May 17, 1999
Peru's main native language still widely heard

                  LIMA, Peru (AP) -- Peru's Amazon Indian languages may be in danger of
                  extinction, but street vendor Teofilo Quispe speaks an ancient tongue that is
                  the language of millions in this Andean nation.

                  "Si, senor, Quechua is the language of my people," Quispe says as he weighs
                  potatoes for a customer at his sidewalk stall.

                  Quechua, the vox populi of the Inca empire, is still widely heard almost 500
                  years after the arrival of the Spaniards. It is spoken by a third of Peru's 23
                  million people and by 5 million people in neighboring Ecuador and Bolivia.

                  "I'm optimistic about its future," says Juan Carlos Godennzi, the government's
                  director of bilingual education, noting more people speak Quechua today than
                  when the Spanish arrived, due to population growth.

                  Quechua-speaking highlanders who migrated to Lima over the last 30 years
                  have helped to balloon the capital's population from 1.8 million to 7 million.

                  Their poetic language has put an Andean stamp on Lima, a city founded on
                  the Pacific coast by Spanish conquistadors as their center of power in South
                  America. Quechua filters through the shouts of peddlers at street markets. It
                  drifts out of shacks in poor barrios in the melancholy tones of the traditional
                  "huayno" music of the highlands.

                  Outside the major market towns in the central and southern Andes, Quechua
                  is often the only language heard. But like other Indian languages, it is under
                  pressure as Peru modernizes.

                  Younger people and migrants to the cities often try to conceal their Indian
                  roots to be able to advance in a modern society. The European-descended
                  elite scorns Quechua speakers as ignorant and socially inferior.

                  "The parents speak Quechua, but they try to talk in Spanish in front of their
                  children so they won't learn Quechua," says school teacher Isabel Rojas.

                  The school where Rojas teaches includes Quechua lessons as a way of
                  building students' pride. But she says parents often object to their children
                  learning the language.

                  "It is of little use," says Edolia Salcedo, a street peddler who migrated to Lima
                  15 years ago speaking only Quechua but now is fluent in Spanish.

                  "You can use it only in the little, far-away towns where everybody speaks
                  Quechua," Salcedo says. "It won't earn you any money."

                    Copyright 1999 The Associated Press.