Monday, March 16, 2015

Country Profile: The Languages of Peru

This week we're back in South America, having looked at the languages of Argentina, Colombia, and Brazil in recent months. Today our focus is on Peru, a linguistically diverse country which has an incredibly inclusive language policy.

The Official Languages

Peru has a very interesting official language policy - its constitution recognizes Spanish as an official language, as well as Quechua, Aymara, and other indigenous languages in areas where they are predominant. Peru is home to over 90 languages, which means that it has way more official languages than we could cover in one post. Instead, we'll focus on the country's most prestigious and most spoken languages.

If Peru could only have one official language, it would likely be Spanish, which is spoken by over 80% of the country's population. It's used by the government, as well as in education, commerce, and the media.

Alpamayo, one of the most beautiful peaks in Peru.
Since Quechua and Aymara are the only other languages named in the constitution, it's pretty clear that they are both very important. Both are generally spoken in the Andean highlands and share some vocabulary, but linguists still haven't conclusively determined if they're related or not.

Quechua, spoken by about 13% of the population, is technically a family of languages, and in fact many of Peru's 90 other spoken languages belong to this family. In recent years there have been increased efforts to teach Quechua in public schools in some parts of the country. Aymara, on the other hand, has various dialects, though they are all mutually intelligible. It only has around 400,000 speakers in Peru, which is around 1% of the population.

Other Languages

As we said before, Peru has dozens of officially recognized indigenous languages which remain unnamed in the country's constitution. This is because the country is home to many indigenous groups, which primarily reside in the areas near the Andes and in the Amazon basin. With the exception of several Quechua languages, most of these languages have fewer than 50,000 speakers and very few monolingual speakers, which threatens their survival. Some of the most spoken languages that fall into this category include Aguaruna, Asháninka, and Shipibo-Conibo.