Book Chapter

COMMUNICATING COVID-19: Language access and linguistic rights in contemporary Peru



de Pedro Ricoy R (2023) COMMUNICATING COVID-19: Language access and linguistic rights in contemporary Peru. In: Declercq C & Kerremans K (eds.) Routledge Handbook of Translation, Interpreting and Crisis. London and New York: Routledge, pp. 59-71.

The Covid-19 pandemic has led governments worldwide to design and implement unprecedented measures to inform, instruct and support their populations in the fight against the virus. It can be argued that achieving success in this endeavour is both crucial and particularly challenging in countries with culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) populations, especially those that must cater for the needs of citizens whose languages and cultures have been historically marginalised. Peru is one of them. This chapter will focus on the Peruvian government’s implementation of its linguistic policy during the Covid-19 pandemic. Indigenous rights, including linguistic rights, are enshrined in domestic legislation as well as in international legal instruments. In the early stages of the pandemic, the Peruvian Ministry of Culture (MINCUL) implemented measures related to language support to assist healthcare professionals in their duties, to make official health messaging accessible to indigenous peoples and to provide them with relevant information in the originary (preconquest) languages of the country. The aim was to mitigate risks to the indigenous communities in the context of the health crisis, but the measures were met with scepticism at best and criticism at worst (AIDESEP 2020; Cherofsky 2020; SERVINDI 2020). According to Quijano (2014), many of the colonial structures are perpetuated in the present under different guises. In contemporary Peru, deeply entrenched (post)colonial asymmetries between the country’s indigenous citizens (historically marginalised) and those who have, at least in part, European ascent remain. Two key concepts that are linked to these asymmetries, namely cultural appropriateness and trust, played a prominent role in risk management during the pandemic. MINCUL recognises that intercultural communication must go beyond language and reflect the lived experience of the indigenous peoples, i.e., be culturally appropriate. However, centuries of discrimination against the indigenous Peruvians on ethnic, cultural and linguistic grounds have taken their toll, and trust relations between indigenous peoples and those who enjoy a higher status, especially those in positions of power, are complex and fractious, as will be illustrated in the discussion. Grassroots initiatives led by indigenous people burgeoned during the pandemic to alleviate the perceived inadequacies of the official response to the Covid-19 crisis “from the inside”. This emic approach was ipso facto based on the principle of cultural appropriateness and built on the trust that stems from kinship. Examples of this are included in the “Discussion” section of this chapter. This study contributes to Translation and Interpreting Studies by examining the role that language support (including translation and interpreting) plays in enabling access to human rights in a (post)colonial context where the implementation of language policy during a health crisis developed against a background of historical discrimination against originary peoples and current structural and infrastructural deficits. The developments in Peru, a CALD country, can serve as a test case for other initiatives in the Latin American region and beyond.

Publication date31/12/2023
Publication date online31/12/2023
Publisher URL…k/9781032075426#
Place of publicationLondon and New York

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Professor Raquel de Pedro Ricoy

Professor Raquel de Pedro Ricoy

Professor Translation & Interpreting, Literature and Languages - Division