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Peru: The State of Quechua on the Internet

This post is part of our special coverage Languages and the Internet and Indigenous Rights.

Quechua, or Runa Simi, is one of the original languages of Peru, said to have emerged in the middle of the first millennium of our era. Today, it is spoken by 8-10 million people and it is the most extended of the linguistic family in Bolivia, Peru and Ecuador after Indo-European languages according to Wikipedia. This same source adds:

Hacia el siglo XV, el llamado quechua clásico se convirtió en una importante lengua vehicular del Antiguo Perú y fue adoptado como lengua oficial por el Estado incaico. Esta variante fue la lengua más importante empleada para la catequesis de los indígenas durante la colonia. A inicios del siglo XX, el quechua sufrió un retroceso por el avance del español a través de la escolarización del medio rural.

Towards the 15th century, the so called classic Quechua became an important lingua franca in ancient Peru and was adopted as the official language of the Inca state. This variant was the most important language used for catechism for the indigenous people during colonization. In the beginning of the 20th century, Quechua suffered because of the advancement of Spanish through the literacy and education on a rural scale.
Street name "El camino del zorro" (Fox Lane) in Quechua. Image by user geoced on Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0).

Street name "El camino del zorro" (Fox Lane) in Quechua. Image by user geoced on Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0).

Quechua online

The Peruvian constitution [es] (article 48) gives it an official rank in the zones where it is predominantly spoken, which is basically the entire sierra region or Peruvian Andes. But its influence is felt in Spanish and various languages from the Amazon.

However, when we talk about Quechua, we mean several Quechua dialects, in Peru mainly “cusqueño” or “5 syllable”, and “ayacuchano” or “3 syllable”. Although their differences aren't vast, they aren't the only existing variants. And although many have spoken about discrimination [es] of the use of Quechua, or of the danger of it becoming a dead language [es], not everyone thinks [es] the same way.

Quechua can be found on the Internet via various sources: the most well known is the Google Quechua search engine. Wikipedia also has a page in Quechua, where you can find 16,631 articles in that language. With respect to tools, the website El quechua en internet (Quechua on the Internet) [es] has various resources, as well as Idioma Runasimi (Runasimi language) [es]. Articles of discussions about Quechua can be found on Welcome to Quechua! and on Slideshare one can see various presentations [es] on distinct aspects of Quechua.

If you are interested in learning Quechua, Runasimi.org [es] contains tips for grammar and an online dictionary, while Runasimi.net [es] provides reports on a commission formed to standardize Quechua. Idioma quechua (The Quechua Language) [es] is a site that aims to promote the learning of the language and contains various recordings of stories from the Andes narrated in Quechua. Also, there's curso de quechua (a course in Quechua language) [es] from Yachay and  one from the  PUCP (Pontificated Catholic University of Peru).

Blogging Quechua

But there are people in the Quechua speaking community who have taken the initiative to do something to maintain or encourage the presence of this language on the web. Such is the case of Noemi Vizcardo. Her bilingual, Spanish to Quechua blog Hablaquechua, has been in existence since 2005. I had the privilege of interviewing her in 2006, when among other things, she told me what the Quechua language means to her:

El quechua para mi es connatural, es decir siempre estuvo presente desde que fui concebida, pues provengo de un pueblo bilingüe donde el común denominador es la comunicación oral en quechua, pese a que en mi casa mi padre prohibía que lo hablemos por el casi generalizado y errado concepto de la sociedad criolla de ese entonces, que era un lenguaje de los “indios”,

Quechua is so natural for me, I mean, it has always been present since I was conceived, since I come from a bilingual town where the common denominator is oral communication in Quechua, in spite of the the fact that my father banned us from speaking it at home because of the generalised and misconstrued idea in this creole society that its just one of those indian languages,

Another blog on Quechua belongs to Dina Vela: Quechua nuestra lengua (Our language, Quechua) [es]. In one of her posts she talks about numbers in Quechua:

Las investigaciones que se han realizado sobre los números en quechua nos muestran que en el Antiguo Perú, los incas usaban el sistema decimal. Esto se ha podido determinar gracias a la interpretación de los quipus, los cuales están organizados de tal forma que los nudos nos muestran de acuerdo a su ubicación la representación de las unidades, decenas, centenas, etc. […] acercarnos a los números en quechua nos permite dar una mirada a nuestra historia y revalorar la importancia del runasimi. En este link, podremos apreciar un vídeo de una clase sobre los números básicos, con un alumno de 7 años que está aprendiendo el quechua cuzqueño, sujeto a las normas de la Academia Mayor de la Lengua Quechua.

Research shows that numbers in Quechua show us that in ancient Peru, the Incas used the decimal system. This was determined thanks to the interpretation of the quipus or talking knots, which are organized in such a way that the the knots show a representation of units, tens, hundreds, etc. […] Looking closely at numbers in Quechua gives us a clear indication our history and reevaluates the importance of Runisimi. This link [es] shows us how to view a video about a class on basic numbers for children of 7 who are learning the Quechua of Cuzco, according to the norms of la Academia Mayor de la Lengua Quechua (The High Academy of Quechua Language).

In Nancy Ayala writes for a blog called Tukuy niraq willakuykuna on the Radio Peru network, an important media conglomerate.  Here is a brief point [es] on one of her first posts:

A modo de comentario podemos mencionar que una de las características de este bello y dulce idioma es su carácter aglutinante, porque une o abraza dos o más palabras del Español utilizando sufijos, esto quiere decir que una oración de varias palabras en Español se puede expresar en una sola palabra, por ejemplo, la oración te quiero mucho se aglutina en la palabra quechua kuyakuykim.

We can comment that one of the characteristics of this most beautiful and sweet language is its uniting character, because it unites or entwines two or more words  in Spanish by using suffixes, meaning that one sentence of various words in Spanish can be expressed in just one word in Quechua, for example, Te quiero mucho, or I love you very much is entwined into kuyakuykim.

The most informative blog post is from Lorena Chauca's blog Allillanchu [es] which makes the daily communication in Quechua in Peru noteworthy:

Los peruanos usamos más palabras en quechua de las que creemos. Y es que “cancha” proviene de la palabra quechua “Kancha”, que significa patio, corralón o solar. “Chiripa” quiere decir casualidad o azar en quechua. La expresión “pucho” viene de “puchu”, que en quechua significa residuo o sobrante. El nombre de la lotería más conocida del Perú, la “T'inka”, significa juego. Al gato se le conoce como “michi” y la palabra “yapa”, que es de uso popular entre los peruanos, significa aumento.

We Peruvians use more Quechua words than we think. “Cancha” comes from the Quechua word “kancha” which means patio, gazebo or hot house. “Chiripa” means randomness or chance in Quechua. The expression “pucho” comes from “puchu” with means residue or extra in Quechua. The name of the most well known lottery in Peru is called Tinka, which means game. Cats are known as “michi” and the word”yapa”, is popularly used among Peruvians to mean increase.

Other examples of blogs on the Quechua language are: Runasimillapi [es], Runasimi ñawpa willana [es], Runasimi (Quechua) [es], and runasimi qallarisun. There are also groups and pages on Facebook, like Admiradores del idioma quechua (Runasimi) [es] (Fans of the quechua language) or Runa Simi Raymi Suyu [es]. And on Twitter there's @hablemosquechua where they teach Runasimi.

Finally, it is important to mention Runasimipi.org, which is a site dedicated to creating software in Quechua. Its manifiesto declares [es]:

Hoy en día, muchos piensan que el runasimi es sólo una lengua de nuestros antepasados y sólo sirve para cosas del pasado. Muchos niños en la ciudad tienen vergüenza de hablar en quechua con sus amigos. Se dice que el quechua no sirve para las cosas «chéveres», especialmente con las cosas de modernidad y de tecnología. Frente a ello, declaramos que el runasimi es una lengua rica que puede utilizarse en todos los contextos, inclusive en la tecnología. El runasimi no sólo representa un gran acervo cultural y lingüístico, es también una lengua viva y necesaria para el futuro andino. Pero, queremos que todos valoren esta lengua no sólo como la lengua “de los Inkas”, también como la lengua de hoy que es muy adaptable y de expresión rica.

Nowadays, people think that Runasimi is only our ancestors’ language and it is only useful for things of the past. Many children in the city are ashamed to speak in Quechua with their friends. They say the Quechua isn't associated with “cool” things, especially with things like technology and modernity. Opposed to this, we declare Runisimi a rich language that can be applied to many contexts, including technology. Runasimi doesn't only represent a great part of the cultural and linguistic heritage of Peru, it is also a living language that will prove to be very necessary in the future of the Andes region. But, we would like everyone to appreciate this language not only as one of those Incan languages, but also as a language of today that is very adaptable and rich in it's expression.

Quechua or Runasimi is a language that is very much alive and in constant evolution, part of a millennium old culture that uses the internet as a medium of consolidating itself in the 21st century. Also, it is a language that doesn't stop using whatever other means or other elements to arrive at or incorporate its own sounds and images, such as these that you can appreciate in these two videos.

This post is part of our special coverage Languages and the Internet and Indigenous Rights.

This post was originally published on Juan Arellano's blog Globalizado [es].

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