Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Learn to speak Quechua: Lesson one

Learning Spanish in Ecuador means dipping your Castilian chips in a healthy dollop of Quechua sauce.
Indian portraits in Ecuador
A Quechua speaker from near Facundo Vela

Quechua was the Incan language in pre-Colombian South America. It is spoken in Peru, Bolivia, Ecuador and by the immigrant population of Argentina – that's just under 10 million people.

Spanish has borrowed thousands of words from this indigenous language. But even English has a sprinkling of Quechua - the words condor, puma, llama, quinine, and jerky (for dried meat) are all of Quechua origin.

Here are some of my favourite Quechua words, used commonly in Ecuador

Old Indian lady
A Quechua speaker from Tisaleo
Chuchaqui – Hangover. I had to learn this word when I was chuchaqui, the morning after I'd drunk half a bottle of listerine and danced with a stuffed raposa

Wawa – baby. It's an onamatapaeic word from the noise they make when they cry)

Chirisiqui – literally 'cold bum' but with the English meaning 'stark bollock naked'

Chapa – the fuzz, the filth, the rozzers. Or if you're in trouble 'Senor Policia'. Chapa literally means to survey

Wacala – Minging

Llucsi – mush, go... used for animals or, if you're a loveable rogue like myself, for loved-ones who dilly and dally

Wambra – little child, I rather like this one

Chaquinan – foot path, useful when Lucy and I completely lost the chaquinan when we went hiking around Imbabura

Bamba – valley. As in the town Riobamba (which is river valley). Ecuadorians call it Friobamba because it's so cold. I had a delicious plate of fish and chips in Friobamba – but that's another story (it was also 30 degrees that day)

Longo – young chap when used by the Indians, but when used by mestizos about the Indians it takes on racist connotations. Lucy compares it to the English word 'pikey'

Lucy... not a Quechua speaker
Here are a few thoughts about Quechua from an Ecuadorian (more precisely, Lucy)

“Sadly Quechua is slowly disappearing in Ecuador, mainly because of the popular notion that by speaking it you belong to a lower class or are socially excluded.

In the newly populated areas of the subtropic, the highland Quechua speaking parents refuse to talk to their children in their native language. Instead, they want their Wambras and Wawas to learn Spanish to have better opportunities in life. The same happens with most immigrants in the cities.
Nina outside school
The parents of this girl from the subtropical region
originally came from the highlands around Simiatug.
She now speaks Spanish and not Quechua

Despite this Quechua persists somehow, even in mestizo environments. Sometimes we learn the words of this pre-Colombian language without even knowing they are not of Spanish origin. All of the words above are widely used by all Ecuadorians.

This may cause some despair or sadness to those who romanticise the indigenous cultures, and of course, with the loss of the language you also lose lots of your culture. But I think languages should live only as long as they are useful for communication, leaving aside all our idyllic thoughts of the pre-Hispanic Andean cultures.”

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