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The dying language of the ancestors

The dying language of the ancestors

When a Spanish person wakes up with a hangover, he has la Resaca. But not Ecuadorians, they are Chuchaqui. This is only an example of the many words that make Ecuadorian slang so unique, differentiating it from the Spanish spoken in other Latin American countries. Ecuadorian Spanish is influenced by Quechua, a very old language, which used to be spoken by the natives before the arrival of the Spaniards. I find this mix quite chevere (cool).

One of the many volcanoes surrounding the city of Quito is the Pichincha, of which the tallest peak is called Rucu (old person) Pichincha and the shortest one Guagua (kid) Pichincha. As locals explain to me the meaning of these words, I feel glad that Ecuadorians are preserving their indigenous language, so I start asking for the translation of more words in Quechua. Surprisingly, none of my interlocutors can satisfy my curiosity. In fact, except for the few words influencing Spanish, almost no one living in the city speaks Quechua, though it is one of the official languages of Ecuador. Except for the Amazonian region, Quechua is not taught in school and not required to work in the public sector.

I sit in a room with around nine Ecuadorians, all working in close contact with indigenous communities. Only one of them speaks Quechua. He explains to me that his knowledge of Quechua allows him to gain the trust of the communities more easily, yet why is he the only one speaking it? I find out that Quechua is primarily a spoken language, with not much written literature, and that there are  many different dialects spoken in the different regions. This makes it is very difficult to come up with an official version and therefore for people to learn it.

While Quechua has been spoken for centuries by indigenous communities, it has never reached the highest public institutions. Quechua is slowly getting forgotten, as young people leave their communities and find that their language is completely useless in the rest of the country. Of course, it would be much more efficient if everyone just spoke Spanish, but how important is it for Ecuadorians to preserve their original culture and language? The government, and perhaps the people, don’t seem to mind much, as bigger cities become more Americanized, but what is the cost of losing culture?

Elena Castellano



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