Fellow's Talk

The Puquina Language in the Seventeenth-Century Andes

94 George Street

Providence, RI 02906

Image from: Vue du Détroit de Tinquina. sur le Lac de Titicaca. Plateau des Andes. (Bolivia.) [Alcide Dessalines d'Orbigny 1844]. Original at the John Carter Brown Library.

In the 17th century, the area around Lake Titicaca (in modern-day Peru and Bolivia) was home to an intensely multilingual society. People spoke several languages, in many combinations, including Quechua, Aymara, Puquina, Uru-Chipaya, and later, Spanish. However, Puquina disappeared in the 19th century as its speakers shifted to Aymara and Quechua. Strikingly, despite the historical importance of Puquina, very little information about the language survives today.

"The Puquina Language in the Seventeenth-Century Andes: Glimpses of a Multilingual Society in the Aymara Writings of Ludovico Bertonio" describes how the systematic analysis of the vast 17th century Aymara writings of the Jesuit priest Ludovico Bertonio—composed in consultation with Aymara speakers whose neighbors and recent ancestors spoke Puquina—can tell us more about Puquina and its place in the region’s sociolinguistic ecology. A careful analysis of Bertonio’s writings also yields evidence about the historical development of the contemporary Aymara dialects, and about the culture of verbal expression among Aymara speakers in the 17th century.

Nicholas Emlen (Leiden University), Donald L. Saunders/National Endowment for the Humanities Fellow