The intersection of language, culture and healthcare in Maya Guatemala

Peter Rohloff, MD PhD Medical Director Wuqu’ Kawoq | Maya Health Alliance

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“Roj öj mayab’ – oj mestan kan”
No education No food

Language barriers

No work


“Ignorant” “Lazy” “Unmotivated” “Backwards”

Why Mayan Languages?
1) Ri jun chi ri jun yawa’ jeb’ël nutzijoj pe achike ri q’axomal ruchajin (The patient should be able to easily communicate with the doctor)

2) Ri jun chïk chi ma nqamestaj ta ri qatzij (The active maintenance and recovery of speech)

Tummons et al 2011

Language Loss and Health

1) Language barriers = poor health 2) Language loss = “glass ceiling” = poor health

“Behavior Change” is a Linguistic Problem
Unintelligible Spanish Loan Word Diabetes Neologism Rujotolem rukab’il kik’ Gloss Height of the blood’s sugar

Infección urinaria Vagina Colesterol Asma

Rusipojik baq’
Itzel chuluj Rub’ey ri ne’y Ruq’anal kik’ Rutzapatajik pospo’y

The bone’s swelling
Bad urine The path of the baby The blood’s marrow Closing-off of the lungs

Tummons et al 2008

Why Does Civil Society Matter?

Thanks! – Matyöx chiwe

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