Visit Paracas With Peru Experience
Peru's Quechua language is worth preserving
Quechua-speakers in the Sacred Valley (quinet/WikimediaCommons)
By Nick Rosen
April 11, 2012
I was in Ayacucho last week when I heard something I don’t get to hear very often: Quechua.
As my Spanish improved over time, I feel like I gained access to a new world: songs, movies, television, newspapers and, especially, conversation. Nevertheless, I have remained totally cut off from the world of the roughly 20% of Peruvians who speak Quechua.
I practically never hear anyone speaking Quechua in Lima, but in small villages like Quinua and Condorcocha, it was what the locals spoke to one another, while in Huamanga, it was the language in which the Easter mass was conducted.
It was great to witness to people preserving their culture, because, let’s face it, Peru has made it hard for Quechua-speakers. Even in areas where Quechua-speakers form a majority of the population, and despite Quechua’s status as an official language, there are few places where all government services are available in Quechua. When two Congresswomen tried to speak Quechua in Congress, they were criticized by their colleagues and mocked by much of the Spanish-speaking media.
There is little Quechua media to speak of. While the 20% of Canadians who are French-speakers, for example, have access to government-supported TV, radio, and films in their own language, Quechua-speakers must make do with a few private, local radio stations in rural areas (though in Apurimac, one Quechua-language television program targeting young people has recently been launched).
The lack of available media is also an issue in education. Though by law Quechua-speakers have the right to a bilingual education, in fact the vast majority are instructed in Spanish. Few teachers have been trained in bilingual education, and the Ministry of Education has not been able to provide indigenous communities with Quechua-language instructional materials. Numerous studies have shown that students whose primary education is in a language that is not spoken at home face significant difficulties. This only serves to widen the education gap between urban and rural Peru.
It also spurs what has been a marked decline in the use of Quechua. As Peru urbanizes, more and more families have stopped passing along the ancestral language to younger generations, as they see Spanish as a much more useful tool for social and economic advancement. This is a terrible shame. When a language dies, much of the history, culture, tradition and identity that accompany it die alongside it.
I have seen this myself: my own great-grandparents spoke a language that is now entirely extinct in my family, and is nearly gone around the world. Much of the literature they read and many of the stories and jokes they told are lost to us.
There is no reason Quechua has to die out, however. There are numerous examples of societies where residents maintain their native tongues while also learning a more economically-benefical second language. Vast resources are not needed, either. Ecuador and Bolivia are significantly further along in implementing bilingual education and providing government services in indigenous languages, while in Paraguay, over 90% of the population can speak both Guaraní and Spanish. There, bilingual education is provided not just to the indigenous population, but to all Paraguayan children.
Preserving Quechua and giving it a real future only requires the dedication and determination of the government and the economic and cultural elite to make good on the promise of 40 years ago, when Quechua was declared an official language. A first step is to stop viewing it as a symbol of backwardness, and start seeing it as a valuable cultural legacy.
Total coments: 4
Commented By: yuraqruna
On: April 12, 2012
Nick, Loved your well written and very accurate article. My wife and I have have had the privilege to live in Ayacucho for the past 12 years. We love it here. We work almost exclusively in the campo with Quechua speaking people. Well done on your article.
Commented By: carmen_mendoza
On: April 13, 2012
Thank you SOOOO much for this article. As a Peruvian that grew up in Washington D.C. I feel I have lost a lot of my culture when leaving Peru. I'm trying to find myself and learning Quechua is one way to do so.
Commented By: C.A.de Lomellini
On: May 2, 2012
Languages/cultures deserve "saving" but a linguo/anthro- polo/gist knows their inherent state's flux.We can capture their temporary states mechanically to back up what the arts always did-or have we forgotten Arguedas now? aRGUEDAShave always done-have you forgotten Ar, via states scientifically.n c have the means to do so now. Any linguist/anthropologist knows that both are in a constant state of flux.Capturing them is what artists/scientists do. anthropologists do (ie Arguedas)culture isn't that what , but we can
Commented By: leonori,
On: February 4, 2013
I think the Quechua language is a treasure for Peru, equal to their other sacred remains. Ima Sumac, would be proud, and so would I. Spanish was a foreign influence, so lets keep Peru with one of their original languages. It is knowledge.
Leave a comment. It will be sent to a moderator for approval. We do not publish profanity or offensive remarks. We only publish comments in English.