The Miami Herald
May 26, 1999

Quechua language still on millions of tongues

Associated Press

LIMA, Peru -- 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.

``Sí, señor, 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 five 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 that more people speak Quechua today than
when the Spaniards 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 seven 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.

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

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

``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.''