by Anna Saroli
In the city of Cusco, once the capital of the Inca Empire and now the departmental capital, Quechua is rarely seen in the media. Not a single newspaper or magazine is published in Quechua; the only written Quechua to be found is in academic works on linguistic or literary topics, or in songbooks for musicians.
To ensure the effectiveness of this new teaching program, teachers must be supported with teaching materials and workshops.
Quechua in its written form for the use of adult speakers should also be promoted. The perception currently exists that Quechua is a difficult if not impossible language to write. Academics waste much time and energy debating the value of three versus five vowels in written Quechua.
The broadcast media is another area in which the government could be supportive, by funding television and especially radio programs in Quechua. The radio has long been used for the dissemination of information to outlying villages. Without government funding, however, radio stations broadcasting in Quechua are vulnerable to market pressures.(6)
Negative attitudes toward Quechua cannot easily be banished by government edict. Nevertheless, directing government resources toward raising the profile of Quechua in a sensitive way, with constant consultation with Quechua-speakers, is a crucial first step in renewing and reinforcing people's pride in their own language.
It has been estimated that half of the languages extant today will disappear during the next century. Although a superficial glance gives the impression that Quechua is not in imminent danger, a closer look reveals that within the Peruvian context, Quechua plays a secondary role to Spanish. What support it receives from the government is mainly theoretical. As we move into the twenty-first century -- with increasing internal migration to urban centers, and with technology playing an ever-growing role in the homogenization of cultures -- the Quechua language will in all likelihood continue to lose ground. A real danger is that people, mollified by current government efforts to institute "bilingual" education in some primary schools, will assume that these efforts are sufficient. If Quechua is to play a true role as an official language of Perú, only the first steps on a long journey have been taken.
(1). Departments, further divided into provinces, are the administrative divisions of Perú.
(2). See, for example, Hornberger, 1989.
(3). All of the women say they listen daily to one of the few radio programs in Quechua, Warmikuna rimanchis (Women speaking).
(4). For a discussion of language death, see Edwards, 1985.
(5). A strong case is made for the importance of publishing as a tool for language preservation in Bernard, 1996.
(6). The media can, unfortunately, be a two-edged sword. If the government does become involved in Quechua radio and television, it will likely aim programming at the much larger Spanish-speaking audience, which would result in more slick television programs of Andean music and dance, almost all broadcast from Lima.
References & further reading:
Bernard, H.R. (1996). Language Preservation and Publishing. In Indigenous Literacies in the Americas. N.H. Hornberger, Ed. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter. Pp 139-156.
Edwards, J. (1985). Language, Society and Identity. Oxford: Basil Blackwell, Ltd.
Grenoble, L.A. & Whaley, L.J., Eds. (1998). Endangered Languages. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Hornberger, N. (1989). Haku yachaywasiman: la educación bilingüe y el futuro del quechua en Puno. Lima-Puno: Programa de Educación Bilingüe en Puno.
Nettle, D. & Romaine, S.P. (2000). Vanishing Voices: The Extinction of the World's Languages. New York: USA Oxford University Press.
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