Good News

I have just heard that the United Nations has declared 2008 International year of  languages.! Nice one. They say:

“It will aim to promote unity through linguistic diversity. The Assembly called upon States and the Secretariat to work towards the conservation and defence of the world’s languages and requested the Secretariat to appoint a coordinator for multilingualism.

Representatives from several States made contributions. The Andorran representative said, “Protecting languages is one of the fundamental pillars of cultural diversity”.
Meanwhile, there was refreshing news for our Breton, Basque, Occitan and Corsican readers when the representative from France said, “The right to use your own language, the capacity to communicate and, therefore, to understand and be understood, the preservation of an inheritance that dates back centuries or even millennia, should be of prime importance to the United Nations”.
The idea of devoting a whole year to languages was proposed by Austria two years ago at the 33rd UNESCO General Conference held in Paris. (Eurolang 2007).”

This information was copied from here. There is also a press release from the United Nations here.

On the one hand the UN is putting its money where its mouth is and actually implementing its beliefs by making sure that all of the six official languages of the UN  (Spanish, English, Chinese, Arabic, French, and Russian) have all documents and services in these languages, and that linguist diversity is important.

On the other hand they offer very little about the state of indigenous and minority languages of the world explicitly. But I hope putting the idea out there will help get it on governments agendas…

Some other good news is that the:




In Washington DC, for more details about this click here.


3 responses to “Good News

  1. Pingback: 2008 - International Year of Languages « Living Languages

  2. FYI, I posted a link to this article in a list of blog entries about IYL 2008 at

  3. Hello, I am preparing a “Basic Intro” for non linguists 2 years college material — Maybe someone can provide suggestions — Thanks

    Professor: Miryam Yataco
    Department of Culture and Communication

    Quechua Language Details of the language

    Fact 1- Autoglotonym: (name given to the language by native speakers): Quechua, Quichua, Qheshwa, Keshua, Keswa, Runa-simi, Ingano (Inga), Napeno. The orthographic variants on the word “Quechua” are simply attempts by colonial Spaniards and criollos to represent the varying pronunciations they heard from different linguistic groups. At the time of the Conquest and colonization, all these names were more likely heteroglotonyms, since there is no evidence that the Quechua peoples themselves had
    specific names for their own languages (Cerron-Palomino 1987:31-37).

    Fact 2- Quechua belongs to:
    Language Family: Quechuan
    Group: Quechua
    Subgroups: Using historical linguistics as a base,there are two subgroups:
    Quechua I, or Huahuash/Central Quechua
    Quechua II, or Huampuy/Southern Quechua

    Fact 3 – Quechua is not a Creole, nor a Pidgin. It is also not a ‘dialect.’ Quechua is a fully developed language. It is a complete language in its own right.

    Phonetically speaking while Quechua has many consonants, it utilizes only three vowels: a, i and u. Depending on the variations or the dialect of Quechua, these vowels may or may not experience different duration, but this fact does not change the number of available vowel phonemes. In the Southern dialects the consonantal repertoire includes aspirant and glottal variations.

    Morphologically speaking, Quechua is an agglutinate language with a highly regular structure in all its grammatical components. That is, morphologically structure is built through the use of suffixes and prefixes.

    Syntactically speaking, Quechua is fairly simple, it follows the Subject-Object-Verb word order. Modifiers usually precede the words they modify, similarly to English. You may find many more interesting syntactical features in Quechua Linguistics, by Rodolfo Cerron Palomino (1987).

    Fact 4 – Linguistic Classification of the Quechua Variations or Dialects


    Quechua I Quechua II

    Ancash – Huaylas Norteno Sureno

    Imbabura Pastaza Ayacucho Cochabamba
    Peru Ecuador Colombia Colombia Puno Bolivia

    Fact 5 – Written Form

    Yes, there are written forms of Quechua dating back to the Spanish Conquest. Quechua has traditionally been seen as an oral language; however that assertion is also being revised at present. Textile and Quipus are studied to establish alternative ways of communication. In any case, because the language is largely perceived as oral, and it has been largely maintained orally for many centuries; there was not much concern about its graphicization.

    When Spaniards arrived to America, they had a very established tradition of writing and communicating through written texts. In 1560, Fray Domingo de Santo Tomas wrote the Grammatica o arte de la lengua general de los indios de los reynos del Peru, this was the first work produced on the topic.

    In 1606, Diego González Holguín wrote, the Gramática y Arte Nuevo de la lengua general de todo el Perú llamada lengua Quechua o lengua del Inca. In 1608, he produced a dictionary, the Vocabulario de la lengua General de todo el Perú llamada lengua Quechua o del Inca.

    Fact 6 – Standardization of Quechua

    Due to language contact and also time and geographical isolation, the different varieties of the Quechua language have gone through a process of grammatical and lexical standardization. The best resources to find information about standardization are the following: Wolck’s (1987) Pequeno Breviario Quechua, Cerron-Palomino’s (1987) Linguistica Quechua. There are many more but these two are essential.

    Efforts to standardize Quechua through written texts

    Quechua in its different forms, is spoken in five different countries in Latin America: Bolivia, Argentina, Colombia, Peru & Ecuador. The largest number of bilingual and monolingual Quechua native speakers is concentrated in Bolivia, Peru and Ecuador.

    Maybe because of the sheer numbers the governments of these ‘host’ countries have made attempts to approve programs to graphicisize the language/languages mainly pointing to make transitional bilingual education programs possible.

    The idea behind these bilingual education programs was never to maintain Quechua, it was always to help/aid Quechua speakers to shift form Quechua into Spanish ONLY as soon as possible. Any efforts to standardize the language or plan educational reforms to include Quechua speakers should be evaluated in a case per case basis.

    Attempts to standardize the language have been more or less continuous since the Spanish Conquest. Most colonial efforts to standardize Quechua using the Spanish alphabet as a model for most part failed. One of the main concerns and challenges as with many other Oral Traditional languages of the world is that western alphabets never seem adequate to fulfill the task of accurate sound representation.

    In modern times, at the Third Congreso Indigenista Interamericano that met in La Paz, Bolivia in 1954, efforts to develop an alphabet that would be able to represent the language at all levels that is: phonologically, morphologically and syntactically were attempted successfully. Some of the results from this workshop included establishing orthographic rules, how to classify Spanish loan words into Quechua orthographic system, and the use of only three vowels (a,i,u) in both Quechua and Aymara official alphabets. You may read more on this in Nancy Hornberger’s publications.

    The development of a unique standardized alphabet to represent all the distinct dialects of Quechua is not an easy process, nor is complete.

    Fact 7- Was Quechua the main language of the Incas?

    Quechua or Runa Simi was the general language or the lingua franca of the Inca Empire or Tawantinsuyo in Inca times.

    The Tawantinsuyo was a highly multilingual empire. For example looking at Andean Chroniclers such as Guaman Poma de Ayala or Juan Santa Cruz Pachacuti Salcamygua, it is cited they were both multilingual individuals, speaking at least 7 to 8 different languages at the time of contact period. Their acquisition of the Spanish Language including becoming literate in western writing is presumed to have happened at a fast pace, to the amazement of the Spaniards. Since many of the soldiers in the Spanish army were illiterate themselves.

    Fact 8 – Diglossia in countries were Quechua is spoken.

    Yes, Diglossia is present in all countries were Quechua is spoken.

    Large degree of linguistic discrimination is practiced, in all countries. Although this should also be evaluated on a case per case basis, looking at each country in particular.

    This relates to Language Policy and issues of language discrimination. Further reading on this topic could include reading Jose Maria Arguedas’s novels.

    Fact 9 – Number of speakers

    116,747,044. This figure includes bilingual, and monolinguals.

    Fact 10 – Do nationals in Peru, Ecuador, Bolivia or Colombia who are born in a Spanish-Only monolingual tradition develop an interest in learning Quechua as a second or third language?

    Very little, mostly in contemporary times Quechua is seen as a lower prestige language in Andean countries. Quechua is perceived as the language of the poor, the Indians, the uneducated, the illiterate, the retarded. Quechua is also pejoratively labeled & has been (overtime) labeled as an incomplete form of expression. The general attitude towards the language in countries such as Peru or Ecuador has been of immense rejection. Most nationals do not think of Quechua as a ‘complete language’ then, why learn it?

    On the other hand, Quechua speakers are constantly pressured towards learning Spanish and shifting into Spanish-Only. Subtractive Bilingualism in favor of the Spanish Language is the norm in urban settings in all Andean countries. The relationship between ´Quechua and Spanish´ in all Andean countries has always been tense and it remains that way until present.

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