Against the state and against the grass roots: the discourse of the
Academia Mayor de la Lengua Quechua
Tim Marr, Institute of Latin American Studies, University of Liverpool

1 Introduction

The present paper attempts to open out somewhat the scope of the "state-planning-versus- rassroots-initiatives" view of language maintenance. It considers the ongoing Peruvian project of status and corpus planning being carried out by an institution, the Academia Mayor de la Lengua Quechua, which has a highly ambivalent attitude towards both the nation-state which it claims to serve and the speakers whose aspirations it claims to represent. The paper examines the perspectives and ideology of the Academia principally through a commentary on an interview with its President, Dr Juvenal Pacheco Farfán, carried out on 7 August 1996 as part of my doctoral research on Peruvian language shift. The interview took place in Pacheco's office at the Universidad San Antonio Abad in Cusco, where he is head of the Departamento de Ciencias de Comunicación.

The discourse of the Academia lies squarely within a tradition that has existed in Cusco since at least the 17th century, whereby self-aggrandising local élites have sought to portray themselves as the legitimate heirs of the Incas, in part through the appropriation of the supposed language of the Incas (Itier 1992a, Godenzzi 1992, Niño-Murcia 1997). Traditionally, such groups - composed invariably of bilingual mestizos - have claimed that their own Quechua sociolect preserves the "purity" and "nobility" of the Inca tongue. Members of the Academia like to refer to the language as "quechua imperial" (see e.g. Manya 1992); or as qhapaq simi or apu simi (that is, as something like "language of the nobles" or "language of the lords") in an unambiguous attempt to differentiate it from runa simi - "people's language", the term by which the Quechua language is most often known by runa, the monolingual peasants of the Andean sierra.

The Academia positions itself in public as a doughty defender and protector of the Quechua language, the voice of the "authentic" language as opposed to the linguists and educationalists it regards as outsiders or "foráneos" (Itier 1992b). As holder of the state franchise, as it were, for the Quechua language, it sees the revitalisation of Quechua as its sacred task, and campaigns tirelessly for the teaching of Quechua in schools. It is not intended in this short paper to attempt to quantify either the extent of commitment of the Peruvian state to language maintenance, or the efficacy of grass roots movements towards the same goal. It will however be argued that, given the peculiar linguistic, social and political agenda of the Academia as espoused by Dr Pacheco, a serious language maintenance project on the part of either state or grass roots activists would find in the Academia at best an unreliable ally and at worst an implacable enemy.

2 Language and legitimate authority

The Academia Mayor de la Lengua Quechua in its present form was constituted by congressional decree in 1990 out of the former Academia Peruana de la Lengua Quechua. It has regional branches in the major Quechua-speaking Departments of Peru, and in the capital, but is based in Cusco. The current state of "authority" in the world of the Academies is muddled and strife-ridden. Pacheco confided to me that he was to travel to Lima the following month in order to convene an extraordinary meeting of all the regional branches of the Academia, at which he would attempt to reimpose central control from Cusco. The immediate justification for this appeared to be that the Lima branch of the organisation (or certain members of it, perhaps) had taken to styling themselves in public "Academia Mayor de la Lengua Quechua del Perú", hence implicitly disavowing the authority and pre-eminence of the Cusco centre. The acute concern for name and style is reflected in many of Pacheco's comments during the interview; it was further emphasised after the interview had finished, when Pacheco insisted that I take out my notebook and copy down his full style, word-for-word, at his dictation. Taking my notebook from my hands, he then checked the result for accuracy. It reads:

Dr Juvenal Pacheco Farfán

Presidente de la Academia Mayor de la Lengua Quechua

Sede Central: Qosqo - Perú.

At one point in the interview Dr Pacheco himself got the name of his institution wrong, thus inadvertently appearing to legitimise a "rogue" competitor. His repeated self-correction is rather revealing:

De igual manera la Academia Mayor de la Lengua Quechua del Perú - no del Perú, sino la Academia Mayor de la Lengua Quechua simplemente, cuya sede es la ciudad del Qosqo, Perú, cuya sede es la ciudad del Qosqo, Perú - también tiene esa obligación...

This insistence on the display and recognition of duly-sanctioned authority is not an idiosyncrasy peculiar to Pacheco: it is readily apparent in the publications and other public discourse of the Academia. Pacheco's colleague Dr David Samanez Flórez similarly invokes legal authority in his attempt to enshrine the practice of pentavocalismo(1):

El pentavocalismo quechua ha sido reconocido por la Ley 25260 del 19 de junio de 1990, que eleva a nuestra entidad idiomática a la categoría de ACADEMIA MAYOR DE LA LENGUA QUECHUA; i [sic] sabemos que la lei [sic] no se discute, sino se acata.

(Samanez Flórez 1992:105. Capitals in original)

It should already be clear that the motives and discourse of the Academia go beyond the purely linguistic. The problem of the proliferation of competing self-appointed authorities on Quechua, added to the ideological imperative - mentioned above, and to be discussed further below - of promoting a particular sociolect, leads the Academia, through its spokespeople, to adopt a quite distinctive mode of discourse, in which for example questions formulated primarily in terms of language are brushed away with answers couched in terms of authority to pronounce on language.

¿Cómo se ha elaborado el diccionario? ¿Es una descripción de como se habla el idioma ahora, o más bien como un proyecto digamos más prescriptivo, por así decirlo?

El diccionario se ha elaborado con la participación de los miembros de número, que es la máxima categoría de los maestros del idioma quechua. Son personas que están ahí 30, 40, 50 años, estudiando, investigando...

A lengthy exposition followed on the professional and personal eminence of the miembros de número (committee members) of the Academia. In seeking to understand the import (at times, it seems, only at the level of a semi-conscious subtext) of what Pacheco has to say, it is necessary to appreciate that his linguistic worldview is shaped by his conception of power and authority: all tends towards the justification of the proposition that he and his fellow Academicians are uniquely able to pronounce upon Quechua, upon Cusco, upon the Andean region, upon the Republic as a whole, and even beyond. Itier's (1992b) critique of the institution concludes that its activities are designed ultimately to demonstrate that "...el Cusco, su clase media y sus intelectuales están legítimamente llamados a representar la supuesta cultura andina y, por ende, la nación" (1992b:90). That this is substantially correct -understated, even - will become apparent in due course.

3 Cuscocentrismo and the cult of the Incas

As Itier's comment implies, the Academia's attitude to language is conditioned by a heavily ideologised worldview which is essentially Cusco-centric (that is, determinedly regionalist), and, within this, class-based. However, the Academicians' claim to linguistic, social and political pre-eminence depends upon the generalised recognition that, firstly, the Inca past represents the moral and cultural heart of Peru; and secondly, that control - in both the linguistic and political senses - of the qhapaq simi affords them an indisputable claim to the heritage of the Incas. For this self-selecting economic and cultural mestizo élite, then it is - must be - axiomatic that Quechua originated in Cusco under the incanato. Juan Antonio Manya, cusqueño priest and predecessor of Pacheco as president of the Academia, writes:

El hablar del idioma quechua es hablar del Qosqo, que es ciudad milenaria, arca sagrada, cubierta con el denso velo del misterio; emporio, en época fabulosa, de riqueza, ciencia y poder...

(Manya 1992:49)

And so on for several paragraphs in the same vein. The identification of the language with the city is absolute, as is the identification of the city with the Incas, and with the heart of the modern nation. Of course, the notion that the history of Cusco is "cubierta con el denso velo del misterio" owes more to wilful obfuscation (or, to be kind, wishful thinking) than reality. The discourse of the Academia relies heavily on romanticism and mysticism to make its case; the well-established complex of modern historico-linguistic research showing the coastal origins of Quechua (see e.g. Torero 1974, Cerrón-Palomino 1987) tends to be ignored or dismissed out of hand. The determined propagation of the cult of the Incas also seems to necessitate a blind disregard for any other Peruvian or South American culture. At no point in the interview under discussion did Pacheco refer to any pre-Inca civilization in Peru; the history of the country is understood to begin (and, virtually, to end) with the Inca empire.(2) In both space and time, Pacheco's vision of America at the time of the Conquest is an extraordinarily limited one:

A nivel del nuevo mundo, o sea entre el norte de Argentina, Chile, Perú, Bolivia, Ecuador, etcétera etcétera, [los españoles] han matado aproximadamente 200 millones de personas.

One might of course wish to take issue with the numbers quoted: and indeed, elsewhere Pacheco in fact cites this same figure of 200 million dead for the whole continent of America (Pacheco 1994:9). It is striking that, speaking here, his definition of "nuevo mundo" contrives to ignore entirely most of the continent, which is dismissed with an "etcétera etcétera": America is presented as virtually synonymous with the limits of the Inca empire. The same selective vision of culture is projected into the present. If the true culture of Peru is self-evidently an Andean Quechua one, and Quechua-speaking (or, rather, bilingual) Cusco self-evidently the very essence of it, then any Peruvian who is less than fervently interested in Quechua is simply suffering from cultural dislocation:

Y el Estado pues no ha... no ha brindado su apoyo total, sino un apoyo esporádico, un apoyo así circunstancial... mas eran hombres no totalmente identificados con su cultura, con su mundo andino etcétera.

Note "su cultura... su mundo andino"; every Peruvian, from wherever in the country, speaking whatever language, of whatever extraction or orientation, is expected willy-nilly to acknowledge the cultural dominance of Cusco and accept it as the defining mark of his or her peruanidad. By extension, then, Quechua is not just one of the estimated 44 languages extant in Peru(3) but the true "native" tongue of all Peruvians. If they refuse stubbornly to recognise this, it can only be because they are ashamed of their nationality:

Que es así como el niño yanqui o norteamericano se siente orgulloso de su país, de su cultura, de su historia, nosotros también queremos que el niño peruano, el joven peruano, se sienta orgulloso ¿no? de su historia, de su cultura ¿no? de su lengua materna.

Logically then, Pacheco and his colleagues, faithful to " su lengua materna", represent the true patriots. Indeed, Pacheco seems to suggest that South Americans (Latin Americans? Americans?) in general should accept his definition of cultural identity:

El quechua del Qosqo. Qosqo como capital de la nacionalidad continental del Tawantinsuyo.

(Emphasis added)

Thus the politico-cultural agenda of the Academia is defined in sharply restricted terms; it is nothing more or less than the reduction of the modern republic to a sphere in which the influence of the Academicians - guardians of the true language, the true culture and history of the nation and beyond - might be supposed to hold sway: indeed, Pacheco seems to be in a state of constant amazement that still not everyone shares his views:

Entonces lo que nosotros a través de nuestra institución y del idioma quechua, lo que queremos es desarrollar eso, la conciencia nacional, la identidad nacional y hacer conocer ¿no? hacer conocer esa historia gloriosa de los incas. ¿No? Que es una historia extraordinaria. Una historia que es motivo de admiración de toda... de todas las generaciones de la humanidad, de todas las sociedades del mundo. ¿Lo cierto?

What is ostensibly a linguistic project turns out to be a nationalist one; beyond this, what is ostensibly nationalist is in fact a self-serving regionalist and class-based vision of the world, made in the image of the Academia.

4 Quechua language and the discourse of Quechua superiority

The cult of admiration for the Incas is founded on a series of givens. One is the superiority of their system and philosophy of government to any other. If Inca society was "casi un paraíso" (Pacheco 1994:13) then it must have been based on extraordinary principles. Hence Pacheco lights upon a - frankly rather banal - saying attributed to Pachacútec Inca, and invests it with enormous significance:

Ha aquí algún pensamiento de Pachacútec, indudablemente lo podemos... este... en quechua, y su traducción es: el hombre que no sabe gobernar su casa y su familia, menos sabrá gobernar la República. Un pensamiento de profundo sentir y contenido filosófico. Ningún pensador griego... romano... o oriental ha tenido este pensamiento por ejemplo... (4)

The supposed superiority of Inca science and cosmology is also singled out for praise, at the expense of the supposed scientific backwardness of 16th century Europeans:

[Los españoles] han venido con una concepción filosófica; una concepción filosófica atrasada, retrógrada. En aquella época ellos consideraban que la Tierra era plana, era cuadrada, y carecía de movimientos. En el incanato, los amautas, los pensadores, consideraban que la Tierra era esférica, el universo también era esférico, y que todos los cuerpos, entre el sol, la Tierra, la Tierra, la luna, etcétera etcétera, estaban en constante comunicación, constante interacción. [...] O sea tenían una concepción filosófica superior a los europeos.

However, the recurring leitmotif of Inca cultural superiority is physical: the grandeur of their building. The archaeological sites of Incaic Cusco (and only Incaic Cusco - there is no mention of, say, Tiahuanaco, or Chavín de Huántar, or Chan Chan) are deployed as prima facie proof of the perfection of that civilization, without any further explanation being considered necessary:

Pero más bien ¿no? sentimos orgullosos de esa historia gloriosa de los incas. ¿Por qué? Porque ahí están sus obras, como Machu Picchu o Sacsayhuamán, que es motivo de admiración de parte de toda la humanidad.

Later he suggests that these sites were actually destroyed by the Spanish:

Han destruido las portentosas obras, unas obras excepcionales que habían de los Incas, como Machu Picchu, bueno Machu Picchu no, sino Sacsayhuamán, Pisaq, Ollantaytambo.

The continuing existence of these Incaic sites sits ill with the simultaneous claim that the Spaniards destroyed them; but of course, the underlying intention of the discourse is to establish not facts, but the thoroughgoing malevolence and philistinism of the conquistadores. The "Incas" (by which term of course we are supposed to understand the ruling class of the Inca empire) are presented as mystically noble, spiritually perfect, the symbolic moral antithesis of the Spaniards. This view of course owes much too (at times is almost a mirror image of) the determinism and idealism described for example by Pagden (1982) with regard to the view that some Europeans had of Americans.

Physical, too, is the bodily superiority of the Andeans:

Y entonces después, los españoles lamentablemente por su inferioridad física, porque sufren por ejemplo... sufren por ejemplo estrés, una serie de enfermedades. No están capacitados para alcanzar a grandes alturas de 4000, 5000 metros sobre el nivel del mar. Sin embargo el hombre andino sí está suficientemente capacitado.(5)

Within the framework of this discourse, all facets of Inca/Andean culture (the two are never, of course, formally distinguished) are superior to all manifestations of Spanish/European culture (again, never formally distinguished). Whatever is Spanish is corrupted, backward, barbarous; whatever is Incaic is, in a real sense, perfect. This must hence be true of what in this discourse is considered inarguably a key element of Inca culture, its language. The demonstrable multilingualism of both pre-Conquest and contemporary Peru is roundly ignored; so, too, is the objective history of the language. For Pacheco, the Incas, in Cusco, were the first Quechua speakers; and the language stands as yet another unsurpassed achievement. Pacheco details the ways in which it is superior, both structurally and in its social significance.

Sinceramente el idioma quechua por ejemplo ha superado este... el artículo. No existe como una categoría gramática el artículo. ¿No? Para decir por ejemplo: yo voy a ir a tu casa. Yo - voy - a - ir - a - tu - casa. Siete palabras serían. En quechua sería wasiykita risaq. Dos palabras. Es un idioma polisintético, que sintetiza, ¿no? que con unas solas palabras se puede expresar toda una oración, todo un juicio.

The linguistic absurdity of this comparison (like that of the blithe assertion, cited below, that Quechua is "más perfecto que el latín y el griego") goes unexamined: indeed, it is in a real sense irrelevant. Within the terms of the discourse of Quechua superiority, every facet of its phonology, lexicon and morphosyntaxis, even the fact that it happens to lack articles ("ha superado... el artículo", says Pacheco, proudly) is simply a further proof of its innate perfection. The supposed social discourse of the language is similarly held to be a reflection of the superior human values of its speakers.

Y es profundamente humano. Por eso se dice, además de quechua se dice también runasimi: el idioma de los hombres. Y algún lingüista, no recuerdo, tal vez el doctor David Weber, [dice que] si el inglés es un idioma comercial, un idioma de negocio, ¿no? dice el... el francés es el idioma de etiqueta, ¿no lo cierto? de cortesía, ¿no? y en cambio dice el... el quechua es un idioma de los seres humanos, profundamente humano, flexible, profundamente rico, muy amplio en su expresión.

If English speakers, then, are vile tradespeople, and French speakers effete courtiers, only Quechua speakers are fully seres humanos.

5 The influence of the European in the discourse of the Academia

The grand irony concealed at the heart of the discourse of the Academia is, of course, its paradoxical and very probably unconscious embracing of foreign, colonial and national influence in language, thought and behaviour. The most obvious manifestation of this is the constant urge to compare, as seen above. The foundation of this entire ideological edifice is the glorification of the Incas: yet the Incas are never thought of or understood in relation to contemporary or earlier Andean cultures; still less are they thought of in objective isolation. They seem to gain shape only when they are compared with the conquistadores. Pacheco's style of argument rests on the use of contrast and comparison; and the point of comparison, whether implicitly or explicitly, is almost always Europe or the United States. Nothing can be judged on its own terms. He cannot be satisfied with the quoting of Pachacútec's philosophy of government (see above), but must compare it to the ancient philosophers of Europe and the East (finding it, of course, superior). It is not enough to note that Peruvian campesinos are apt to offer the visitor a seat and refreshment; the inevitable comparison must follow, this time with the hispanicised world of the cities (including Cusco!):

Tú por ejemplo vas a una comunidad campesina, lo primero que es... hacer pasar a su casa, a su choza, después que sea siquiera una banquita, una piedra, ponen ahí una frazada para que tú te sientas. O sea, un profundo respeto al hombre. Y ellos pueden estar comiendo, almorzando, tomando, siquiera agüita te invitan. Acá en el Cusco, en Lima ¿hacen eso por ejemplo? ¿Lo cierto? Hay otra concepción filosófica, ¿no? El profundo respeto.

Again, as in the example of wasiykita risaq, the fact that the proposition is demonstrably lacking in validity (the visitor tends to be offered refreshment and a seat in any Peruvian household) is beside the point. A deep-rooted sense of insecurity and inferiority is betrayed at every step in the discourse, by the constant need to compare and contrast, to set the whole of the Andean world in opposition to that of Europe and the West. Most tellingly of all, Pacheco contentedly cites the interest of a handful of traditionally-minded foreign linguists in Quechua as if this were the final, triumphant proof of the inherent virtues of the language(6):

Entonces tenemos nosotros la suerte de contar con intelectuales de mucho prestigio, como por ejemplo con este doctor David Weber. También había un lingüista Honorio Mossi, italiano. El ha dicho por ejemplo que el idioma quechua es más perfecto que el latín y el griego. Hemos tenido a un alemán. Ernst Middendorf. Tiene varios libros. Este alemán por ejemplo ha vivido también en la zona del Cusco [...] Entonces por ejemplo este... eh... estos lingüistas extranjeros como... como Honorio Mossi, el alemán Ernst Middendorf, después actualmente el joven lingüista norteamericano el doctor David Weber, todos ellos ¿no? tienen gran interés en el idioma quechua...

For all his determined championing of Cusco and of Peru, Pacheco still feels, clearly, that real recognition can come only from outside. The frustration and resentment felt by a provincial élite towards the real seat of power, the capital, is also manifest. First the importance of Lima as an attraction in itself is scorned - and again, the opinions of foreigners are invoked to prove the point:

Se quiere hacer por ejemplo turismo de 600,000 personas, o sea la venida de 600,000 turistas al Perú, al Cusco. Pero ¿en función de Lima, en función del turismo? ¡No! En función del Qosqo y sus riquezas culturales.(7)

But while Lima is thus to be dismissed out of hand, it is simultaneously the source and measure of real success and influence. Indeed, the presence of Quechua in Lima universities (a largely illusory presence; not for nothing does Pacheco stall after mentioning San Marcos) is spoken of with ingenuous pride:

Por eso yo veo con mucha admiración que tenemos la suerte de que en la mayor parte de las universidades del Perú por ejemplo, ¡en Lima misma! en San Marcos, en... en todas las universidades de Lima, se enseña quechua.

Where comparison is not explicit it is implicit; hence if the Quechua language is "profundamente humano" we are given to understand that Spanish is quite the opposite of this. As far as Pacheco is concerned, Spanish colonialism brought nothing of any benefit to Peru. The Spaniards themselves are condemned in the harshest terms:

Gente sacada de las cárceles, gente perseguida por la ley, gente frustrada, gente acomplejada, gente en su mayoría siendo analfabeta, gente aventurera [...] Eran grandes criminales, y en el caso de las mujeres, eran mujeres sacadas de los peores prostíbulos de Europa o de España...

And yet the influence of Spanish culture, thought and language in the universe of the Academicians is all-pervading. That this perhaps haunts their unconscious thoughts is suggested by the bombastic, almost hysterical way in which it is denied. Pacheco writes:

[L]os amantes de la Filosofía, debemos despojarnos definitivamente del SINDROME DEL COLONIALISMO MENTAL...

(Pacheco Farfán 1994:7. Capitals in original)

And again:

[T]enemos y debemos abandonar la mentalidad, actitud, posición, parámetros, categorías occidentales, europeo-hispanistas, que son total y completamente incompatibles con la realidad y la estructura biosíquico-social del habitante andino-Inka, y por ende, con su mentalidad y manifestaciones conductales.


Unable to free themselves from the constraints of the Spanish paradigm, and often seemingly unconscious of this, the mestizo élite are condemned to recreate it, in endless inferior variations, in the Andean world. The model for the Academia - indeed the very notion of an Academia - comes from the madre patria.

Así como la Real Academia Española, ¿lo cierto? ejerce esa actividad de normar, ¿lo cierto? de igual manera la Academia Mayor de la Lengua Quechua [...] también tiene esa obligación de normar...

Itier (1992a) points out that the use of five vowels in Quechua orthography is no more than a demonstration of the extent to which Spanish has permeated the speech of the bilinguals of the Andes. Pacheco's stout defence of pentavocalismo provides substantial (if quite unwitting) support for this assertion:

El uso por ejemplo de las cinco vocales no es capricho de uno o dos intelectuales: es producto, es determinación de congresos internacionales, como el congreso internacional todavía de 1950 en La Paz, Bolivia. El congreso internacional de quechua acá en la ciudad del Qosqo en 1987. El congreso internacional en Lima en 1991. Son congresos internacionales. Por consiguiente nosotros... esos... esas conclusiones, esos acuerdos de congresos internacionales tenemos que acatar. Y así también tenemos que ordenar a todas las academias - que además del Perú tenemos en Bolivia, en Argentina, en Chile, en Ecuador, en EEUU también tenemos, en España, en Japón etcétera - todos ellos tienen que acatar las disposiciones de la Academia Mayor de la Lengua Quechua.

With his concern for social rank and proper style, his enthusiastic adherence to the idea of decrees and laws, his shortsighted regionalism and resentment of big-city politicians, Pacheco is almost a caricature of the provincial petit bourgeois lawyer. And yet he affects to believe that he is fighting to break the yoke of "colonialismo mental" and that the Spaniards brought nothing of any lasting significance to Peru. Just as the Academia perceives Quechua orthography through the distorting grid of the Spanish phonological system, so does it perceive the nature of its task through a quintessentially Hispanic mindset. The pettifogging legalism and exaggerated respect for duly-constituted authority bequeathed by Spanish rule are faithfully reproduced in the repeated references to laws and conventions; there is no hint of doubt that language can and must be controlled and regulated by decree:

Pero actualmente aún sabemos que el Congreso actual, el Parlamento actual, por ejemplo no quiere aprobar la enseñanza obligatoria del idioma quechua a nivel nacional. O por lo menos en las regiones donde preferentemente se habla quechua. Sigue entonces esa mentalidad, todavía occidental, esa mentalidad española [...] Y lo que nos falta es, precisamente, de que se tiene que oficializar el idioma quechua. ¿Para qué? Para enseñar a esa nueva generación.

The now-substantial body of experience and literature derived from bilingual and intercultural education projects in the Andes (Hornberger 1994 is a recent example) was never once mentioned in the course of the interview. Educational language planning is understood to be synonymous with a single goal: enseñanza obligatoria (of the qhapaq simi, it goes without saying), to those who do not speak Quechua, or do not speak a variety of it acceptable to the Academia. The millions of speakers who have acquired Quechua as their sole or principal code without the intervention of congressional decrees or schoolteachers are not regarded as a resource to be carefully cultivated. Rather, as will be seen, those unfortunate enough to have learned their mother tongue in this debased manner must be given up as lost, for the task now is to instil the Academia's version of the language through official channels to the young and, preferably, middle-class.

6 Whose Quechua? The provincial élite and ideology in language

That the Academia's project is a nationalist one is beyond doubt, but the nature of this nationalism is narrow and deterministic. The Cusco élite, seeking to remake the model of peruanidad in its own image, finds in the Quechua language a malleable symbol. The multilingualism and multiculturalism of Incaic and contemporary Peru alike are ignored; Peruvian culture is defined as nothing more than Andean culture, this in turn as nothing more than Incaic culture, and this as the Quechua-speaking culture of Cusco. But we are not to make the mistake of thinking that the natural guardians of the culture and language are, then, the monolingual campesinos of the region, for the slavish imitation of the at once despised and secretly-admired Europeans extends too to 19th century notions of nation, language and race.

The mestizo bourgeoisie see themselves as the inheritors of Inca glory, and the symbolism of language must be pressed into serving this end; Niño-Murcia (1997) convincingly employs Bourdieu's concept of symbolic power to suggest why it is that the Academia sees recognition of the authenticity of its own sociolect as indispensable. Hence their discourse on language starts from the assumption that the "best" Quechua is spoken by themselves, bilingual intellectuals. René Farfán Barrios, another leading member of the Academia, writes:

Cuando se habla del quechua-hablante no hay que pensar en el indio que está en la puna, o en el indígena, el nativo, como se quiera llamar. Es el mestizo, a ellos hay que dirigirnos.

(Cited in Itier 1992b:91)

Quite so; the Academia has very little time for the monolingual native-speaker who has learnt a living, culturally-embedded language. The dictionary project (AMLQ 1995) is therefore of necessity a prescriptive one, for its authors propose quite explicitly to impose their own sociolect as the standard. As was noted above, when Pacheco is asked if the dictionary attempted to describe the Quechua of present-day monolinguals or to set a normative standard, he chooses to reply obliquely, describing the composition of the Academia:

Ahí tenemos por ejemplo, para citar nada más a don Faustino Espinoza Navarro. El actualmente tiene 91 años. O sea él ha hablado quechua desde que ha nacido prácticamente. Su primer idioma ha sido el quechua. Y aproximadamente dice a los 15 o 20 años comienza a estudiar. O sea significa que hace 70 años que está estudiando el quechua. ¿No? [...] Y así... ahí tenemos a un médico, el Doctor Humberto Covarrubias Campana [...] O sea también nace... ¿no? El primer idioma que aprende es el idioma quechua. Y como médico, como... que ha estado por Estados Unidos, en Europa, últimamente ha estado por Brasil cerca, siempre ha tenido esa inquietud de aprender, ¿no? de saber, y también de difundir el idioma quechua.

Authority rests on age, on social status, on published works, on professional qualifications that have little to do with linguistic criteria: in the case of Doctor Covarrubias, typically and tellingly, his authority is marked by his having worked abroad. Certainly the miembros de número are native speakers of Quechua, but equally certainly they are bilingual and middle-class. The language of less-educated speakers is dismissed as being not the stuff of serious study, not fitted for the lofty medium of print:

Yo pienso que igual en Estados Unidos también, hay un inglés popular, del pueblo. ¿Sí o no? Pero al nivel universitario por ejemplo, tú hablas con unos de tus colegas, no podías hablar de esa manera. ¿No? ¿Lo cierto? Tú tienes que utilizar un lenguaje profesional, un lenguaje alturado, y todavía incluso un lenguaje especializado, un lenguaje académico. Entonces no podemos imponer ese lenguaje académico al campesino, sino hasta se sentiría ofendido, ¿o no? Aceptamos su expresión entonces ¿no? Pero quieres para escribir un libro...

What, then, is this Quechua that the Academia has the duty of defending and promoting? As Godenzzi says, the supposed "Quechua Imperial del Cusco" is in fact "un sociolecto... el del grupo de mestizos que se siente heredero, no de los "indios", sino de los Incas, de los grandes y poderosos" (Godenzzi 1992:63). The Academia has at best a patronising view of the language used by the great majority of monolingual speakers, which is seen as having fallen away from the classical model, become coarsened and degraded, a lingua romana rustica to the lingua latina of the Academicians:

El problema fundamental con el campesinado es que la mayor parte de ellos no saben leer y escribir ¿no? en idioma quechua. ¿Cómo hacemos? ¿Cómo hacemos? Fundamentalmente haciendo la corrección de su pronunciación. ¿No? En su pronunciación. ¿No? Conversamos así, ¿no? [...] ¿Qué hacemos nosotros? Nosotros estamos ahí tratando de corregir, ¿no? Pero una vez que se aplique la enseñanza obligatoria, por lo menos en las regiones donde se habla el quechua, ahí sí vamos a enseñar a los campesinos, a su juventud, a la niñez, sobre la forma como se debe escribir el quechua. ¿No?

Perhaps the most remarkable leap of logic made here is that, as campesinos do not know how to read and write, so they do not know how to pronounce their language correctly. This astonishing asseveration finds its echo in the endless debate on Quechua orthography - in which connection Cerrón-Palomino (1991) quite properly asks: for whom is the language being written? - indeed, it is the ideological underpinning of the Academia's stance thereupon, and explains the almost obsessive interest in written text (dictionaries, grammars, constitutions, textbooks) rather than possibly more effective and direct methods of language support. Again, enseñanza obligatoria - of the Academia's written standard, naturally - is the answer. Control over the writing implies, to Pacheco, control over the language - and hence, we might reasonably suspect, control tout court.

The ideological stance of the Academia, then, is as much a class- or ethnic-based one as regional or nationalist. Significantly, this disdain for "popular" speech is projected onto other languages and cultures, and the interlocutor is assumed to be supportive and understanding of this:

Lamentablemente por ejemplo digamos en caso de Estados Unidos, ese negro que habla atropellando el inglés, ¿lo cierto? [...] Ya no podrías casi influirlos, ¿no? Pero la preocupación fundamental es la juventud.

Pacheco later told me (off tape) that black people spoke "ba-ba-ba-ba". Just as American and Peruvian blacks are considered to be past saving, so the speech of the campesinado is considered so decayed and corrupted that the only sensible recourse is to begin again at the level of the young and middle-class, instilling in them a "better" Quechua, as defined by the Academia. This ingrained racism and class superiority, itself doubtless a compensation for the resentment and sense of inferiority felt by the provincial mestizo bourgeoisie, has deep historical roots. Itier (1992a) cites the regionalist Federico More, writing in 1925:

[E]n la sierra actúa el quechua, lengua noble y lírica, mientras que en la costa apenas suenan los monosílabos de las plebes de Pekín y las guturaciones de aquellos negros que fueron esclavos...

(Cited in Itier 1992a:41)

The echo of More's words some 70 years later is striking; Pacheco, too, considers black speech to be so degenerate as to be beneath contempt, and for all his fervent protestations that all Peruvians are cholos - "todo peruano, nacido, todo habitante es cholo, sea rubio, sea negro, sea chino, sea blanco, alto, lo que sea: es cholo" - one imagines that he would have little time for the Peruvian descendants of Chinese either.

Those academic linguists and quechuistas who dare to take issue with the Academia's stance on the language are bitterly attacked, and their motives maligned; and so, within the framework of discourse established by the Academia, they must be: far from indulging in objective academic debate, they are challenging its very authority. It falls to Pacheco to re-assert this authority, and pentavocalismo is once again the point at issue:

En Lima hay dos o tres individuos que dicen que se debe usar tres vocales. ¡Pero no saben ni hablar quechua! Yo no tendría autoridad moral, mucho menos autoridad intelectual, para opinar sobre el inglés, si yo no sé hablar inglés. ¿Puedo opinar yo? ¡Absolutamente! Entonces hay individuos que aparentan - aparentan - ser investigadores. Se dedican a escribir libros, pero con fines netamente comerciales, para ganar solamente plata. ¿Lo cierto? Para hacer fortuna. Pero no con esa buena intención de defender una cultura. No con esa buena intención de hacer verdaderamente ciencia. ¿No?

The confusion of the last two propositions may give us an insight into the fundamentally self-contradictory task that the Academia has set itself: on the one hand, to carry out disinterested academic reasearch - "hacer ciencia" - and on the other to propagandise - "defender una cultura". It ends up doing neither well. The level of "scientific" accuracy demanded by the Academia might be gleaned from a cursory reading of Pacheco's (1994) book on Inca philosophy. This consists to a large extent of quotations culled from secondary school textbooks and denunciations of the moral turpitude of modern nations, leavened, as if for light relief, with the occasional extraordinary assertion, such as that languages like Thai and - incredibly enough - Vietnamese, use ideographic writing systems, and that the same is true of the "bloque árabe" - in which for good measure is included Iran (Pacheco 1994:120). The Academy's long-awaited dictionary (AMLQ 1995), an expensively printed and produced hardback book of some 900 pages, was described to me by a leading Peruvian linguist and quechuista as "una porquería" and "un monumento a la ignorancia". Certainly it is inadequate at even the most basic level: the bibliography is arranged by alphabetic order of first names, and relatively large blocks of pages are bound out of sequence.

The Academia, in short, is in effect a self-elected group of pseudo-scholars, who have as their chief aim the public ratification of their own view of themselves as the uniquely qualified spokesmen (for none of the leading members is a woman) for a language, a culture, a region and a nation. Their claim is based on racial and class prejudice, and rooted in their own deep-seated sense of provincial resentment, of ethno-cultural inferiority in relation both to the capital and to the outside world. Their politico-cultural worldview, if their President is representative (which he seems indeed to be) is buttressed by a mishmash of ill-digested ideological influences: a naive ahistorical romanticism, dollops of awkwardly-fitting state socialism, casual racism, aggressive nationalism and authoritarianism, all shot through with resentment of the metropolitan politician class and an acute consciousness of a supposed moral decay. It is putting it too strongly - but perhaps only slightly too strongly - to suggest that the Academia is propounding a species of Andean fascism, of which the Quechua language is merely a vehicle.

And yet for all its posturing in defiance of the dominance of Lima and its expressed desire to change the cultural face of the nation, the Academia is at root a deeply conservative body, and it is unlikely that any government would regard it as a threat. The Academicians are not in any real sense a counterélite (though they are certainly potentially this): rather, they enjoy the institutional support they derive from their position as the officially-endorsed spokesmen for the language, and are careful not to jeopardise it. Their relationship with the state is a semi-dependent one, and their activities reflect this. Article 4 of the 1990 decree establishing the Academia (reproduced in AMLQ 1995) names the state as the first (and one might suspect therefore the principal) provider of its funds. It is hardly then surprising that, as if in return, the President of the Republic is automatically elected as a miembro honorario protector, and that Article 3 of the decree specifically names as one of the six fundamental tasks of the Academia the preparation of an approved Quechua version of the Constitution of the Republic. Resentful of the Lima-based state which they perceive to have usurped their natural position as leaders of the nation, the Academicians are nevertheless acutely conscious of the prestige and authority which state legitimation affords them.

7 Conclusion

There is hence a real tension, an ambiguity in the Academia's discourse. This ambiguity derives in part from the contradictions inherent in the way Quechua is perceived and represented in Peru; it is simultaneously the stigmatised language of an oppressed minority and a state-legitimated symbol of former national glory (that is, what Fishman 1972:44 calls "the link with the glorious past"). Any body (indeed, any individual) campaigning for the maintenance or revitalisation of Quechua in Peru, then, does so within a social context where language attitudes have become heavily ideologised in sometimes contradictory ways: discourses upon Quechua tend to dwell heavily on the notions of shame and pride, often together.

What are the implications of all this for Quechua language maintenance efforts? My own recent (and as yet unpublished) research among migrant communities in Lima undergoing rapid language shift suggests that the constant identification of Quechua with the Incas, which forms the core of the Academia's political and linguistic discourse, is - at best - effective only at the level of reinforcing national or regional pride. In terms of attitudes to "real" language it is negative, having the effect of demeaning the speech of present-day monolinguals and of locking the Quechua language into an idealised and remote past. As Niño-Murcia (1997:157) quite rightly concludes: "The purist discourse in Cuzco, although it appears on the surface to legitimize indigenous culture... in reality contributes to the marginalization... of the indigenous language and ultimately of its rural speakers, whose language one sees marked by the stigma of poverty and equated with a lack of culture".

Genuine grass-roots aspirations for language maintenance are hence unlikely to find an ally in the shape of the Academia. It is beyond doubt that the Academia as presently constituted, with its roots in the bilingual Cusco élite, would have little interest in (indeed, a decided hostility to) any language maintenance project (whether it arose from state planning or from grass roots aspirations) that it did not itself legitimate and control. Perhaps the most striking point to emerge from a consideration of the discourse of the Academia is that, quite obviously, it would be hostile to any project which proceeded from the assumption that the language of rural monolinguals was in itself good, whole, representative or worthy of protection.

What is at stake in the Peruvian language maintenance debate is the perceived "ownership" of Quechua: the authority to speak about, and on behalf of, the language. If the principle of self-determination for linguistic minorities is to have any real value, it is vital that the Academia's deliberate attempt to position itself as the sole valid representative of a language, a region and a people continue to be resisted, and its ideological agenda to be laid bare.


AMLQ (Academia Mayor de la Lengua Quechua) (1995): Diccionario Quechua-Español-Quechua/Qheswa-Español-Qheswa Simi Taqe. Cusco: AMLQ/ Municipalidad del Qosqo.

Cerrón-Palomino, Rodolfo (1987): 'Multilingüismo y política idiomática en el Perú' in Allpanchis 29/30:17-44.

________ (1991): 'Normalization in Andean languages' in von Gleich & Wolff (eds) 1991:33-41.

Cole, Peter, Gabriella Hermon & Mario Daniel Martín (eds) (1994): Language in the Andes. Newark, Delaware: University of Delaware Occasional Monographs in Latin American Studies, No. 4.

Degregori, Luis Nieto (1994): 'Una aproximación al cusqueñismo' in Allpanchis 43/44: 441-476.

Fishman, Joshua (1972): Language and nationalism. Rowley: Newbury House.

Godenzzi, Juan Carlos (1992): 'El recurso lingüístico del poder: coartadas ideológicas del castellano y el quechua' in Godenzzi (ed) 1992:51-77.

________ (ed) (1992): El quechua en debate: ideología, normalización y enseñanza. Cusco: CERA Bartolomé de las Casas.

Hornberger, Nancy (1994): 'Whither bilingual education in Peru? Quechua literacy and empowerment' in Cole et al (eds) 1994:74-89.

Itier, César (1992a): 'Lenguas, ideología y poder en el Cusco: 1885-1930' in Godenzzi (ed) 1992:25-48.

________ (1992b): '"Cuzqueñistas" y "Foráneos": las resistencias a la normalización de la escritura del quechua' in Godenzzi (ed) 1992:85-93.

Manya A, Juan Antonio (1992): 'El quechua imperial del Qosqo' in Godenzzi (ed) 1992:49.

Niño-Murcia, Mercedes (1997): 'Linguistic purism in Cusco, Peru: a historical perspective' in Language Problems and Language Planning 21:134-161.

Pacheco Farfán, Juvenal (1994): Filosofía Inka y su proyección al futuro. Cusco: Universidad Nacional de San Antonio Abad.

Pagden, Anthony (1982): The Fall of Natural Man. The American Indian and the Origins of Comparative Ethnology. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Samanez Flórez, David (1992): 'Pentavocalismo vs. trivocalismo' in Godenzzi (ed) 1992:97-105.

Torero, Alfredo (1974): El quechua y la historia social andina. Lima: Universidad Ricardo Palma.

von Gleich, Utta & Ekkehard Wolff (eds) (1991): Arbeiten zur Mehrsprachigkeit Nr 42. Hamburg: University of Hamburg.


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1. 1That is, the Academia-approved practice of rendering Quechua orthographically using five vowels, rather than the three preferred by many linguists. This question has been the cause of (or pretext for) innumerable skirmishes between the Academia and its academic critics. Compare for example Samanez Flórez (1992) and Itier (1992b).

2. 2Many of Degregori's (1994) cusqueño informants thought in much the same way, showing a marked tendency to reduce "...nuestro pasado prehispánico a su último momento de desarrollo, el relacionado con los Incas" (1994:448-9). Within this style of discourse, as Degregori rightly notes, virtually nothing of any significance is attributed to pre-Inca cultures - not even the cultivation of such ancient Andean products as maize and tubers.

3. 3Estimate made by CILA-UNMSM team of Inés Pozzi-Escot, Gustavo Solís and Fernando García, and reported by Solís at I Encuentro Internacional de Peruanistas, Universidad de Lima, 3-6 September 1996. See also Somos magazine (El Comercio 19/10/96) pp 12-16.

4. 4Bearing in mind Pacheco's view of himself as the authority called upon to bring order to the squabbling family of Academicians and quechuistas, it is perhaps unsurprising that he finds such thrilling resonance in this unspectacular pensée.

5. 5There is a faint echo here of the popular conception of "the Incas" - however thay may be defined - as stronger, taller and more physically impressive than today's Peruvians. This is a common belief, perhaps reflecting the general sense of decay and enfeeblement since the conquest; in language, in technological skill and in government. Thus a (better than average!) street comedian in Lima's Plaza San Martín: "Ni tamaño tienes. ¿Cómo eran los incas? Grandotes, puro músculo. Ahora mira la huevadita de hombre. A Túpac Amaru le quisieron descuartizar entre cuatro caballos. Nunca pudieron. Le jalaron, el pata feliz, se reía. Aeróbicos, decía. Ahora jalas a esta vainita con dos cuyes y lo matas." (La República, 08/09/96. Note how Túpac Amaru II is associated with the Incas themselves, and becomes a symbolically Incaic character rather than a relatively modern one).

6. 6Those linguists, Peruvian or foreign, who have taken a less indulgent view of the work of the Academia are of course alternately reviled and ignored.

7. 71996 was nominated by the Peruvian government "Año de los 600,000 turistas". A major international campaign was launched to try to achieve this target: it was eventually met.