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Kichwa or Quichua? Competing Alphabets, Political Histories, and Complicated Reading in Indigenous Languages
Over the past century, missionary educators, nation-state and academic planners, and literacy development workers have used alphabets for political ends for traditionally marginalized languages, and Native peoples have contested such planning with other alphabet proposals. Yet literacy work now often overlooks that there are multiple alphabets circulated in reading materials for the same Indigenous language. This article shows how standardization, a process long favored by academics, has been a major source of disagreement. It combines historical analysis of the politics of alphabetic literacy in Latin America with ethnographic research on Kichwa (Ecuadorian Quechua) to demonstrate how contrastive alphabets affect current literacy efforts. Distinct but overlapping alphabets create difficulties for readers in Ecuador, and alphabet histories affect how people perceive and interact with schooling materials. Sometimes just the shape of a single letter invokes emotions. Orthographies are thus bound up in histories of language contact among colonial and marginalized languages, complicating educational research, planning, and assessment’s efforts to make alphabetic literacy into a monolingual, neutral, or standardized process.
Read Professor Nicholas Limerick's article in the Comparative Education Review here.