"Our language is our soul" - saving Aymara

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‘Our language is our soul’: saving Aymara

by Alexia Kalaitzi


Aymara is not only a language. It is people, a culture, the past and the future ... (landofwinds.blogspot.co.uk under a Creative Commons Licence)

‘Can you imagine speaking your first language at home and then going to school and learning a foreign language? It is a big shock,’ says Ruben Hilare. He is an activist from the Bolivian indigenous community of Aymara, and he is describing what happens for many children in the community.

Aymara is a native American language and a group of people. More than a million people in Bolivia and several large communities in Peru, Chile and Argentina speak it. Aymara is an official language in Bolivia, but almost everything in public is in Spanish. There are only a few television shows and radio programmes in Aymara. And they teach Aymara at school for only one hour a week.

There was no Aymara on the internet, but now this is changing. Ruben Hilare and others from the community members are trying to save their language by using it on the internet. They have started an on-line community called Jaqi Aru.

Jaqi Aru wants to get more people to use Aymara. They have created blogposts, videos and podcasts and use it on social media. They now have Wikipedia in Aymara, and they have almost finished the translation of Facebook.

‘Our language is our soul. For us it is everything. It is knowledge, our parents, our past and our future. We really want the next generation to be able to use Aymara in every area of life: technology, chemistry, biology, new media,’ says Ruben.

If they make the language modern and create new words for the 21st century, young people will be able to use their first language in every part of their lives. ‘I remember when I was at university, professors gave me books in Spanish. Sometimes I had to read them three or four times to understand the meaning. I do not want this to happen any more. This is why I am doing this project; it is an for the Aymaran young people,’ he says.

Elias Chura is a volunteer for Jaqi Aru. He joined the team when he was at university: ‘It was the first time that I saw my language on the internet and I felt great. I knew then that I wanted to do more to support this.’

Other young people do not want to use their language. ‘They do not use it because of the prejudice, but also because in Spanish there are words for everything: technology, science... They do not understand that Aymara can be like any other language. Part of my work is to make them see how important our language is. If we lose Aymara, we will lose our language and culture,’ says Elias.

In the 1970s and 1980s, there was discrimination against the communities that spoke Aymara. The situation has improved since then; now even the Bolivian president, Evo Morales, comes from the Aymara indigenous community.

But Ruben says there is still discrimination against people who use the language. When he writes Facebook posts in Aymaran, many people have called him a ‘peasant’ (uneducated person).

Many Aymara young people have left the rural areas, where indigenous communities live, and moved to big cities. This makes it more difficult to pass on the language and culture to their children. But if they use the internet, Ruben and his team hope to encourage more and more young South Americans to use their mother tongue to save Aymara for future generations.

NOW READ THE ORIGINAL: http://newint.org/blog/2014/06/17/endangered-languages-aymara/ (This article has been simplified so the words, text structure and quotes may have been changed)