Scholar's not-impossible dream: To preserve the language of the Incas





CALLAO, PERU

'Somewhere in La Mancha, in a place whose name I do not care to remember, a gentleman lived not long ago."

Simple enough, right? But not for Demetrio Tupac Yupanqui.

Instead, he regales visitors to his home in this gritty port city on Lima's edge with his Quechua version of the opening words of "Don Quixote": "Huh k'iti, la Mancha llahta suyupin, mana yuyarina markapin, yaqa kay watakuna kama, huh axllasqa wiraqucha."

Tupac Yupanqui, theologian, professor, adviser to presidents and, now, at the sunset of his long life, a groundbreaking translator of Cervantes, greets the perplexed reactions to these words with a wide smile.

"When people communicate in Quechua, they glow," said Tupac Yupanqui, who at 85 still appears before his pupils each day in a tailored dark suit. "It is a language that persists five centuries after the conquistadors arrived. We cannot let it die."

Once the lingua franca of the Inca empire, Quechua has long been in decline. But thanks to Tupac Yupanqui and others, Quechua, which remains the most widely spoken indigenous language in the Americas, is winning some new respect.

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