Roxana Quispe Collantes, a student from Peru, has become the first person in the world to write a thesis in Quechua, the language of the Incas that is still spoken by several tribes in the Andes. She successfully defended her thesis in Quechua and has received top marks from the San Marcos University in Lima.
Collantes’ study is titled Yawar Para, or Blood Rain, and it looks at the Quechua poetry of Alencastre Gutiérrez (1909-84). He was a landowner from Cusco who combined ancient Andean traditions with Catholicism and wrote the original Yawar Para. Gutiérrez is seen as one of the greatest Quechua poets of the 20th century. Before giving her thesis presentation, Collantes held a traditional thanksgiving ceremony with a native alcoholic drink called chichi and some coca leaves.
She traveled to highland communities in Canas to make sure that the words used in the thesis were true to the native dialect. “Quechua doesn’t lack the vocabulary for an academic language. Today many people mix the language with Spanish… I hope my example will help to revalue the language again and encourage young people, especially women, to follow my path. It’s very important that we keep on rescuing our original language,” she said to The Guardian.
According to Dr. Gonzalo Espino, Collantes’ doctoral advisor, her presentation was a tribute to Andean natives. Back in 2016, state television aired the first-ever Quechua language broadcast. Since then, various attempts have been made to promote the spread of the language. Collantes hopes that Quechua will see a mass revival and will become a widely spoken language in the region once again.
Interestingly, Quechua has been used in a Hollywood movie — Star Wars Episode IV. When Han Solo speaks in English to an alien named Green Greedo, the alien speaks in a different dialect. Upon investigation, journalism professor Eduardo Varas found that the alien language uses various words from Quechua. For instance, a Quechua word called “qhenchalla,” meaning “bad luck,” was used by Greedo.
Quechua and Spanish
During the Spanish colonization of South America, Quechua was initially encouraged by the conquerors. But starting from the middle period of colonization, Spanish authorities repressed the use of Quechua. However, the language managed to survive. Today, about 8 to 10 million people are believed to speak Quechua in the Andes region.
“It was the official language of the Inca Empire, who used a system of knotted strings known as quipu to send messages. The number of knots and the colors of the strings were the key to the contents of the messages… quipu might have also been used to record the language phonetically,” according to Language Connections.
There is often a misconception that everyone in the Andes speaks fluent Spanish. This is false. Most of the Quechua native speakers do not know Spanish. In fact, Spanish is as alien a language to them as Chinese or Russian. When Quechua speaking natives visit the courts or a doctor, a Spanish interpreter is provided.
Quechua is a complicated language. Many linguistic experts say that it is more precise than English or Spanish and has a far greater vocabulary. There are significant differences between Quechua and Spanish. While Spanish has five vowels, Quechua only has three. In Spanish, adjectives are placed after the noun while in Quechua, the adjectives are positioned before.