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  • A guide shows Mochica pottery to a group of visitors at the Museum of Art of Lima. September 18, 2015.

    A guide shows Mochica pottery to a group of visitors at the Museum of Art of Lima. September 18, 2015. | Photo: EFE

Published 1 January 2019

Important revitalization programs and the work of professors are revitalizing this important pre-Columbian language.

Once considered a dead language, Muchik now has about 80 speakers and is being taught at 38 schools in Peru, revitalizing one of the most important pre-Columbian tongues in the region.

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Muchik, also known as mochica, yunga or yunka, was the main language for many people on the northern coast of what is now Peru, including the La Libertad, Lambayeque, Piura and Cajamarca regions.

It was considered dead at the beginning of the 19th Century, but recent revitalization efforts are bearing fruits. The Muchik Science and Culture Society, based in the Lambayeque department, and other researchers are doing their best to learn and teach the language. Now, there are about 80 professors who teach the language and hope to make it the second language in the region. It is also spoken by is a small population in Eten.

“It was considered a dead language because it wasn’t massively spoken, but it’s been preserved in complete studies of grammar, phonetics, vocabulary, hundreds of publications and studies by researchers that left organized and coherent works on the Muchik language,” Antonio Serrepe Asencio told Peruvian newspaper La Razon.

Serrepe Ascencio is head of the Muchik Science and Culture Society in Chiclayo and author of two recent books on the Muchik language. The first one, ‘Muchik: History of its Grammar,’ has already been published.

One of the studies he speaks about are 1644's ‘the Art of the Yunga Language’ by the Spanish Priest Fernando de la Carrera, who lived in Chiclayo and learned the language from his housekeeper.

The text, containing a detailed grammar and phonetic study, was found at the British Library in London by a Peruvian researcher. She photocopied it and distributed it in Latin America, and the University of Tucuman in Argentina re-edited the first complete copy. It was later brought to Peru and has since become the main source for the study and revitalization of the language.

As the U.S. anthropologist Gail Silverman has tried to prove with the Quechua family of languages, it’s believed the Muchik also had a pictographic system of writing, although this has not been thoroughly studied yet.

“Just as in Quechua, we have researchers on the Muchik such as Rafael Larco Hoyle, who left us his ‘Museo Larco’ and is certain that the Muchik alphabet is the dotted symbology contained by the beans found in the Muchik pyramids, as part of the grave goods of the rulers buried there,” said Serrepe Ascencio.

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Other works on Muchik include ‘Das Muchik oder die Chimu-Sprache’ (1892) by Ernst Middendorf, a dictionary based on the dialect spoken in Eten, the last stronghold of the language; the study ‘Die Muchik Sprache’ (1920) by Enrique Brunning; the vocabulary list compiled by Baltazar Martinez Compañon in the 18th Century, and the ‘Dictionary of the Yunga Language’ (1921) by Federico Villarreal.

Another reference has been the ‘Rituale seu Manuale Peruanum,’ a 1607 religious text by Luis Jeronimo de Ore including six pages of prayers translated into Muchik.

The linguist Alfredo Torero, who was arrested by the Peruvian government and accused of collaborating with the Maoist guerrilla Shining Path, was another important researcher who worked for the revitalization of Muchik and other regional Indigenous languages until his death in 2004.

Hoping to raise awareness of the endangered situation of Indigenous languages across the world and create opportunities for their respect and preservation, the U.N. declared 2019 to be the International Year of Indigenous Languages.

Its main objectives are:

1. Increasing understanding, reconciliation and international cooperation.

2. Creation of favourable conditions for knowledge-sharing and dissemination of good practices with regards to Indigenous languages.

3. Integration of Indigenous languages into standard setting.

4. Empowerment through capacity building.

5. Growth and development through elaboration of new knowledge.


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