Everyone in Puno gets involved with raising sheep and alpaca.
To work as a linguistic anthropologist, it is important to do fieldwork. Normally, this might mean traveling to a remote location to hear people speak and use a language. In my case, it means actual “field work” as I herd sheep or alpacas. Other times, I plant or harvest crops. I don’t do this work alone. I work alongside the people I study.
For me, this is a perfect way to hear people speak and to learn how they use their language. And of course, I listen for new words and any sign that what people are speaking is different from the languages I already know.
When herding, my new neighbors and I would take the animals to remote hillside patches where they could graze all day before coming home at night. On these long walks, I learned a lot about the people I was with and even more about the landscapes where they have lived their entire lives.
All families here grow their own food. Every September, they plant the crops they will need for the year: several types of potatoes, onions, carrots, barley, fava beans, corn, and quinoa, the seed‑like Andean super‑grain that is high in protein and fiber. I nurtured my understanding of these people while nurturing my green thumb.
A woman herds her flock of sheep near Lake Titicaca.
Not all days were spent in the fields. When I study a language, I like to interview people. I ask them to speak for me. It is called elicitation.
With my portable recorder and microphone, I ask people to say specific words or sentences. Then I can study these later to understand the overall characteristics of how they are spoken.
Other times, I record free‑form conversations. During these sessions, people talk about whatever they want to. They tell me about their lives. They tell me local Andean folktales or talk about important news events in the region.
Some comment on the changes they have witnessed in the region and with their language.
Most of the people who speak with me are 50 years old or older. They have lived their entire lives in these hillside villages. They continue many of the same farming and herding traditions and practices as their parents and grandparents.
women in Puno, Peru
Many speak their languages fluently, but tell me that they are worried about the younger generations. Younger people don’t speak the languages as much as their grandparents or great‑grandparents. Many young people only speak Spanish.
It is really sunny.
The people here often look for ways to celebrate life. I am invited to the annual reenactment of the arrival of Manco Qhapaq and Mama Ocllo. They are the mythical couple who are said to have founded Puno, and eventually, the Inca Empire. I realize the local people are celebrating their heritage and their languages.
During my studies in this region, I listened closely. I had hoped to come to this place and hear a new language, one that I did not know. While the people here do speak Quechua and Aymara varieties that are slightly different across generations and places, I did not discover what could be called a new language.
I consider my time here well spent, though. I learned how these people live and how they use their language. I learned about their heritage. And I learned how much more there is to discover about these people and their wonderful words.
At an annual celebration, actors portray the mythical couple who founded Puno.
See you later!
GULF OF MEXICO