¿Quechua rimayta yachayta munankichu? Do you want to learn to speak Quechua? This Andean language predominantly spoken in Peru, Bolivia, and Ecuador became the first Indigenous and diasporic language to be taught at NYU when the Center for Latin American and Caribbean Studies (CLACS) began offering it in 2008. As a hub of student gathering, language study, and research, CLACS hosts masters and dual degree programs and supports the undergraduate Latin American and Caribbean Studies major. Assistant Director of CLACS, Gabriel Magraner, expressed the program's dedication to growing the Quechua curriculum at the university level alongside Latin American and Caribbean studies saying, "as an academic program at NYU and within academia, this work is part of a larger movement of Andean and Indigenous studies and shaped in dialogue with Quechua speakers in New York City."
The Quechua program was started by poet and novelist Odi Gonzales, who currently teaches both Elementary- and Intermediate-level courses. Gonzales is widely considered to be an expert on Quechuan grammar and associated philosophy. Most recently, Gonzales published Nación Anti, a book of essays on Andean thought and linguistics. Gonzales was also named a 2022 honoree of the Feria Internacional del Libro (FIL) Cusco from the Peruvian Ministry of Culture in recognition of his career as a poet, translator, and promoter of academic and cultural engagement with Quechua.
As one of the first university-level Quechua programs, this meant Gonzales had to create the course materials and curriculum from scratch. As Quechua student Billy Hughes described, "the main 'class reader' we use is a 100-page book that Dr. Gonzales bound together with lists of vocabulary and grammar cases. In every class we review and correct examples, review the next lesson, read from the class reader, and prepare for our homework." Magraner explained that "Dr. Gonzales incorporates students to further the study of the language itself," working with them to create and publish the only trilingual Quechua/Spanish/English Dictionary.
With each semester, the amount of course material available grows with the help of previous students. Gonzales elaborated, "one of the most important achievements was producing audio and visual materials for class use. Students from more advanced classes often have work that takes them to Andean regions in South America where they interview local residents, and those recorded materials get entered into the course material as well." Billy really enjoys learning Quechua and appreciates Gonzales' resources, saying "Dr. Gonzales is a great professor. He's really understanding, especially at the Elementary I level when you're just starting to learn, so don't be afraid to make mistakes."
In addition to teaching the fundamentals of the Quechua language, Gonzales' teaching also focuses on cultural study found through a linguistic lens. He explained "cultural concepts found within grammar begin even in the Elementary I course. For example, there are two kinds of 'we' pronouns, which means that for Andean culture and people the group or collective is more important than the individual. There are two different pronouns to show a clear difference between the groups being talked about." Billy described learning these concepts in class as well saying, "sometimes there isn't a direct translation between Quechua and English because some concepts like 'need, want, and like' are conceptualized differently, forcing Quechua learners to use neologistic workarounds when discussing Western concepts."
Students enroll in Quechua classes for a variety of reasons. Some are Anthropology, Spanish and Portuguese, or Linguistics students interested in using Quechua in their work. Others are connecting to their own heritage while completing their language requirement or are interested in learning a language different from the European ones they studied in high school. Regardless of the reason for beginning their study, the tight-knit Quechua community at NYU consists of focused and motivated students who grow passionate about this language and culture.
The Quechua program is also part of the NYU-Columbia Language Exchange Program and the Indigenous and Diasporic Language Consortium (IDLC)—which partners with the Institute for Latin American Studies at Columbia University and the CUNY Mexican Studies Institute at Lehman College. Magraner described Quechua's ever-presence in the department, saying, "at CLACS language study is also driven by our students through the Runasimi Outreach Committee (ROC) who build community and organize programs that are open to the public."
Interested in learning more about Quechua or studying it yourself? Elementary Quechua I is offered every fall and spring semester, or you can start by attending a ROC event. Graduate students with knowledge of Spanish can also enroll in Gonzales' Andean Cultural Categories and Oral Narrative Strategies course (LATC-GA 2967), which is debuting in the spring 2023 semester.