Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Learning Quechua: Day 0

I'm learning Quechua! 

First, some background...

    Quechua is a group of languages of the indigenous peoples of the Andean region of South America. They are currently spoken be approximately 8 million to 10 million people. It is an official language in Perú, Bolivia, and Ecuador. There's a lot to talk about, but instead of regurgitating information you may not want to read, I'll link to a couple of good online resources.

Why Quechua?

    I've always been interested in Quechua, its almost aliens sounds, a grammar completely foreign to an Anglophone such as myself, its implicit relationship with the cultures of the region both present and ancient, etc. I'm also on a bit of a quest to learn a number of languages from far flung regions of the Earth in order to get a good diverse understanding of human language. It's not set in stone, but the list that I've had drafted for a while has included but not been limited to: English [Check], Spanish [Check-ish], Russian [Нет], Japanese or perhaps Mandarin [Nothing yet], a Dravidian language [Nope], Swahili or another Sub-Saharan lingua franca [Nope], and Quechua [Work in progress]. A lot of polyglots suggest you study languages from the same "family," which leads to a lot of people who speak a number of Ibero-Romance or Germanic languages since there's tons of learning material on them for English speakers. Maybe I'll move to that ideology one day, but for now my goal is diversity for the sake of "mind expansion." I've always felt that the pre-Columbian cultures of the Americas have been underrated, and they are some of my favorite of the ancient world. This, coupled with the challenge, it being on my list, and my dream of backpacking through western South America, and a bit of whim, have pushed my towards learning Quechua.

Challenges and Checklists

    I've drafted a small number of long-term goals upon my journey to learn Quechua. This isn't how I learned Spanish, which was a bit of a mess, but I think it's necessary for Quechua as I can't just go to my coworkers to practice like I can with Spanish. I'll explain them all afterwards.

  1. Writing System [  ]
  2. Pronunciation [  ]
  3. Essential Grammar [  ]
  4. Base Vocabulary [  ]
  5. Regional Differences [  ]
  6. Real World Application [  ]

Writing System

    Quechua is written with a modified version of the Spanish Latin alphabet. There are two competing orthagraphic conventions, and I'm learning the modified more phonetic modern one, but, either way, I could read Quechua. I'll write more on written Quechua, but for now let's mark this one up as a check!


    Quechua has a number of sounds that are completely foreign and alien to my anglophonic ears. Post-alveolar stops, that weird "Ll" thing, freakin' ejectives, these are all new and some times hard to produce fluidly. Also, I've been, unbeknownst to my self, been making aspirated and plain forms of certain pulmonic consonants my entire life, but I'm having trouble doing it consciously. This'll all take practice and while I already have a pretty good hold on some of them, producing them in spontaneous speech is difficult.

Essential Grammar

    After I can actually make speech that somewhat resembles the language, my intent is to start to grasp the new-to-me agglutinative grammar. I'll study this first because I find that vocab comes easier when applied in lingua

Base Vocabulary

    One of the big hurdles will be accruing a substantial and workable vocabulary. There isn't extensive Quechua-English dictionaries just lying around any ol' library. And it'll be even more difficult when I take into account my next check mark.

Regional Differences

    Quechua has gone largely unchecked by any sort of organization or consistent government mandated schooling of a particular standardization. Part of me is happy about this, because I don't like that our western culture seems to believe languages are set and the language conventions of a language are to be mandated by some small group of stuffy literature academics, but another part of me isn't too happy because the dialects of Quechua are said to be quite different and not always 100% mutually intelligible. This just makes the whole process of learning that language that much more a challenge. After the other points are checked off and I've got a good grasp on the language, I'll move to learn about the dialectal differences of the language as best I can so that I can communicate with and understand a larger Quechua speaking population.

Real World Application

    This is the exciting part! Basically, my intent is to go through the Andes and talk with people. I mean, what else do you do with a language when you can speak it?

So... What Now?

    I've already ordered some learning material can't wait to get started. I'll also be, infrequently, updating this blog under the heading "Learning Quechua: Day X" as a sort of journal on my thoughts about Quechua and learning it as I go through the process. This will probably span years and might not be all I post about, so if all you want is the Quechua stuff, just look for that heading and ignore anything else here. 

Here we go!

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