Thanks to Google Quechua, Indigenous people in the Andes can now search the Web in their native tongue.
Estimates of the prevalence of Quechua vary widely. In Peru, there are thought to be 3m to 4.5m speakers, with others in Bolivia and Ecuador. The language has long been in slow decline, chiefly because the children of migrants to the cities rarely speak it. But it is now getting a lot more attention.
In recent months, Google has launched a version of its search engine in Quechua while Microsoft unveiled Quechua translations of Windows and Office. Demetrio Túpac Yupanqui, who last year translated “Don Quijote” into Quechua, recalls that a nationalist military government in the 1960s ordered that the language be taught in all public schools. It didn’t happen, because of lack of money to train teachers. By law its official use—and bilingual education—is now limited to highland areas where it is predominant.
After spending a year in Ecuador, I can tell you this: I know precisely two words of Quechua, both of which have made their way into everyday Ecuadorian parlance (at least in the sierra): 1) “chuchaqi” (which means hungover), and 2) “cha-chai” (which means cold).
Related oldie-but-goodie: Ecuadorian slang.