Efforts to Research and Safeguard Quechua Language and Culture

Soledad Chango, an Ecuadorian native and a graduate student in the MIT’s Indigenous Language Initiative, commenced the groundwork for her Quechua course with a clear objective in mind.

“Our language holds significance,” she asserts. “It is worth delving into and propagating.”

Quechua at MIT, an inaugural two-week introductory session facilitated by MIT Global Languages during the Institute’s Independent Activities Period in January, familiarized students with the fundamentals of Kichwa, a Quechua variant that stands as the most prevalent language in the Americas. The class, which incorporated an interactive methodology, concentrated on honing oral and written abilities, stressing tasks grounded in familiar scenarios. “I devised dialogues that mirror cultural principles,” Chango underscores.

Chango, a specialist in language acquisition, acknowledged her mentor, MIT Linguistics professor Norvin Richards, and postdoc Cora Lesure for their roles in shaping the course. Per Urlaub, head of Global Languages section, prepared the course for the classroom. “They aided me in refining my concepts on what to teach and how to teach it,” she remarks.

Cultural immersion, value, and language acquisition

Since language comprehension often thrives when intertwined with its cultural backdrop, Chango introduced students to the history, culture, and geography of the Andes mountains, where the language’s speakers reside, work, and engage in leisure activities. Cultural dialogues and interactions with artifacts were structured to enlighten students on the worth of the endangered language.

“Each day, we allocated time to individually assess our writing and grammar prowess,” narrates Isabel Naty Sanchez Taipe, a computer science and education scholar at Wellesley College and a cross-registered student and research assistant at MIT. “We honed the pronunciation of new vocabulary and sentences aloud, and participated in a variety of group tasks and games centered around speaking Quechua as much as possible.”

Chango aimed to underscore the importance of preserving Kichwa and Quechua. When endangered languages vanish, so do the communities and heritage from which they originated.

“Back in 2014, I delved into Indigenous linguistic progression, monitoring alterations and usage,” she discloses. “Studies reveal that the youngest Indigenous individuals exhibit the least retention and appreciation for their native languages.”

Multilingualism as a tool for enhancement

Multilingualism can be advantageous both academically and professionally.

“I strongly encourage individuals to explore languages imparted in this mode,” expresses Prahlad Balaji Iyengar, a doctoral candidate in electrical engineering and computer science who participated in the course. “I believe this was a prime opportunity for me to cultivate a new mindset.”

As Chango persists in fine-tuning the course, she looks towards technology to safeguard Quechua’s unique characteristics and counter its downward spiral towards disappearance. She strives to ensure that languages like Kichwa captivate audiences beyond their native environments.

“Technology holds the potential to proliferate awareness and kindle interest in Indigenous languages such as Quechua,” she contends. “I aspire to broaden its scope from traditional oral practices to a form that endorses measurable and replicable language lessons.”

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