Miryam Yataco is a professor at NYU who has very diverse interests outside her field of teaching. Born and raised in Lima, she specializes in bilingual-intercultural education in Peru and the United States. She is also a language rights activist through an organization called Linguistic Rights, based in Geneva. From 2010-2011, Yataco worked as a language rights expert with Quechua-speaking congresswomen in Peru’s Congress, and was even in charge of indigenous higher education in Peru within the Commission of Education and Cultural Patrimony within the Congress.
Yataco’s interest in indigenous languages stems from her heritage and as a child, Yataco understood the issues surrounding indigenous speakers in urban cities like Lima. Her mother is a Quechua speaker, and Miryam saw her face hardships due to her language. Although Yataco was educated in a British school in Lima, she still understood the inequalities that were present due to language and how it impacted people and their families.
Yataco’s formal contact with language and education began when she was hired to a diplomatic service position in Peru and traveled to Indonesia to teach Spanish. While there, she learned Indonesian and began to understand multilingualism around the world. However, her specific interest in sociolinguistics was influenced by a teaching assistant that she had as a doctoral student in 1999, named Dr. Joshua Fishman. Dr. Fishman became one of the founding fathers of sociolinguistics in the US. Yataco says, “His influence was really exceptional and truly extraordinary in terms of helping me shape my academic training as a sociolinguist.” Yataco worked with him for five years. “He is an extremely generous human being. All of my work that I would ever produce would be dedicated to him.”
In recent years, Yataco researched 17th century manuscripts by an Andean chronicler named Santa Cruz Pachacuti. She was funded by the Francis C. Allen Fellowship, which was granted to her by the Darcy McNickel Center for the History of the American Indian in Chicago. Currently, Yataco is working on a a book focused on the impact of language ideologies on new indigenous female leadership in the Andean region. She received a grant from CLACS this year, and traveled to Peru and Ecuador to interview indigenous women who have been elected as mayors and congresspeople.
Regarding indigenous languages in Peru, Yataco says, “As a sociolinguist, I believe in opportunities that come down from the government, but the most positive outlets for change comes from the people. And the fact that they can defend their language demonstrates a very high level of language loyalty. Even with the chance of discrimination.”
Yataco’s training in various world languages, including Spanish, Quechua, Indonesian, and Bengali, is important to her. “A lot of times people see me as a Quechualogist, but I’m interested in all languages in the world. A lot of people have stereotypes or see me as Latin/Quechua focused, but I really love the different languages of the world.”
Sisa B. Holguín is Program Administrator at CLACS and Managing Editor for the CLACS-NYU Blog, and Elizabeth Con is an MA Candidate at CLACS at NYU