Language Politics in Peru and Elsewhere



Most countries have their litany of social problems and Peru is no exception. Luis Escobedo recently questioned if Peru is a racist state, in an opinion piece on Peru This Week. He cites the example of Spanish being given importance over other languages that are spoken in Peru, such as Quechua, Aymara, Ashaninka, among others. He goes on to describe the differences between a racist and a racial structure.

A racist state favors a certain language, ethnicity or community over others by dominating others through power, exploitation of resources, and uses representational media to exclude or subordinate those who do not belong to favored linguistic or ethnic communities.


One can always find an intersectionality of language, class, race, color, and other factors of marginalization. If you take a moment to read his article, you might as well introspect and evaluate your own society in your country with respect to linguistic marginalization that might be taking place right under your nose.

Images: Wikipedia and Wikipedia

Linguistic oppression elsewhere

Peru’s linguistic situation reminded me of India’s language policy, in which Hindi is promoted at the cost of dozens of other official languages. Promoting Hindi serves the purpose of facilitating migration to non-Hindi speaking areas, and to provide a privileged position to native speakers of Hindi. This policy has resulted in marginalization of non-Hindi speakers, many of whom have adopted Hindi as their first language, at the cost of forgetting or willfully neglecting their own native languages. In the list of factors that could be studied from an intersectional perspective, caste is a factor that cannot be ignored, when it comes to the promotion of Hindi. A certain radical form of Hinduism and Indo-Aryan essentialism are other factors.

Russia and China too, have historically engaged in Russification and Sinification, at the expense of minority languages, races and cultures, which suggests, linguistic oppression isn’t unique to a certain country. It has taken place in the past, to detrimental effect, as evidenced in USSR, Yugoslavia, and East Pakistan (now Bangladesh).

Shouldn’t you speak Spanish in Peru?

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You can of course speak Spanish when you are in Peru, as almost everyone understands it. However, do not forget that people you interact with may speak languages other than Spanish too. If you are traveling to Peru, and arrive with a preconceived notion that Spanish is the only language that is spoken in Peru, you might be unwillingly participating in the very hegemony I have tried to cite in this article. Peru is a multi-lingual and multi-racial society, with a lot of problems just like most countries today. To understand Peru better, it helps to arrive with the idea that Spanish may not be the native language of people you see on the streets of Lima.

How are languages treated in your country? Does it have a single official language? If so, how are people who speak other languages treated?

Image: Wikipedia

Jude C

I am a travel enthusiast who has closely worked with different communities. My interests range from alternative rock to English literature. I also happen to love cats a lot.

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