What is the official language of Peru? Well, nothing proves more the diversity of this country than the wide spectrum of linguistics here. So, whilst Spanish may be the predominant language of business and education systems, the traditional tongues Quechua and Aymara remain prominent, without counting the hundreds of other native dialects.
As you travel east of the Andes, towards Amazonian territory, the various branches of the language tree become more extensive; with the number of spoken languages counted today at around 150. Unfortunately, this figure used to be much higher, with several hundred tongues being lost during the European conquests.
With such a vast span of different regions and customs within Peru, the fact that it’s such an eclectic melting pot of ‘lingo’ is no surprise.
Quechua was promoted heavily by the Incas at the time of their empire and today, it maintains some strength as a spoken language, especially in the Andean regions. With 13% of the population speaking it, Quechua is still the native language with the highest number of speakers in Peru. Aymara is the third language here, but numbers of speakers have decreased over the years due to influence from both Spanish and Quechua.
There are two sides to the coin when it comes to the languages of Peru. On one hand there is an admirable sense of authenticity in the fact that native Peruvians have held fiercely onto their language and traditions, despite powerful international influences (even colonisation); such a proud achievement is something to be celebrated and protected.
On the other hand, there is a real need for the country to advance economically and in terms of education. For citizens, this means using more world-friendly languages like Spanish over their native tongues.
More than 80% of the population here speaks Spanish (or Castellano) and even the Peruvians who speak a native language like Quechua or Aymara, are usually bilingual with Spanish. Clearly, newer generations of Peruvians recognise the necessity for global languages in Peru, with the demand for English also higher than ever.
The private education system here is a lucrative industry, with English-Spanish bilingual schools the most popular choice for investment. Furthermore, there is an increasing number of English academies and English language schools being established every year, pushing other idioms and dialects to the sidelines.
For these reasons, and sadly so, it appears an uncertain future for traditional languages like Quechua and Aymara. With so many native tongues already extinct, gone forever like lost treasures, and having taken with them generations of centuries-old practices, it begs the question: what will the real impact be for Peru – and indeed the world – if the remaining languages do die out?
To what extent will the sheer wealth of knowledge and profundity of heritage be misplaced by the see-saw of preserving ancient traditions with 21st century Peru? It seems only time will tell.