Spelling a Pilgrimage’s Name is Tricky at Best in Cusco

There are complex and difficult realities in Cusco and spelling is one of them.

I do not refer to just any problem of rendering words in written form. There are the normal problems here of popular Spanish, such as the migrating h that appears and disappears as if by magic, nor do I refer to the perennial confusion between v and b, s and z or i and the letter now called ye, the y. I also de not refer to the popular substitution of cc by x, or ch by x or q by k.

These confusions and substitutions become in Spanish a fertile field for the development and display of status and of different identities.

Instead, I refer to something deeper: the spelling of Quechua words since they are so important in the history of Cusco and in their relationship with pronunciation.

Here I see two things.


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  1. There have been changes in the pronunciation between the Quechua, or Quechuas around Cusco and the city, as well as of their words in a Spanish-speaking environment even if the people are bilingual to one degree or another.
  2. The question of how one represents Quechua in the Latin alphabet and the value of different spellings.

We can exemplify the first point easily. Southern Quechua tends to hace consonants compound consonants that rely on a glottal stop.  For now we can refer simply to the first t of t’anta, written with an apostrophe to represent the glottal stop that separates this word from tanta  The latter means gathering while the former means bread.

Nevertheless, one observes a tendency among the Spanish speakers of Cusco, even if bilingual or of Quechua origin, to avoid the pronunciation of glottal stops.

An Andean Man (Walter Coraza Morveli)
An Andean Man (Walter Coraza Morveli)

In this way, Ttio, a popular neighborhood of the city whose name is pronounced T’io in Quechua becomes tio in ordinary pronunciation. The first signifies a plays where water gathers while the second is a Spanish word for uncle or for the devil or its indigenous equivalent the supay. The difference of pronunciation is important.

At least the name is spelled with a doubling of the t, a colonial way of trying to represent the glottal stops.

High on the hill where the highway leaves the city for Anta, there is a zone named Tica Tica. In Quechua it would require the double t in both words or the t with apostrophe because it means flowers flowers, t’ika t’ika. Nevertheless very few people pronounce it that way in their Spanish as it should be in Quechua and, in facet, even its spelling has lost the glottalization which is probably due to the changes in value the Spanish speakers give to Quechua pronunciation over time, since this is a newer area than Ttio.

I started to write this reflection because of the great pilgrimage that just finished last week whose name is composed of two Quechua words, qoylllur (star) and rit’i (snow).  Out of respect to the Quechua speakers of the place we academics tend to write it as Qoyllur Rit’i. Nevertheless, I found many different variants in the city of Cusco.

Qoyllur Rit’i (Walter Coraza Morveli)
Qoyllur Rit’i (Walter Coraza Morveli)

As a result I paid attention to how the name is pronounced in this city where Spanish is dominant. Almost everyone says “coyoriti”, that is to note they say it with multiple simplifications of the consonants. They los the initial q, the ll, the rr at the beginning of the second word, and the glottal stop following the t.

We see in the pronunciation a claiming of the place and of the pilgrimage which is not completely Hispano-Catholic. It also has to do with the indigenous patrimony of Peru. At the same time the pronunciation is normalized in Spanish, people look to represent the indigeneity of the pilgrimage in their spelling while not following the current norms of Cusco’s Quechua nor of the communities who still make the pilgrimage and who live around the sanctuary.

To that end, they make the word exotic in spelling by using one or more of the following: a q, a cc, an ll, and a y. They almost never double the t or place an apostrophe to recognize the glottalization of that sound in Quechua.

In the pilgrimage’s spelling, which some call ccollority and others qoyllority, etc, we find the social process of hispanization and the creation of heritage and patrimony within it as an important part of the event which was just performed last week.

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