After finishing her sophomore year of college in Florida, Alana DeLoge still didn’t know which direction to take her studies. So, the young woman who always had an interest in languages acted on impulse and decided to spend the summer studying Quechua, an indigenous South American language, at a small school in Cochabamba, Bolivia. There, she found a new passion and a way forward.
DeLoge is now at Pitt, where she teaches Quechua through the Less Commonly Taught Languages Center while pursuing a PhD in linguistics. (She’s already earned master’s degrees in anthropology and public health—both with emphases on issues related to Quechua speakers.) She also leads Pitt in Bolivia, a study abroad program that brings Pitt undergrads to Cochabamba for a summer of cultural immersion, language learning, service, and adventure—a transformative experience DeLoge (A&S ’07G, GSPH ’12) knows well.
How long did it take you to learn Quechua?
I started 15 years ago and I am still learning. Quechua is very different from English and other Indo-European languages, so you have to be intentional about practice. For example, Quechua has an evidential system, which means speakers mark how they know information. You say “she walked” one way if you saw it happen, and another if someone told you it happened.
Why should someone learn a language that’s rarely encountered in the United States?
Languages hold the key to all kinds of knowledge, including how people think of health, the environment, and what it means to be human. Many of my students study anthropology, law, public health, linguistics, or political science with interest in the Andean region—and language and politics are very connected. Others are primarily interested in learning about a culture and a worldview very different from their own.
Do Quechua words ever appear in English?
Yes! There are several, but two of my favorites are “jerky,” from ch’arki, and “llama,” from llama. English speakers are always so surprised because people think that indigenous languages like Quechua are not connected to our modern, global world, but there are about 10 million Quechua speakers currently living in South America.
What’s Pitt in Bolivia all about?
On a day-to-day basis, it’s about learning just how culturally specific almost all of our behavior is, whether trying to buy food in a market or navigating what to do at a table. Students are humbled; they learn compassion, to take things with a sense of humor. They learn just how many different ways there are to view and understand the world.
Opening image: Alana DeLoge
This article appeared in the Winter 2018 issue of Pitt Magazine.