori. Is the non-contrastive usage traceable to any sort of origin? Google ngram suggests it pops out of the noise level around 1965 after a gestation c. 1940. Was it military? Meanwhile, "lately" continues a long slide out of favor begun around 1800. What did people use between 1900 and 1960? Or was less implication of impermanence preferred during that time?

  38. Nathan Myers said,

    December 1, 2015 @ 5:01 am

    I see now that that the contrast did, eventually, "come forth" in the signature, but the general questions remain. Are we, lately, supposed to presume stability and permanence in the absence of a note to the contrary? Am I failing to qualify appropriately by not sprinkling "currently" into my speech?

  39. mollymooly said,

    December 1, 2015 @ 8:25 am

    Various dictionaries differ:

    * KEEN-wah — OALD US, OALD UK, AHD2, Collins 1, MW1
    * ki-NOH-uh — CALD UK2, AHD1, MW2, WNW
    * kin-WAH — CALD US, CALD UK1
    * KEE-noh-uh — Collins 2

    No love for initial kw- though.

  40. George said,

    December 1, 2015 @ 8:34 am


    My wife is from Nantes and she pronounces it KEEN-wa. She introduced me to both the thing itself and how to pronounce it.

  41. George said,

    December 1, 2015 @ 8:49 am

    @Nathan Myers

    Regardless of whether the contrast you refer to is explicitly forthcoming, 'currently' most certainly adds meaning to the sentence, to wit, "I used to live elsewhere and will almost certainly live elsewhere in the future". Your post seems to suggest that, for you, this type of impermanence of residence is, if not quite the default, at least unexceptional. For most non-nomadic people, over most of history, it has certainly not been unexceptional. Yes, there have always been people who moved but most didn't or, if they did, it was a big deal. Are you from the US? Could your approach be a North American one (and I know that phanmo is Canadian)?

  42. January First-of-May said,

    December 1, 2015 @ 8:49 am

    Apparently, in Russian, it's supposed to be KEE-no-ah, but I pronounce it kwee-NO-ah when encountering the English word, and kee-NO-ah for the Russian spelling.
    Mentally, of course. I don't think I ever actually needed to use that word in conversation (though I did see the grain offered at local Auchan).

  43. languagehat said,

    December 1, 2015 @ 9:18 am

    The Russian forms (per Wikipedia) are ки́ноа (KInoa) or ки́нва (KINva)

  44. Alex said,

    December 1, 2015 @ 12:20 pm

    I'd like to point out that there is another domesticated strain of chenopodium known as kañiwa (kan-YI-wa) as well. If you mangle "quinoa" (which I've heard both Aymara and Quechua speakers render as "KEENwa") badly enough, you might not even be talking about the same food.

  45. Alex said,

    December 1, 2015 @ 12:33 pm

    Also, while it's true that stress is penultimate in Quechua, the appearance of three syllables may be an artifact of Spanish orthography. In the absence of a "w," this common Quechua phoneme gets transcribed as various odd combinations of vowels representing "w" and its following vowel. (e.g. "ua," "oa," or "hua" for "wa")

  46. JS said,

    December 1, 2015 @ 11:58 pm

    @January First-of-May
    Since you earlier asked so sincerely, I now feel compelled to point out that you need an article or some such before "local" above. :/

  47. J. Goard said,

    December 2, 2015 @ 12:51 am

    If I'm not attending to my pronunciation, I probably mostly say kin-NO-wah or KIN-no-wah, depending on the intonational context. (Definitely kin-NO-wah oil, for example.)

  48. Chas Belov said,

    December 5, 2015 @ 2:50 am

    I usually say KEEN-wah but might occasionally use one of the others. I like it, but have not been comfortable buying it since I heard that it's newfound popularity makes it unaffordable to the people who've been eating it for centuries.

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