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Spanish was brought to Peru in the 16th Century by the conquistadors, and today it is the most widely spoken language in both cities and towns. The majority of Peruvians speak at least some Spanish. English is not common, although most tourism professionals do speak English. Various dialects of Quechua are spoken across Peru, particularly in the Andean regions. These vernaculars vary throughout the region and are markedly different from one another. The use of Quechua has been declining over the past century, although there are some initiatives underway in certain areas to maintain the traditional language in the classroom. Aymara is spoken largely in the Lake Titicaca area, in and around Puno.

In April 2006, two Peruvian congresswomen from Cusco proclaimed that they would communicate only in Quechua during plenary sessions in congress. Thus another salvo had been fired in Peru's century's old struggle in the use of language to determine national identity and culture. Since 1975, Peru's constitution has recognized Quechua and Aymara along with Spanish as official languages of the Republic. However, since Spain's conquest of South America during the 16th century, Spanish has served as the dominant language of Peru, after the conquistadors excluded all indigenous languages from cultural and political discourse. In Peru as in other Andean nations, the majority of the population speaks Spanish, but significant minorities (estimates range up to ten million) are also very proudly bilingual, speaking one form or another of Quechua or Aymara.

The word "Quechua" is used to denote both a people and a wide variety of spoken dialects that predate not only the Spanish empire, but the Inca empire-by a millennium at the very least. Peru itself can lay claim to being the birthplace of Quechua, which then became the language of trade throughout the Andes. But the language of Quechua itself has at least forty separate dialects that have evolved with wide variations sustained geographically. Indeed, within Peru, northern Quechua and southern Quechua can not use their respective languages to communicate.

A commonly held belief has evolved that the Cusco Quechua is the most authentic and complete Quechua, but many historians argue that the belief is more linked to the fact thatwhen the Inca empire planted their roots in Cusco in the early 15th century, they mandated Quechua as the realm's official language, though they tolerated the use of other idioms. Ironically, it was the Spanish who actually spread the use of Cusco Quechua more so than Inca emperors by utilizing it as a means of broadening their conquest of the New World, even while curtailing its ability to serve the needs of its native speakers.

Quechua words that have become incorporated into the English language through Spanish include: coca, condor, gaucho, jerky, llama, potato, puma, and quinoa. The Huttese, language of the Huts in the Star Wars series, is largely taken from Quechua.

Here are some related tips to help plan your trip to Peru: Language,

14 Jun 2012

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