Peruvian news program in Quechua asserts the use of one of the oldest languages in the world

Quechua, like Greek and Hebrew, is one of the world's ancestral languages that continues being used today. The language is still spoken in much of Peru, Bolivia, Ecuador and in some parts of Colombia, Chile and Argentina; however, the speed with which its use is being left behind is dizzying.

The first newscast in Peru’s history to be completely done in Quechua has been broadcast nationwide since Dec. 12, 2016. This initiative was proposed by Hugo Coya, journalist and writer who since August 2016 has been director of Peru's National Institute of Radio and Television (IRTP for its acronym in Spanish).

During its first two months on air, new Peruvian news program “Ñuqanchik” (meaning: “Us”) has been well-received among Quechua speakers in the country.

“Being an unprecedented event, it presents itself as a great challenge. First because we do not have so many trained personnel to do it. Cameramen, camera directors and editing technicians are Spanish-speaking. We are going through a very interesting transition process,” Coya told the Knight Center a day after the launch of the news program.

As Quechua has several dialects, it became necessary to include some of that variety into Ñuqanchik, Coya said. To find the presenters, a casting was held in which about 200 journalists with Quechua as their mother tongue participated.

Marisol Mena, who also teaches Quechua at the grade-school level and speaks the variant Cusco-Collao from southern Peru, was chosen. The second host is Clodomiro Landeo, who also speaks Quechua from Cuzco, and from Ayacucho-Chanka, of the central Andes. Landeo has been a host at Radio Nacional for 11 years, and a Quechua consultant for the Ministry of Culture.

With Peru being a multilingual and multicultural country, one of the greatest national problems is misinformation and lack of communication, according to Coya.

Information also gives you dignity, Coya said. “It is a human right to be informed. This decision (to make the news in Quechua) is like saying to them: ‘You have the same rights as all to be informed, and with the objective information you can make your own better decisions for your lives,’” he added.

Quechua, spoken mostly in Peru until the early 20th century, is an inclusive language that does not discriminate gender. “For Quechua, we are all human beings,” Coya said.

For this initiative, Coya spoke with several experts, including psychologists, linguists, specialists of the Ministry of Culture, journalists, among others.

“The launch of Ñuqanchik has provoked a real enthusiasm at the national and international level,” Coya said. Various media and sites around the world like  Le FigaroEl PaísBBCThe GuardianDemocracy NowCNN en Español, among others, published the news of the launching of the Quechua newscast.

Recently, Ruiz said, two new segments have been added to the news program so that it also has a cultural space that includes dance and tradition of the Andes, as well as of the jungle, and another dedicated exclusively to the climate. Ruiz said that the latter, in particular, is an issue of daily interest for the Quechua-speaking population, because many are farmers and ranchers, and it is useful to know if there will be heavy rains, low temperatures, etc.

Zoila Mendoza, a Peruvian anthropologist specializing in the Quechua world and a professor and administrator at UC Davis in California, told the Knight Center that Ñuqanchik can also be seen as a strategy to revitalize Quechua, which despite the fact that several millions still speak it, is being lost quickly.

Since 2009, Quechua has been included in UNESCO’s Atlas of the World's Languages in Danger, since it is a language in danger of disappearing. In this regard, then-Director of UNESCO, Koichiro Matsuura, said: “The death of a language supposes at the same time the disappearance of a cultural legacy, from poems and legends to sayings and jokes.”

Out of 30 million Peruvians, four million solely speak Quechua, and another six million speak castellano in addition to Quechua, according to Coya. That is, almost 13 percent of the population continues to speak Quechua.

“This recognition also shows a certain respect and intention to set aside the social and ethnic marginalization in Peru, which has often been illustrated by a mockery of the language and those who speak castellano with that accent. Additionally, the language revalues the culture and social practices of Quechua speakers.”

Mena, a host of Ñuqanchik, told the Knight Center that in her case, it is a dream come true to be able to send important news to all her Quechua speaking brothers and sisters.

“It is definitely a unique and historic experience in the personal as well as the professional, assuming this great responsibility for me is a challenge. (...) For many years, the original languages of my country have been forgotten, which have also been a sign of mockery and discrimination,” Mena emphasized.

Note from the editor: This story was originally published by the Knight Center’s blog Journalism in the Americas, the predecessor of LatAm Journalism Review.