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Review of  Language Revitalization Processes and Prospects: Quichua in the Ecuadorian Andes

Reviewer: Rachel Reynolds
Book Title: Language Revitalization Processes and Prospects: Quichua in the Ecuadorian Andes
Book Author: Kendall A. King
Publisher: Multilingual Matters
Linguistic Field(s): Language Documentation
Subject Language(s): Quichua, Chimborazo Highland
Book Announcement: 12.2045

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King, Kendall A. (2001) Language Revitalization Processes and
Prospects: Quichua in the Ecuadorian Andes. Multilingual Matters,
paperback ISBN: 1-85359-494-6.

Rachel R. Reynolds, English and Linguistics, University of Illinois at

King's ethnographic study of the efforts to revitalize Quichua in two
highland communities has two central foci. The first is to report on
the state of language use and language attitudes in these communities
and generally to explain the climate under which both towns have
shifted from Quichua to Spanish. The second focus involves
investigating the multifarious pedagogical, social and political issues
within language planning and education in this community. King
concludes by recommending how local indigenous people and the
educational institutions for their children might be better charged to
handle the tasks of re-introducing the Quichua language in a new,
diglossic environment.

Summary by Chapter.

Chapters one and two are background materials, including a review on
recent works in language planning and revitalization, as well as a
methodological explanation of how King conducted her ethnographic
fieldwork between school sites and work sites in two Quichua towns -
one on the pan-American highway and one further into the hinterland.

Chapters three and four look at language use and ethnic identity in the
two communities and how the indigenous sense of the group is connected
to metalinguistic attitudes. King finds interesting contrasts between
the two towns. In the highway town people are better off economically
and are better integrated into the mainstream community; they tend to
rely on the idea that the Quichua language differentiates them from the
mestizos/mixed-blood and the gente blanca/white people. (Note that
although they say Quichua differentiates them from others, few young
people actually speak anything more than greetings and a few nouns).
In the other more isolated community, Quichua people who live and
migrate pastorally through cattle lands in eastern Ecuador say that
their identity is tied up in recognition of their fortitude and ability
to do hard work; they do not stress language as a principal form of
ethnic identification. Meanwhile, parents in both communities are
caught up in competing streams of language pressures, especially to
ensure that their children learn the Spanish they will need to garner
power within the Ecuadorian economic and political landscape. Another
problem for revitalization is standardization. King provides a
fascinating discussion about how local people perceive of the
differences between the local variety of Quichua (which the elderly and
some middle-aged people speak), and the standardized variety (which a
few university-types have learned). Other material in these chapters
includes an analysis of intergenerational linguistic changes, and a
discussion of how and why the Spanish or Quichua languages are used in
various domains or in different registers.

Chapter five contrasts the ways that community schools are working to
revive Quichua in the two communities (see below for more details).

Chapter six concludes with a discussion that evaluates the successes
and failures of language planning in the town, the canton and the
country, with attention to comparative examples from efforts to revive
Maori, Gaelic, Tlingit and other languages. King's recommendations for
language revitalization in the Andes provide valuable lessons for any
ethnic group whose members are undergoing language shift (she looks at
works by Fishman and by Hornberger in order to synthesize her own

Summary of points made in previous review.

A previous reviewer, Joan Smith/Kocamahhul (2001), has already
addressed issues of this book as an ethnography. Smith/Kocamahhul took
note of King's well-organized discussion about method, and the earlier
review also lauded King's discussion of how ethnographic investigation
often requires the investigator to be adaptive to the (changing) ways
that her informants perceive her. Smith/Kocamahhul also mentions that
King's book rings true as substantive comparative data across studies
of language shift. With these topics already discussed, I will then
devote my review space to the discussion of the impact this book may
have on pedagogy (referring mostly to King's chapter five, on community


The value of King's work here is that she demonstrates explicitly how
school efforts are entwined in the revitalization project through
careful fact-finding from classroom and community observation. She
finds, for example, that in both communities, pedagogical approaches
are inconsistent with the goals of educators and local people in
imparting the Quichua language. One school purports to be progressive
and Quichua-centered in its culturally sensitive Montessori approach,
but in reality, students receive only limited and psycholinguistically
inadequate instruction in Quichua. The other school is based on a more
traditional model in which "learning" involves persistent copying of
disembodied "facts" into notebooks (although King doesn't use the term,
some call this `drill and kill' pedagogy). School teachers end up
drilling already somewhat fluent students in the same well-known
Quichua nouns and verbs repeatedly, year after year, teaching the same
lessons to all grades repeatedly. Also, just like the school teachers,
most parents use Spanish all the time, believing that language teaching
involves merely imparting Quichua vocabulary and politeness words. No
one in these towns demands that students interact in or produce
utterances in Quichua. Furthermore, many educators and parents are
under the mistaken impression that their efforts are adequate to
reverse language shift and revitalize Quichua. And yet - and this is
where King's analysis starts to become so valuable - despite the
inadequate attempts to reintroduce Quichua as the community language,
these efforts are producing a heightened sense among youths that the
Quichua language is legitimate and beautiful, reversing in effect
previous years of the stigmatization of the language, and planting the
seeds for a (possible) cultural revival in the coming generation.

In other words, King realizes that the complexity of the situation, the
lack of understanding of local people about the ways language is
taught, as well as the advanced state of language shift in this
community, portends that any attempts to revive Quichua in its
"original" state is not feasible. Instead of outlining vast and not
feasible programs of whole scale revival, her conclusion does two
things: 1) she evaluates the real social impact of revitalization
efforts to date, and 2) via community-specific recommendations for
language planning, she opens a possible road for a new diffusion of
Quichua language and culture through the region.

For example, King notes that (following Dorian 1987) even
"unsuccessful" language planning is a vital first step in building the
status of the language among indigenous people. Within the Andean
context, efforts so far have generated new symbolic contexts for the
use of Quichua, as well as community discussions that explicitly seek
to explain, document and shape how indigenous people conceive of
Quichua culture. Indeed, even if a language dies altogether, that a
group can cohere around efforts to keep it alive and produce community-
based documentation and archival expressions of the culture are
extraordinarily important outcomes.

But the Quichua language also has a fighting chance, and King's study
provides a discussion on how to inculcate the values and programs
necessary to bring some vital form of Quichua language back into every
day use among the young. King concludes by giving nine specific
suggestions to encourage revitalization of the language, but broadly,
she recommends community education about what language is and how it is
best taught with an eye to further empowering community members to plan
the direction of cultural preservation in the Andean highlands. She
also notes (and explains why) that school-based immersion programs are
the best bet at this stage.


Kocamahhul/Smith (2001) has noted that it is quite valuable for
fieldworkers planning their studies in language planning. I will add
to the list of potential audiences by saying that this ethnography is
comprehensive (and clear and detailed) enough to be an introductory
text for graduate students in language teaching programs. It is also a
model ethnography of education for even those teachers who are in
monolingual environments; for example, it clearly and concisely
contrasts two types of community-based schooling and shows how language
attitudes and local perceptions of teaching can shape entire curricula.
I intend to use it as a primer for those advanced undergraduate
linguistics students who ask about language planning, or for those who
anticipate working with indigenous people in N.G.O.'s or the Peace Corp
as teachers. That said, a reader looking for a theoretically informed
sociolinguistic ethnography of communication will not find one here;
rather the book is explicitly about pedagogy, community attitudes
towards language, and language planning - by an expert classroom
practitioner who brings her experience to bear on the Quichua situation
realistically and conscientiously.


Dorian, N. (1987) The value of language-maintenance efforts which are
unlikely to succeed. International Journal of the Sociology of
Language. 68, 57-67.

Fishman, Joshua. (1991) Reversing Language Shift. Clevedon, U.K.,
Multilingual Matters.

Hornberger, Nancy. (1994) Literacy and Language Planning. Language and
Education, 8, 75-86.

Smith/Kocamahhul, Joan. (2001) Review of King, Language Revitalization
Processes and Prospects: Quichua in the Ecuadorian Andes.

Rachel Reynolds is a PhD Candidate in the Specialization of Language,
Literacy and Rhetoric in the Department of English, University of
Illinois at Chicago. Her dissertation is an ethnography of the rhetoric
of local identity and globalization employed among Igbo (Nigerian)
transnational immigrants.


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