FW: Andean languages are making a comeback

Don Osborn dzo at bisharat.net
Fri Apr 6 13:46:46 UTC 2007

This item seen on the ILAT list may be of interest. I'm reading it now while
also looking again at an article on language policies in West Africa that
makes some interesting comparisons with the Andean region:

Armstrong, Robert G. 1968. "Language Policies and Language Practices in West
Africa." In Joshua A. Fishman, et al, eds. _Language Problems of Developing
Nations_. New York: John Wiley & Sons. Pp. 227-236.

It's interesting to reflect how far we have and have not come in the last 40


-----Original Message-----
From: Indigenous Languages and Technology [mailto:ILAT at LISTSERV.ARIZONA.EDU]
On Behalf Of Serafin M Coronel-Molina (scoronel at Princeton.EDU)
Sent: Thursday, April 05, 2007 9:48 PM
Subject: [ILAT] Andean languages are making a comeback

>>From the April 03, 2007 edition -
Sweeping South America: indigenous pride
Andean languages are making a comeback as long discriminated-against
cultures push for acceptance.
By Sara Miller Llana | Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor

Hilaria Supa stands out in Lima in her brightly hued ancestral clothes and
long braids. But she is even more of an iconoclast in the Peruvian
legislature, where the congresswoman insists on speaking in her native

In doing so, Ms. Supa says, she hopes to create a new era of inclusion for
the indigenous who have long been discriminated against in Peru.

"When we speak in Quechua they say it's rude because they don't understand
us," she says. "But my hope is that the language will someday be
appreciated; it will be difficult, but not impossible."

Across the Andes, similar efforts – some controversial – are bringing new
recognition to indigenous culture. In Bolivia, the government hopes to
nearly double the number of native language programs in classrooms by next
year. In Peru, foreigners and locals alike are enrolling in extracurricular
courses. Internationally, the renaissance is getting a boost as well: this
past summer Google launched a new page in Quechua and Microsoft unveiled
Quechua translations of Windows.

It coincides with the indigenous rights movement that has swept across Latin
America – contributing to the presidential win of Evo Morales in Bolivia,
the competitive run of Ollanta Humala in Peru, and the recently announced
presidential bid of Rigoberta Menchu in Guatemala. Each has given a nod to
indigenous culture and language in classrooms and the halls of government.

"At a grassroots level, indigenous groups are trying to revitalize their
identity, their language, culture, and their ideas," says Serafín
Coronel-Molina, a linguist at Princeton University in New Jersey, and native
Quechua speaker.

There are an estimated 10 to 13 million Quechua speakers in South America,
most of them in Peru and Bolivia. Bolivia has an estimated 1.5 million
Aymara speakers. Andean languages also flourish in Ecuador as well as parts
of Colombia and Argentina.

But for years, native languages were seen as a sign of inferiority. Miriam
Cayetano, who teaches Quechua at San Andres University in La Paz, Bolivia,
says parents used to forbid their children to speak their mother tongue.
"Before parents thought their children would be undervalued [and
discriminated against]," she says.

Now enrollment in classes teaching indigenous tongues is rising in
universities and private institutions. Concepción Quisbert, a student of
Aymara at San Andres University, joins some 250 students enrolled in either
Aymara or Quechua. On a recent day, students pulled out their Aymara
dictionaries, while their professor holds up erasers and pencils. The
students are learning to say words like 'phuyu,' which means 'pen'. The room
is packed.

"I understand Aymara because I spoke it with my parents, but never learned
how to write it," says Ms. Quisbert. "I want to know my culture, and my

Most in Bolivia cite the rise of President Morales, an Aymara Indian and the
nation's first indigenous president, for a boost in native languages.

But in Peru enthusiasm is also on the rise. On a recent evening in Cusco,
the ancient capital of the Inca empire, a group of students enrolled in
intermediary Quechua at the Center of Regional Andean Studies Bartolome de
las Casas practice communicating. They are anthropologists, teachers in
rural areas, and university students studying for careers such as medicine.

Sonia Louiza grew up speaking Quechua but gave it up when she began
elementary school. "I was embarrassed, and thought speaking it was something
horrible," she says. She enrolled in an intermediate class to recapture what
she lost. "It helps me to know who I am."

Linguists, ethnologists, and anthropologists have long been interested in
Andean languages, but technology has brought it to the mainstream. Not only
have Google and Microsoft jumped into the game, so have smaller players,
particularly in Quechua. "There are a growing number of websites. There are
electronic dictionaries. There are stories, literature, games, everything,"
says Mr. Coronel-Molina. "It's to promote a new kind of literacy in the 21
st century."

But while many embrace native languages, others resist their roots. Amparo
Garcia, the director for Spanish and Quechua programs at Acupari Language
School in Cusco , says that most of her Quechua students are foreigners.
"There is a certain resistance to Quechua among some Peruvians," she says.
"Even if they know Quechua, sometimes when they are addressed in it they
answer in Spanish, or English."

That is why Supa has made it one of her battle cries. Seventeen percent of
Peru's residents speak Quechua as a first language. In her home
Huallaccocha, outside Cusco, residents address one another in Quechua on the
streets and in local stores. Some don't speak Spanish at all.

But it is a different story along the coast, where most of the political and
economic power lies. In July, Supa made headlines when she swore her oath of
office not on the Bible but in the name of Incan deities. She is also
working on a law to introduce indigenous language education to public
schools. "If we don't have an identity, then the rest won't value us," Supa

"The town is so proud of her," says Carlos Huaman, Supa's cousin and a
farmer in Huallaccocha, where homes are made with mud and straw, and the
streets turn into mud slicks in the rainy season. "She can help the

Not everyone has celebrated giving more space to indigenous culture. Last
year in Bolivia, plans to replace Roman Catholic education in public schools
with a course that would place more emphasis on indigenous faith, as well as
to require that all schools teach native languages, was scrapped after
citizens balked – despite the fact that well over half of the population
speaks a native language, according to the national census.

But the Bolivian Education Ministry is pushing to nearly double its native
language programs to some 5,000 schools. Currently 2,830 have such programs,
up from 540 in 1990. "Learning our culture helps us de-colonize mentally,"
says Adrian Montalvo, who helps plan the native languages program in the
Education Ministry.

The goal is to have all functionaries at the national level adept at at
least one native language, too. Where many in the younger generations focus
on foreign languages for social mobility and work opportunities, Ms.
Cayetano, says many students are enrolling in native languages today for the
very same reasons.

"They are starting to revalue their languages," says Cayetano, whose
department offers classes to functionaries in the municipal government of La
Paz. "They are going to need it in the future."

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