What is Quechua? 

Quechua, with an estimated 10 million native speakers, is the most spoken indigenous language of the Americas. The name ‘Quechua’ actually refers to a family of closely related languages, all of which are spoken in the Andean region of South America. A language isolate, it shares no linguistic heritage with any other languages of the world. Quechua holds ‘Official Language’ status in Bolivia, Ecuador and Peru, though it is also spoken in Argentina, Chile and Colombia. Once the language of the ancient Inca Empire, it has survived many centuries, experiencing certain linguistic changes through that time which have resulted in the variations of the language that exist today.

Video courtesy of Gordon Ulmer, Ph.D. Candidate in Anthropology at Ohio State

Why study Quechua? 

First, let’s consider some of the aspects that one acquires when studying a foreign language: a linguistic competency in the select language, an improved cultural understanding of those who natively speak the language, and new perspectives and outlooks on the world through the lens of the  language, among others. While all of these areas can be enhanced by studying a more commonly taught language, they are already so shared throughout the world that the variety they provide in terms of the above aspects is not as strong as for those of a minority language. For example, in nearly all of the commonly taught languages of the world, the concept of time is viewed with the future facing forward, and the past backward. In Quechua, though, it is the opposite: the future is behind us because we cannot see it, and the past is in front of us because we can, indeed, see it. It is this type of novel way of thinking that can be accomplished when studying languages that are less commonly taught. If you want to be able to look at the world through such a distinct type of lens, then Quechua is a good place to start!

Aya Uma Rag Doll
Donated by Norman Whitten, 2015
Andean & Amazonian cultural artifacts collection, Center for Latin American Studies at Ohio State

“From another corner of the room, a rag doll representation of the festival Aya Uma, or spirit head, with a double-sided mask looks forward toward the past, which lies before us since we can see it, and backward toward the future which is not as apparent, reminding us of the inverse relation between time and space in the indigenous Andes.” -Michelle Wibbelsman, Assistant Professor, SPPO.