Hello, Hugo! I´m really happy we can talk about what we both like, I mean languages. To have a good start, could you tell something about yourself? What do you do? Do you work or study? How was it that you started learning languages and you liked it?
Hello! Well, my name is Hugo, i was born and raised in the Atacama region, in the north of Chile. Then i moved to Santiago –the capital– and then to France and then Italy. I am a biochemist and i am currently doing a PhD in sciences with a specialisation in oenology. I always liked languages, when i was young and we had internet at home for the first time, one of the first things that i did was looking for courses of languages. I remember that i tried to learn Chinese and Latin. Then Sindarin and Quenya. I always loved languages.
That’s really interesting, why haven’t you chosen to study Linguistics at the University? So far, what languages have paid your attention? Why you liked the most?
Because i have always been scientist-minded and i love biochemistry, too. And then i think that scientists can contribute a lot to the field of linguistic rights, development and political linguistics. After the languages that i mentioned before i studied some Sanskrit, but the languages that really caught my attention are Quechua and Mapudungun, two indigenous languages of South America. I couldn’t say which i like the most, they are both fascinating. I have also some very basic notions of Aymara and Nahuatl, they both seem very attractive to me. And i would love to know some Mayan languages, too.
I can see your plan was really well-thought-out, you know what you’re doing and why – that’s a great thing that no everyone can get. But the languages you’ve mentioned, these are the languages I would like to ask you about. I can say, probably as many of the people reading it, I’ve heard about Quechua, but what about the other ones? Could you introduce them briefly?
Well, as a very brief introduction: they are all living languages, even if many people think that they are dead. Quechua was once the lingua franca of the Inca empire. Nahuatl was the lingua franca of the Aztec empire. Mayan is, of course, the language spoken by Mayas. Aymara is the language spoken by the Aymara people that live in the Andean highlands, close to lake Titicaca and also in part of Chile. And Mapudungun is the language spoken by the Mapuche people in southern Chile and part of Argentina.
I guess they’re not really related even if the distance is not really big, but what interested me the most, and what you write about in your blog, is Mapudungun. What’s this language? Is it at least a little bit similar to all those languages you mentioned?
Well, the distance is actually quite big, and yes, they are not related. Mapudungun is, as i just said, the language of the Mapuche. They are the most numerous indigenous people in Chile, and the most spoken indigenous language in Chile, too. I admire this people, because they were the first independent nation in South America, since the Spanish crown recognised their sovereignty in 1641. They are also the only indigenous people in South America that managed to keep their freedom and were never conquered by the Spaniards. Their language shares some common features with the other languages of South America, like being polysynthetic and agglutinative. However, it remains an isolate according to linguists. It shares some common words with Quechua, because also the Inca tried to conquer them before the Spaniards (they didn’t manage to do it, neither), and the contact was intense enough to bring some borrowings, but compared to the whole vocabulary of Mapudungun the words coming from Quechua are not so many.
Now I can understand why you like it so much. There’s a really big thing to admire. However, okay, you learnt this language you write your blog about it, but do you know personally some of Mapuche? What’s your plan relative to this language? Or there’s no plan and you want to enjoy the language itself?
Yes, i know some Mapuche people personally, some of them are very close friends. There is no plan, i enjoy the language since it is the heart of their culture, and i try to contribute as much as i can. For example, there isn’t any official alphabet nor orthographic rules, so i have developed my own. I would also like to promote scientific research that can help their economy, make them the protagonists of their own development. For example, i would love to help indigenous children to study, and then write scientific publications both in their native language and in english. That way I would help their economic and educational development and also help to keep the language alive.
That is surely a lot of work to be done, but I’m sure with time we’ll see you helping those people more and more. I wish you a lot of passion to keep doing what you like and I hope you will bring up to date all you do so as we could so how a single person can see so many people.
If you want to knowm more about this language, visit Hugo’s website: click here.
Below you can see Hugo speaking Mapudungun and Quechua.
Have you ever heard of it? Or maybe you too learn some indigenous languages?
1. The text in the title comes from this song in Mapudungun: click here.