There are few places in the world where a language barrier is more terrifying to face than at a hospital. Imagine having a pain but not being able to precisely describe it to your doctor, or not being able to explain to your doctor that you don’t want a Caesarean section because it violates your religious principles. This is the position that many patients at Natividad Medical Center in Salinas, California find themselves in.
(Thanks to a fellow participant at CoLang for pointing this out.)
I have been learning about an interesting NGO that works in Guatemala. They take indigenous languages seriously, right down to the name of the organization, which is Wuqu’ Kawoq:
We chose our name in accordance with the Maya custom of naming an organization based on the day in the Mayan calendar on which it started. Wuqu’ Kawoq began formally on January 1, 2007 which was the day Wuqu’ Kawoq (7 Kawoq) in the 260-day Cholq’ij, or Mayan sacred calendar. The name Kawoq has significance for our work, as it is typically associated with health care and midwifery.
There is a lot to learn from this group, including numerous publications and blog posts. Here are a few of the language-related posts that I’ve found so far:
There is so much here to learn about here. I am particularly interested to learn about this group’s approach to using neologisms in medical contexts:
One [neologism] we have had particular success with is the term kab’kïk’el ‘sweet blood,’ which we adopted to replace the semantically opaque Spanish term diabetes. The new term says something right away about the cause of the disease itself that is immediately intelligible to any Kaqchikel speaker. Moreover, the term immediately positions the discourse between patient and healthcare provider for a discussion about how to make the blood less sweet through diet and other interventions. Terms like this are thus being directly imported from our clinics into homes as patients use them to explain to friends and family members the details of their diagnoses and treatments.
Thus,language development is being undertaken, by linguists, but in the context of a clear needthat imbues the results of the project with a high degree of pragmatic social value. Thesuccess of a project like this one depends very little upon language attitudes, activism andvaluing language for its own sake.
It’s really encouraging to me to see linguists contributing to this kind of work. I’ll be posting more about this interesting group here in the future.
Today Natividad boasts more than 100 interpreters who are available to interpret roughly a dozen indigenous languages such as Triqui, Zapoteco, Náhuatl, Purépecha, Tlapanec, Amuzgo, Yucatec Maya, and Mam. To be sure, they have not received the education or the high-level training students of translation and interpretation programs receive. In fact, many of Natividad’s interpreters do not even have a high school diploma, but they have language skills most people looking for a career in interpreting do not have the opportunity to develop.
Breve documental sobre el 1er Congreso de la lengua mixteca en el estado de Guerrero, México, al que asistieron ochocientas personas, en su mayoría maestros. La hospitalidad y solidaridad de los habitantes y autoridades de la aldea de Cahuatache lo hicieron posible. Fragmentos musicales tomados del grupo Taxa’a ndóo, de Itya Tanu (Metlatónoc).
Danzas tradicionales de Oaxaca, como la de los diablos, tejorones, malinches y toritos, ejecutadas por los pueblos huaves, afromestizos y mixtecos, son algunas de las imágenes que pueden observarse en la exposición fotográfica
After 14 years of working hard and saving up, Toledano is completely broke. What little money he had managed to save up has gone to help pay for the medical bills. By the time this article is published he’ll be in Oxnard, working the same cycle that he’s been following for years, picking strawberries there, making $9 an hour, working ten hour days for 6 days a week, hoping to not get sick or do something that will impede him from working. When the season ends, he’ll be back at home in Salinas.
Some interesting numbers in this sad story about what a farmworker makes:
$9 / hr, 10 hr/day, 6 days/week
So, let’s say 50 weeks a year, that’s:
9 * 10 * 6 * 50 = $27,000 /year, which is close to what they quote in the article — $25,000/year. That’s about what a graduate student makes, and I know because I am one. I don’t have a family to support, either.