K’ancha the Cholita.

Teo Armus writes for the Washington Post (February 23, archived) about a woman who is trying to preserve Quechua language and culture:

Before she can begin filming her online radio show, María Luz Coca Luján must first transform herself into “K’ancha,” a digital persona dressed like the Indigenous “cholitas” of her native Bolivia. So on one recent afternoon, she hustled back home to swap out her construction attire for that traditional outfit — a colorful, billowing skirt, dangling gold jewelry, a bowler hat atop her neatly braided hair — and then started live-streaming. […]

Soon there were hundreds tuned in — from Madrid, Chile, New York — as the 32-year-old launched into a chatty monologue that rapidly became a vocabulary lesson in Quechua, the Indigenous South American language she has been battling to keep alive. “Tell me all the words that you all use to convey anger,” she told them. “Let’s build our dictionary in Quechua, yeah?”

In Northern Virginia, home to the largest Bolivian population in the United States, this regular broadcast has helped Coca Luján, a.k.a. K’ancha, fashion herself into something between a social media influencer and cultural preservationist for this community of 40,000. […]

“She’s not presenting it for an outsider. She’s tailoring it to the people who are part of the culture,” said Karen Vallejos, a Bolivian American who grew up in Northern Virginia and now runs an area nonprofit for undocumented youth. “She’s using slang, she’s using nicknames, things people from the community would understand. … [Young people] see her dressed up in the clothes their grandma would wear, and they want to know more.”

A handful of other Bolivian women play a similar role in Northern Virginia, each with their own social-media radio show and following across the diaspora. They all self-identify as cholitas, or women who claim their Indigenous Andean heritage and preserve this style of dress. But K’ancha, who studied Quechua in graduate school before coming to the United States, has seemingly been the most intent on using her microphone and ring light as tools to keep her heritage alive. […]

Growing up in Bolivia’s Valle Alto highlands, Coca Luján rarely wore the outfit that has become synonymous with the region’s cholitas — especially not the pollera, or long skirt. Although Bolivia has one of the largest Indigenous populations in South America — more than two-thirds of the national population, by some measures — that type of dress and the heritage it stood for were looked down upon and stereotyped.

In a country governed by people with mostly European ancestry, these Indigenous women were relegated to the fringes of society. (The word “cholita” derives from “chola,” a term for Indigenous women that took on a derogatory tone.) […]

When a grass-roots, Indigenous movement spread through Bolivia in the early 2000s, though, conditions for cholitas finally started to change. That push culminated in the rise of the left-wing leader Evo Morales, who repealed laws targeting cholitas and required all public-sector workers to learn an Indigenous language such as Quechua.

“What I started understanding is that there was something in me that was connected to the culture and to Quechua,” Coca Luján said. She dove into her native tongue, even enrolling in graduate school to further study the language she had once shunned. […]

Coca Luján had always been painfully shy, she said, even when first getting involved in the local performance scene. But when a Bolivian DJ asked her to speak in Quechua on his Facebook Live radio show, she did not hesitate. “If there is something about this country that I have to highlight,” Coca Luján said, “it’s that perhaps it has taught me to dare to do many things, to have a lot of courage.”

She went to Best Buy to purchase a laptop, practicing over and over in live-streams that only she could watch. She adopted the name K’ancha, which translates to “light,” just like her name in Spanish. Soon, she found such an enthusiastic fan base that she launched her own radio show.

There’s lots more about her personal story and about the community; this kind of thing seems more likely to succeed in keeping a language alive than dogged classroom work. (And if you’re wondering, cholo is apparently of uncertain origin, though back in 1933 the OED said it was “American Spanish, < Cholollán, now Cholula, a district of Mexico.”)


  1. cuchuflete says

    (And if you’re wondering, cholo is apparently of uncertain origin, though back in 1933 the OED said it was “American Spanish, < Cholollán, now Cholula, a district of Mexico.”)

    The Diccionario de la RAE offers:

    cholo, la
    1. adj. Arg., Bol., C. Rica, Ec., Pan., Perú y R. Dom. Mestizo de sangre europea e indígena. U. t. c. s.

    2. adj. Ec., Méx., Pan. y Perú. Dicho de un indio: Que adopta los usos occidentales.

  2. I don’t find “online radio show” an acceptable term for something with a video feed. But maybe others differ.

    I also love that style of Andean women’s dress. Except for the bowlers. I don’t get the bowlers.

  3. I, on the other hand, love the bowlers, but then I would, wouldn’t I?

  4. J.W. Brewer says

    The usual AmEng meaning of cholo/a with which I’m familiar is what wiktionary has as “(derogatory) A Mexican or Hispanic gang member, or somebody perceived to embody similar characteristics.” I think of it as a Southern-Californianism, although I guess I don’t have affirmative evidence that it isn’t also e.g. a Texanism. But it’s not about degrees of mestizoness or indigeneity. The meaning may be otherwise in Bolivian Spanish, of course.

    Even w/o knowing Spanish, cholita as a diminutive of chola is more or less transparent to me, but I can’t say I’ve encountered it in English.

  5. How did the bowler hats become part of the ‘traditional’ apparel? Was there an invasion of Bolivia by hordes of mid-level British civil servants sometime in the 19th century?

  6. J.W. Brewer says

    I largely agree w/ Brett’s judgment of unacceptability.* Part of the whole point of doing radio is that you don’t need to worry about wardrobe/hair/makeup before going on the air! That said, there’s been blurring and crossover in recent-ish years. Perhaps a sign of the End Times?

    *I also have a gripe about “online radio.” Lots of radio stations extend their audiences via internet livestreaming beyond their broadcast range, but I am dubious about online-only things billing themselves as radio, although that’s definitely a thing that some of the Young People say and do … Those are just real-time podcasts, say I! Of course I’m so old as to think that if you don’t have an all-analog signal chain from your two-turntables-and-a-microphone to the transmitter, as well as a genuine teletype machine down the hall spooling out the news headlines to read during mike breaks, you’re not really doing “real radio.”

  7. I’d say -ito/-ita means in this context “smile when you say that.” It takes the sting out of many possibly offending words, like viejo or gordo or bajo, and turns them into neutral descriptors.

  8. PlasticPaddy says

    I am surprised that bajito is non-derogatory. Do you know anyone who calls himself that? Do you mean bajito/viejito can be used affectionately?

  9. David Marjanović says
  10. I’ve learned to use bajito to describe someone as short, in a purposefully non-derogatory way, and viejito to describe someone as old where viejo would be rudely blunt. It’s not quite even affectionate, just factual, though in a familiar, informal way.

    I hope some Spanish speakers here can elaborate.

  11. Stu Clayton says

    Cholo (subculture)

    I ran across that last year.

  12. David Eddyshaw says


    In Kusaal, adjectives are only allowed as noun-phrase heads in very restricted circumstances, and even then only a few adjectives can be so used. Normally you supply as a dummy head either nin “person” or bʋn “thing”, as in e.g. ninsʋŋ “good person”, bʋnsʋŋ “good thing”, or in the neologism ninsabilis “Africans” (“black people.”)

    So you’d say ningiŋ for “short person”; if you say bʋngiŋ (which you might) you are attempting humour: “shortarse”, basically.

    However, bʋnkʋdʋg is the normal, not-trying-to-be-funny-at-all, word for “old man.”
    I have no idea why this is so.

    (“Old woman” is pu’anya’aŋ, which as far as the literal meaning of its components goes, should mean “female woman.” Language is strange.)

  13. cuchuflete says

    I’ve found things like the explanation below in a number of non-academic sites. I can’t vouch for their accuracy.

    “ This changed when the Spanish arrived to colonize South America. The Catholic Church insisted upon deciding what was right or wrong to wear among the indigenous population and many of their customs and traditions were disallowed, including their typical clothing. Thus, as of the 16th Century, the Spanish imposed a new style of dress upon the indigenous and mestizo (mixed race) population forcing them to wear the typical European clothing of the era, permitting just a few adaptations to local customs and climate. This is the Bolivian clothing you see “cholas” wearing in the Bolivian Andean highland region today. You can see this in the photos above and below.

    The word “chola” stems from the word “chula”. In Spain bullfighters had assistants called “chulos” and their wives were called “chulas”. They wore long pleated skirts, a lacey or embroidered blouse, a shawl and booties. Clothing used by other Spanish women was similar with long, pleated skirts, with a ‘miriñaque’ (bustle) underneath to hold up the heavy cape, a wide-brimmed hat adorned with a feather, and leather boots that covered their legs all the way up to the middle of the thigh. All of this was copied by the indigenous population, and over time, they adopted these as their own typical Bolivian clothes, and still wear them today. …”

    source: https://www.boliviabella.com/bolivian-clothing.html

  14. The -ito suffixing seems like it might be roughly analogous to English softening comparatives and/or additional adjectival suffixes (-ish, -ly). The example that springs most clearly to mind is how much more polite it seems to refer to someone as “elderly and shortish” rather than “old and short”.

  15. I don’t find “online radio show” an acceptable term for something with a video feed. But maybe others differ.

    We get quite a bit of “online radio” in NZ — originally started by a well-known TV current affairs broadcaster who found himself ‘downsized’.

    Part of the whole point of doing radio is that you don’t need to worry about wardrobe/hair/makeup before going on the air! That said, there’s been blurring and crossover in recent-ish years. …

    For current affairs, often a picture (or a map) is worth a thousand words. For me, the main advantage is you get actually 60 minutes of information; not 20 mins of adverts with (seemingly) a need to recap after each ad break so you get less than 30 mins information.

    I agree it’s unfortunate for broadcasters describable as “having a good face for radio” — particularly if they’ve worked up their radio voice to evoke the pictures anyway. I can listen to the feed whilst doing something else, and glance at the pictures/charts from time to time.

  16. trying to preserve Quechua language and culture

    Do they have any view on whether cumar/comal is part of their Quechua?

  17. Horacio Abeledo says

    I’ve learned to use bajito to describe someone as short, in a purposefully non-derogatory way, and viejito to describe someone as old where viejo would be rudely blunt. It’s not quite even affectionate, just factual, though in a familiar, informal way.

    I hope some Spanish speakers here can elaborate.

    it all possible depending on context, tone of voice, …
    viejo can be roughly equivalent to colloquial old man, meaning father, also as a friendly address, viejito adds endearment. Neither is necessarily derogatory. .
    In general diminutives ito, ico, illo tend to add affectionate color but might be belittling on occasion

  18. Here is Joan Coromines (1980) Diccionario crítico etimológico de la lengua castellana, vol. 2, p. 406, on the etymology of cholo (in a note under chulo ‘cute; pretty; cocky’, itself originally 16th-early 17th century argot, ‘boy’):

    Es voz usada en el Perú, Chile, Bolivia y Río de la Plata, pero también en Costa Rica y quizá en otras partes. El origen no es claro, pero desde luego ha de ser americano. Suele admitirse procedencia aimará, pero Bertonio reconoce que era en su tiempo (1612) palabra poco usada en este idioma, y Garcilaso el Inca, que como mestizo peruano sabía perfectamente el quichua y no debía de ignorar del todo las cosas aimaraes y del Alto Perú, afirma que era voz traída de las Antillas. Quizá sea así, en vista del empleo en Costa Rica, adonde no llegan casi nunca las voces peruanas. Sea como quiera, cholo tiene siempre o; el testimonio de chulo ’mestizo’ referente a la Alta California, que cita Friederici, figurando en un texto escrito en inglés (1846) es sospechoso de reproducir el vocalismo español imperfectamente, y en cuanto a la forma aimará čhulu, claro está que no prueba nada puesto que estos idiomas aborígenes no distinguen fonológicamente la u de la o. Luego cholo no nos explicaría el cast. chulo desde el punto de vista fonético. Y no hablemos de las dificultades semánticas.

    There is a more recent treatment of this word in José Antonio Salas García (2008) “Peruanismos de origen mochica”, Boletín de la Academia Peruana de la Lengua 45, p. 31–58. He advocates an etymology from Mochica. I have reproduced the discussion in his article at length because the publication is not immediately accessible. Apologies for any uncaught OCR errors:

    1. Cholo.– Junto con González de la Rosa, proponemos al mochica cɥolu, ‘muchacho’, ‘muchacha’; como etimología de cholo. La vigésima segunda edición del DRAE, no ofrece ninguna etimología para este término:

    cholo, la. adj. Am. Mestizo de sangre europea e indígena.

    Nos ocuparemos de los aspectos formales que son una indispensable condición para sustentar una etimología y luego abordaremos los aspectos de contenido que den solidez a nuestra propuesta.

    1.1. Aspectos formales.– En lo formal es preciso aclarar cuál es la pronunciación del dígrafo <cɥ> con la <h> al revés y cómo la u final devino en o. En otras palabras, ¿cómo cɥolu se convirtió en nuestros actuales cholo y chola? Fernando de la Carrera (1644) da la caracterización de <cɥ> de la siguiente manera:

    “Esta letra siguiente es vna H. al reues, diferente sonido que las nuestras, muy necesaria y forçosa para diferenciar esta pronunciación. chido. chang. checan. &c. de la H. al reues, como cɥapa. cɥilpi. mæcɥquic. cɥolu.”

    El que de la Carrera compare vocablos como chido o chang con cɥapa o cɥilpi nos hace pensar que estamos ante sonidos similares. Es más, si observamos los cambios experimentados por palabras portadoras de <cɥ>, notaremos que este sonido evolucionó hasta llegar a ser ch, verbigratia, cɥapchap ‘techo’, cɥecɥmædchächmäd ‘hermana’, cɥelûchelū ‘halcón’, cɥicaca ‘calavera’ → chikaka ‘cráneo’, etc. Su caracterización, sin embargo, es insuficiente. Middendorf (1892: 51) da pistas de la probable interpretación de tal consonante:

    “Der Zahnlaut t Word mit drei Zischlauten verbunden:
    1) mit dem š, das spanische ch;
    2) mit dem j’, eine Verbindung, welche wir daher zum Unterschiede von der ersten, ähnlich lautenden c’h schreiben; dieser Laut c’h klingt wie im Deutschen tj

    “El sonido dental t está unido con tres sonidos sibilantes:
    1) con la š, la ch española;
    2) con la j’, una unión, que escribimos c’h para diferenciarla de la primera, de similar sonido. Este sonido c’h suena como en alemán tj (…)”

    Probablemente, haya sido una coarticulación oclusiva dental palatalizada. Sea como fuere, el hecho de comprobar, diacrónicamente, que pasó a ser ch en numerosos casos nos permite relacionar formalmente, cɥolu con cholo. El cambio de timbre de la vocal final es, fácilmente, explicable por la ausencia de u en final de palabra en el castellano patrimonial. A partir de la modificación de u en o, se produjo un proceso de gramaticalización; de modo tal que un préstamo carente de género, adquirió tal accidente gramatical. De tal guisa que junto con cholo se empezó a usar la voz chola como producto de la gramaticalización. No olvidemos que el término mochica <cɥolu> significaba, según de la Carrera (1644: 2) tanto ‘muchacho’ como ‘muchacha’. En lo formal, resta hacer un pequeño comentario acerca de la lateral de cɥolu, pues su evolución, tendrá repercusión en lo que a contenido se refiere. Middendorf (1892: 46-47) señala que la antigua l deviene en j, dando como ejemplos: lechjech ‘cabeza’, lochjoch ‘ojos’, lokjok ‘pie’, ssolssoj ‘frente’, kulkuj ‘sangre’, kolkoj ‘caballo’. Este cambio, empero, no fue generalizado. Bajo el título de Kurze Gespräche, Middendorf (1892: 183-190) recogió diálogos cortos del mochica de finales del siglo XIX, en los que subsistía la lateral l en distintos contextos: inicio de palabra, lok ‘estar’; frontera de raíz, feleiñ ‘me siento’ (de sentarse); mitad de palabra, pelen ‘ayer’; frontera entre lexemas, changkäd-len ‘con el prójimo’ y, con ciertas reservas, final de palabra, ůl ‘enfermo’. En el caso de cɥolu, se produce un doblete. En la forma poseída del nombre, Middendorf (1892: 58) da choj, ‘muchacho’, mientras que en la forma no poseída ofrece cholu, pero con el significado de ‘indio’. Ahora abordaremos los aspectos de contenido.

    1.2. Aspectos de contenido.– El vocablo cholo tiene la particularidad de ser una voz tanto peyorativa como afectiva en determinados contextos. Carrión (1983: 230-231) da un verdadero estado de la cuestión acerca de esta palabra. Menciona que el vocablo se conoce desde Costa Rica hacia el sur, particularmente en Panamá; que en más de un caso se usa para menores, proponiendo un sema [-adulto]; que es término injurioso en ciertos contextos; y que también sirve para expresar afecto. Sabemos que la palabra no pertenecía al quechua por el siguiente pasaje de Garcilaso de la Vega ([1609] 1960, tomo II, libro noveno, cap. XXXI: 373):

    “Al hijo de negro y de india, o de indio y de negra, dicen mulato y mulata. A los hijos de éstos llaman cholo; es vocablo de las islas de Barlovento; quiere decir perro, no de los castizos, sino de los muy bellacos gozcones; y los españoles usan de él por infamia y vituperio. A los hijos de español y de india, o de indio y española, nos llaman mestizos, por decir que somos mezclados de ambas naciones; fue impuesto por los primeros españoles que tuvieron hijos en Indias; y por ser nombre impuesto por nuestros padres y por su significación, me lo llamo yo a boca llena y me honro con él.”

    La acepción de cholo como ‘perro’ puede ciertamente provenir de las islas de Barlovento. Creemos que se trata de un caso de homonimia con la evolución al castellano de cɥolu. Probablemente, el término cholo de Barlovento sea el que registró Bertonio ([1612] 1984: 91) para el aimara, cuando definía: “Chhulu anocara, perro mestizo hijo de vn mestinazo y perrilla” ¹. Lo cierto es que este autor (Bertonio [1612] 1984: 91), define ya sin relacionar el vocablo chhulu con algún tipo de canino: “Chhulu: Mestizo, aunque ya casi no se usã deste vocablo para eso”. De cualquier forma, la información de Bertonio nos hace descartar al aimara como lengua de origen, pero las valoraciones afectivas de cholo y que además se aplique a niños, difícilmente, se pueden explicar a partir de un tipo de perro ². En cambio, cɥolu que significaba ‘muchacho’, fácilmente aclara la designación para ‘jóvenes’; también explica el que se use con afecto y asimismo da cuenta de los aspectos despectivos de la palabra. No olvidemos que Middendorf traduce cholu como ‘indio’, siendo éste un grupo socialmente estigmatizado. Es a partir de las desventuras de grupo que la palabra se marca negativamente. El rápido mestizaje de los pobladores de la costa peruana explicaría que sea un sinónimo de ‘mestizo’. La cantidad de derivados que cholo ha producido en el Perú nos habla del origen peruano del término. Su difusión fuera de las fronteras del Perú, no es ninguna novedad. Muchas palabras oriundas del Perú forman parte de castellano estándar y algunas voces de origen mochica en más de un caso han abandonado las fronteras del Perú, como lo atestigua el propio DRAE. Por todo lo expuesto, concluimos que la entrada del DRAE debe reformularse de la siguiente manera:

    cholo, la. (Del mochica cɥolu muchacho, cha) adj. Am. Mestizo de sangre europea e indígena.

    ¹ Hare (1999: 46) brinda el dato de que “cholo itzcuintle” es un tipo de perro indígena en México.
    ² En 1999, Hare propuso una posible etimología vasca de cholo, al constatar que la palabra no pertenecía a las lenguas amerindias. La autora, no obstante, no consideró al mochica dentro de las posibles lenguas y la evidencia que sustenta su propuesta nos parece más bien débil.

    There is discussion of Salas’ article in the blogpost here, with some consideration of the etymology from Aymara.

  19. Wow, thanks very much for that!

  20. ktschwarz says

    I hope this isn’t too obvious to mention: K’ancha is spelled with an apostrophe because it’s an ejective k. (Or should that be glottalized? I’m not clear on which is correct.) The ch is pronounced the same as in Spanish and English. On her Youtube channel, K’ancha has some pronunciation videos demonstrating the distinction of unaspirated, aspirated, and ejective stops in Quechua.

  21. John Cowan says

    Those are just real-time podcasts, say I!

    Rather, a podcast is a recorded radio program that didn’t happen to have been broadcast. The etymology iPod + (broad)cast supports this.

  22. The latest edition of the dictionary of the Royal Spanish Academy offers an Italian origin for Spanish chulo:

    chulo < Italian ciullo 'boy' = shortening of Italian fanciullo.


  23. That makes so much sense I’m amazed it hasn’t surfaced before (or, if it has, been more accepted).

  24. an ejective k. (Or should that be glottalized? I’m not clear on which is correct.)

    Glottalized is a more general term. An ejective is a glottalized stop.

  25. PlasticPaddy says

    The word fanciullo is etymologically the same as a Castilian *infantecillo and might be recognisable, so that a speaker would not seize on the diminutive and use it as a substitute for the whole word. The earliest citation in the DRAE corpus including a complete sentence (and the third earliest overall) is a text about travel in Peru. The word chulo is also listed in the Diccionario de Americanismos. I don’t really see why Xerib’s source is overruled by the new etymology.

  26. The word fanciullo is etymologically the same as a Castilian *infantecillo and might be recognisable, so that a speaker would not seize on the diminutive and use it as a substitute for the whole word.

    Seriously? A random Spanish speaker, not a linguist, is going to hear “fanciullo” and think “Ah, that’s obviously my (nonexistent) “infantecillo”? Sorry, doesn’t work for me. And there are plenty of Italian loans in New World Spanish.

  27. PlasticPaddy says

    I would not describe ciullo as an Italian loan, unless there is an Italian variety which employs it. Maybe GP knows one.

  28. David Marjanović says

    Glottalic consonant article of Wikipedia, with links to “ejective consonant” and “implosive consonant”.

    might be recognisable

    I don’t think so either. A fluent bilingual might figure it out, but hardly anyone else could. Two obvious confounding factors are that the Italian -ci- is pronounced like a Spanish ch, and i ~ u isn’t even a regular correspondence.

  29. I’m amazed it hasn’t surfaced before (or, if it has, been more accepted)

    The question I was trying to answer in my comment is whether cholo ‘meztiso; indígena que ha adoptado usos y costumbres urbanos y occidentales’ is the same word as chulo ‘que habla y obra con chulería; lindo, bonito; rufián; etc.’. The passage from Joan Coromines on the etymology of cholo that I quoted at the beginning of my comment is in fact from his article on chulo, which is available on page here, page 405f. Coromines lays out the philological details of the etymology of chulo from Italian ciullo at length. Coromines’ reference to Spitzer ASNSL 141 (1926), p. 264, as an early exposition of this etymology can be found here. (Some sort of attempt to associate Spanish chulo ( > Portuguese) with Italian ciullo goes back at least to Caix in 1878, bottom of the page 102, no. 290.)

  30. PlasticPaddy says

    Thanks. I am sorry for not having looked more for this word. Did not find it in Treccani so gave up 😊.

  31. DM, right, I forgot about implosives.

    Corominas is about the best etymological dictionary of any language that I know. It’s very worthwhile turning to if there’s any chance that the word you are looking for might have a Spanish cognate.

  32. It is easy to find ciullo in Italian dictionaries. For example, here:

    s.m., agg.
    ca. 1400; da fanciullo con aferesi.


  33. @Y. “Corominas is about the best etymological dictionary of any language that I know.”

    Today, when “Corominas’s dictionary” is mentioned, reference is usually to Corominas 1954-1957 (4 volumes).

    Have a look at Corominas-Pascual 1983-1991, which is the six-volume revision, expansion, and consolidation of Corominas 1954-1957 and Corominas 1990 (Breve diccionario etimológico de la lengua castellana).

    With all due respect to Juan Corominas (= Joan Coromines) and José Antonio Pascual Rodríguez, one must mention the significantly larger Französisches Etymologisches Wörterbuch (with more than 17,000 pages in 25 volumes).

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