Latin American Foundation for the Future

Can Quechua be saved? The importance of Peru’s ancient language.

International Mother Language day pic.2

21st February is the United Nation’s International Mother Language Day, a worldwide annual observance to promote awareness of linguistic and cultural diversity and to promote multilingualism. As a vital aspect of life, this year at LAFF, we are joining our voice with all those celebrating the importance of linguistic diversity. Language is of crucial importance to communication, social identity and integration, as well as being vital to education, business, and the public sphere.  Yet, among the roughly 7,000 languages worldwide, as many as half are expected to die out within a few generations. Unfortunately, Quechua is one of these at-risk languages.


Peru is known for being a Spanish-speaking country and is primarily used in education and politics. However, Spanish is only one of three official languages and a second to many citizens. There is an official language, just as important (especially to many of the children that LAFF supports), and even more historic which is starting to disappear, Quechua. Quechua dates all the way back to the Incan Empire, predating the Spanish conquest of the Incas. It was the official language that unified the territory of what is now Peru, Ecuador, Chile and Argentina, and it was the city of Cusco that was the center of this Empire. Still today, it is estimated that there are as many as eight to ten million native speakers in the region.

 After the Spanish Colonization (1532-1572), Quechua was suppressed as it was a symbol of the “indigenous civilization”. However, it was brought back once Peru gained its independence in 1821. In May of 1975, during the government of Juan Alvarado Velasquez, Quechua was recognized by the Peruvian government as an official language, highlighting its importance as a part of the Andean community’s identity and especially as a part of the Peruvian heritage.  Through its recognition of being an official language, they have a human right, recognised by the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, to protect and promote their culture and language free from unfair discrimination.


However, nowadays there are only some regions with high numbers of Quechua speakers that are steadily decreasing as time goes by. There also seems to be an incoherence in trying to maintain Peruvian culture alive whilst integrating Quechua in people’s daily lives. Even though Peruvians are proud of their unique Inca Culture, this does not reflect in the preservation of their unique native language. Unfortunately, it is not uncommon for Peruvian’s to have a negative attitude towards Quechua; going as far as perceiving it as an archaic language spoken only in “uncommunicated” and “rural” areas.

Quechua, not being the focal language of education, business and politics is a disadvantage encountered by their native speakers, such as the girls supported by Sacred Valley Project, one of LAFF’s partner organisations. Due to the language barrier, it is harder for the girls to learn at school and, later in life, more difficult for them to access university and job opportunities.  It also leaves them largely excluded from political processes that are vital for them to understand and claim their rights, and those of their communities.  By providing additional tutoring, and help with language skills by native Quechua speakers, Sacred Valley Project helps these girls master both languages and to balance the demands of a globalised world with the desire to maintain their distinctive culture and identity.  In doing so, they are helping to protect their mother tongue well into the future – we are proud to support them.

The girls at Sacred Valley Project

To protect and preserve Quechua language it is important that we stand up for it. To reach children, we must first start by reaching adults. Encourage them to share the language with the younger population and, if possible, create written content in the form of journals or stories for it to be accessible to everyone. Quechua teachers should also be encouraged to continue to educate children and material should be developed to share with their students. For those of us who are non-Quechua speakers, this native language should be respected, and admired for its ability to have maintained its authenticity and tradition through the passing of time.


Quechua is not a language that should keep us apart, but a language that should bring us all together.