A president with European roots gives Quechua and Aymara a boost

 

 

THE son of European refugees, Peru’s president, Pedro Pablo Kuczynski, is fluent in Spanish, English, German and French. He does not speak any of the country’s 47 indigenous languages. Yet his government is doing more to encourage the use of those tongues than did those of his predecessors, some of whom have indigenous roots.

 

In December TV Perú, the state-run television network, began broadcasting the first national daily news programme in Quechua. In April this year it started one in Aymara. On August 10th the government launched its “policy for native languages”, part of its preparations for the 200th anniversary of independence in 2021. It would require government agencies to offer services in those languages in areas where they are dominant.

 

Latest updates

  • How have Islamist parties fared since the Arab spring?

  • Why are fewer irregular migrants arriving in Italy?

  • Do attempts to legislate against “fake news” recall the tactics of religious censors?

  • Pop music is rejecting the piano. Why?

  • An unforgiveable pardon for Sheriff Joe

  • The Cleveland Cavaliers extract a king’s ransom for Kyrie Irving

 
See all updates

Some 4m of Peru’s 31m people speak one of the country’s native languages as their mother tongue. Three-quarters of those speak Quechua, the idiom of the Inca. Governments, both before and after independence, have marginalised the languages and discriminated against people who speak them. Many live in the least accessible parts of Peru, mountain and jungle districts where poverty rates are often double the national average and Spanish is barely spoken. The constitution gives native languages official status “where they predominate”, but the state has largely ignored that article. Only in the last administration, led by Ollanta Humala, who has Quechua roots, did the government start to enforce laws mandating bilingual schools.

 

Mr Kuczynski, who has been president since July 2016, wants to go further as part of his push for social and economic “inclusion”. “The government is getting down to business,” says Clodomiro Landeo, the co-host of the Quechua newscast, “Ñuqanchik”, which means “all of us”.

 

He and his fellow indigenous-language newsreaders hope to help erase the stigma that still comes with speaking non-European languages. Rita Choquecahua, who co-hosts the Aymara newscast, “Jiwasanaka” (which means the same thing as Ñuqanchik), was discouraged from speaking the language as a girl “because it would keep us back”. The owner of a coffee shop where she was filming a promotional video asked her to leave: the customers found her traditional skirt and hat off-putting.

 

Marisol Mena, Mr Landeo’s co-host, says people look askance if she speaks Quechua in a shopping centre or a bank queue. “People treat you like you have to be poor. It does not matter if you are a professional,” she says. Her family was among the many that fled violence in the Andean highlands for Lima and other cities in the 1980s and 1990s. The exodus deepened prejudices. Spanish-speaking city-dwellers associated the migrants with the Shining Path, a Maoist guerrilla group, even though it wanted to stamp out native languages. Of the 70,000 people killed in the fight between the insurgents and the government, three-quarters did not speak Spanish as their first language.

 

The difficulties of producing news programmes in native languages expose other problems for people who speak them. Reporters have trouble finding officials they can interview in those languages, even from agencies that work mainly in indigenous areas. Under the government’s new policy, such agencies will hire more native-language speakers.

 

TV Perú is pleasantly surprised at the success of its Quechua and Aymara venture. Over the past year its market share in news has jumped from a negligible 0.5% to nearly 5%, largely because of the native-language broadcasts. Companies are queuing up to advertise on the half-hour newscasts, which air early in the morning. TV Perú broadcast a simultaneous translation into Quechua of Mr Kuczynski’s state-of-the-union speech in July, another first.

 

The network plans to start programming next year in two Amazonian languages, Shipibo-Konibo and Ashaninka. The change has come late but now cannot be stopped, says Mr Landeo. “There is a kind of pride that was not there before.”