Who Are We, Thoughts on News and Pronouns


Peru’s other main indigenous language, Aymara, gained this last week a national television news program spoken in it.  This advancing recognition of native peoples and their languages is thrilling and undoubtedly will have an impact within the country, and not just in the extensive area where the language is spoken.

For some time now, local radio has broadcast in the language and has played an important role in the development of the Aymara as social and political actors in the region elsewhere. They have helped develop the idea of the Aymara Markasa, Our Aymara People (or Nation) as a nation within the nation, a national people within Peru and in neighboring Bolivia

In this light, as someone who has worked as an anthropologist in Aymara-speaking Bolivia and has written a bit about the struggles for place and identity, I was struck by one thing.  I noticed it in the naming of the fellow Quechua language TV news program but the  Aymara one struck a chord.

Both programs have a name that in Spanish is translated as “we” or that is translated from Spanish.  I say this latter because in Peru the name of the language of the altiplano is spelled with the normalized Spanish “i’, Aimara, in a subtle subordination of the language to the Spanish speaking, multicultural state. In Bolivia, the spelling maintains strongly the “y” as a kind of rejection and calling of attention to the Bolivian state.

Since there are two pronouns for we in both Quechua and Aymara, the one chosen carries meaning.  The first is a we that includes all of us in my group, or like me, but excludes you and yours. The linguists call it an exclusive we, and it is something very appropriate to situations of ethnic, class, or national exclusion where people develop a pride in self as a defense against dominant society. 

In Quechua, this pronoun is ñoqayku and is not the name of the news program.  That is not the we chosen for it.  Instead, the program is called Ñoqanchik, the other we, the inclusive one as the linguists call it.  This pronoun includes the speaker and people hearing it who may not share the speaker’s identity. It brings a general and vague you into the conversation when this pronoun is heard.

The news program in Aymara also rejects the exclusive we, nanaca in favor of the inclusive one, jiwasa. However, it has another little detail that non-Aymara speakers will not pick up. It is not just plural inherently as a “we”, the people who put the program together emphasized its plurality as you can in Aymara by adding a suffix that makes things more than one, naka.

As a result, the program broadcast at 5 am, featuring Rita Choquecahua (Miski Panqarita) y Walter Escobar, both native Aymara speakers from Puno, Peru, overemphasizes the plurality of those others, drawn into the conversation.

While it could mean those Aymara speakers beyond the immediate family of the broadcasters, had they called the program Nanaka, which already has naka in it, the program organizers could have used the pronoun to build a linguistic wall around Aymara speakers as an ethnic group or a nation within Peru, the Aymar Markasa.  Instead, they envision their interlocutors, their audience as doubly plural, perhaps like the Peruvian nation which is the subject of much of the news, far beyond the interests or focus of an Aymara nation.

This tiny little choice of a name means so much.


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