Conceptualization and Linguistic Encoding of Spatial Concepts in South Bolivian Quechua


During my three weeks in Cochabamba, Bolivia, I achieved my goals of forming contacts with local linguists and speakers of Quechua, as well as interviewing native speakers of Quechua to check data previously collected from a native speaker of Quechua in Berkeley.  My visit to Bolivia built on my previous experience working on Zapotec language documentation in Oaxaca, Mexico, which began in 2012 and continues to the present.  Furthermore, the data that I collected in Cochabamba furthered the research on directed motion events in Quechua that I had begun in Berkeley in fall 2016, and which I have submitted as my Master's Thesis in Linguistics.  In Cochabamba, I formed contacts with individuals at Universidad San Simón who were able to point me in useful directions to find speakers of Quechua.  I worked closely with Julieta Zurita, a professor of Quechua for undergraduate students, observing approximately 10 hours of classes that she taught which were aimed at different groups of students.  This observation helped me to understand some dynamics of Quechua sociolinguistics, particularly the level of fluency of young people in Cochabamba, as well as the domains in which they are or are not likely to use Quechua.  I also participated in a workshop led by Dr. Pedro Plaza in which we traveled to a local elementary school and worked with teachers to help them teach Quechua following the communicative model.  Again, this allowed me to understand how Quechua is and is not used by children in Cochabamba.  Having developed some contacts with Quechua-speaking individuals, I was able to collect data from several speakers on how directed motion is expressed in Quechua.  I recorded 13.5 hours with my main consultant, Fridda Ramos, during which I verified data previously collected in Berkeley.  I also collected data on spatial relations and complex motion events using stimuli developed by the Max Planck Institute for use in fieldwork and worked to translate several traditional Quechua stories into Spanish.  In addition, I participated in a language exchange during which I spoke with native Quechua speakers in English, and they spoke to me in Quechua.  In this case, the speakers were not comfortable being recorded, nor did they want to be identified, so I collected anonymous data from them.  Once I had collected sufficient data on direction motion in Quechua, I presented my preliminary findings during an invited talk at Universidad San Simón, where I received helpful feedback from faculty and students alike.  At the end of my time in Cochabamba, I was invited to teach a two-hour workshop on formal syntactic and semantic theory to a group of 60 students.  This workshop was well received, and I have been invited back to give a longer workshop next summer if I am able to return to Cochabamba.  Although I was able to achieve my goals in Cochabamba, looking back on my strategies now that I more fully understand certain elements of Quecha culture, I believe that I could have been more efficient in data collection.  The most difficult barrier that I faced was finding native speakers of Quechua who were willing to work with me during my short time in Bolivia. Given that Cochabamba is a large, urban area, there are many individuals who do not speak Quechua, or who are embarrassed to speak Quechua.  In the future, I would like to work with speakers in more rural, Quechua-dominant areas around Cochabamba.  Part of the reason that I did not do so on this trip was that I wished to replicate my findings from the speaker I had worked with already in Berkeley, and this speaker is from Cochabamba itself; I assumed that the language would be quite different in other towns.  However, as I traveled to neighboring towns and spoke with individuals from outside of Cochabamba, it became clear to me that while variation exists, varieties of Quechua spoken in the Cochabamba area are all mutually intelligible, and most variation is phonetic rather than syntactic, and thus would not affect my analysis.  Knowing this now, in future work I would expect data gathered from towns near Cochabamba to show the same patterns as observed in the city itself, and I would choose to work in smaller towns to facilitate the identification of speakers with interest in participating in my research.  Despite some difficulties, I am satisfied to have collected data from additional speakers with respect to directed motion.  This data has proved invaluable for my Master's Thesis and has contributed to a deeper understanding of both of the specific ways in which motion is encoded in Quechua and of how motion can be theorized cross-linguistically.  In particular, the data that I have collected has allowed me to demonstrate that two previously unassociated syntactic accounts of a path can be united, while also problematizing the semantics that has been proposed for these structures.  While the greater investigation of movement in Quechua remains to be completed, this work marks a step forward in incorporating data from non-European languages into formal syntactic theories and shows that through using data from understudied languages, we can arrive at better syntactic and semantic theories.  

Julia Nee
Publication date: 
August 18, 2017
Publication type: 
Student Research