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Our language diversity

Dr. Eunice Cortez (Doctorate in Hispanic linguistics)

Peru is a country blessed with great mineral wealth, a territory that borders a sea teeming with marine life, a diversity of altitudinal zones that reach high into the Andes, fertile valleys that provide us with the ingredients for the development of a unique gastronomy, and an abundance of flora and fauna in our Amazon basin. The diversity of our lands, however, goes far beyond the generosity of our geography. Peru is a diverse and rich country also due to the peoples that inhabit it and have inhabited it since long before the Spanish Conquest. Having arrived the Bicentennial of our Republic of Peru, it is time that Peruvian society, as a whole, recognize, celebrate, disseminate, protect and include all the peoples that comprise it.

According to the data collected by numerous Peruvian linguists in the book Lingual origin arias Del Perú (2018), there are currently 48 indigenous languages, apart from Spanish or Castilian. Of these, not all al them have the same number of speakers, but many of them are in danger of extinction or, in some cases, an attempt is being made to recover them from oblivion. It is through Law No. 29735, which regulates as a task of the Peruvian state to care for the preservation and dissemination of all native languages that the Ministry of Education, together with the Directorate of Intercultural Bilingual Education seeks to create and to promote the use of educational materials in all the languages spoken in our territory. Furthermore, there is no doubt that intercultural bilingual education of quality is a key element in taking development and wellbeing to rural populations with a large number of speakers of one or more Peruvian languages.

In the same way, the Ministry of Culture has the commitment to value and make available to the Peruvian public access to all native languages at the national level, thus since 2016, TVPerú launched the news broadcasts Ñuqanchik and Jiwasanaka, with content respectively in Quechua and in Aymara. This project seeks to incorporate other important Amazonian languages due to their number of speakers, such as Awajun and Ashaninka. Similarly, as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, the country’s linguistic diversity was taken into account and short broadcasts and materials for the prevention of this disease were disseminated in five native languages for the Quechua, Aymara, Awajun, Ashaninka, and Shipibo-Conibo populations. Thus, it should be noted that the authorities, the cultural and educational programming, are increasingly aware of the importance of reassessing and strengthening one of the most important pillars in maintaining the identities and the traditions of the Peruvian peoples: their original languages.

Finally, our linguistic diversity corresponds also to the different forms of Spanish that our spoken in our territory. As we know, Spanish   or Castilian differs with regard to countries and regions, which gives us a particularity when speaking Peruvian Spanish. Nevertheless, within this, we find also differences that, in part, come from the use of Spanish by bilingual speakers who have some indigenous language as a mother tongue. One of these forms of Spanish is Andean, the most widespread in our country since millions of compatriots have to this day Quechua or Aymara as a first language.

This Andean Spanish dates its origins from the time of the Spanish conquest and the implantation of the Spanish language, often in a violent manner, as a second language. In this way, what is considered erroneously a “badly spoken” Spanish is nothing but the product of a lack of universal bilingual education that allows good performance by the speakers in their two languages, as well as, the discriminatory reactions of other Peruvians, those settled in urban areas, that are due to a lack of a deep understanding of our reality as a country of all its many groups and languages. It is because of this that upon recognizing our origins and reality of as a multicultural and multilingual country, it is important to remember that we Peruvians speak and dream in more than one language and that our forms of Spanish are not one, but multiple as our histories and our peoples. May the celebration of our bicentennial unite us in the same longing to integrate, while recognizing the cultural diversity of all Peruvians from the jungle, from the coast, and from the mountains of our country.

To learn more about these topics, the Ministry of Education makes available the book in PDF format, Lenguas originarias del Perú (2018)[1] where one can find detailed information on the various languages that were spoken and are spoken to this very day in our country. Likewise, The Pontifical Catholic University of Peru, in collaboration with the Ministry of Education, makes public the video Los castellans del Peru[2], an important tool that compiles and explains from the voice of expert linguists the different varieties of Spanish spoken in our country.