Linguistic Conference (FAMLi)

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Because WK | Maya Health Alliance has such a strong commitment to language issues, we often find ourselves providing logistical and technical support for linguists and linguistic projects going on in Guatemala. For example, we recently played local host for a major international linguistics conference called Form and Analysis in Mayan Linguistics (FAMLi), funded by SSHRC (Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada). It was a good partnership because the FAMLi conference shares values with WK. The conference has always been about bringing together diverse communities. In particular, FAMLi has a strong commitment to supporting the participation of native speaker linguists. Not only are native speaker linguists often better at analyzing their own languages, it is critical that speakers of indigenous languages have a say in the scholarly debates about their languages. In support of this goal, the most recent FAMLi was held in Patzun, Guatemala, making it the first major international conference on Mayan languages held in a majority indigenous town.

Taking place over 4 days in August, the conference brought together linguists from Guatemala, Mexico, Canada, the United States, and Japan. In addition to research talks, the conference was paired with a workshop on the intersection of technology and Mayan languages, in particular, how to build large databases of Mayan language data, which can be the basis for grammars, teaching materials, and preservation.

WK | Maya Health Alliance didn’t just support the conference, we got to present some of our own work there. In particular, we released our translation of Facebook into Kaqchikel at the conference, which generated a lot of discussion about social media in Mayan languages and its importance for language revitalization. Now a few different language communities have their own projects doing translations of Facebook and other social media sites into Mayan languages. Though this kind of outreach, WK | Maya Health Alliance is able to play a vital role in shaping language policy in Guatemala.

At time same time, the workshop has helped improve the medical side of our work. As you know if you follow our blog, WK | Maya Health Alliance does serious research before starting a new project or changing an old, and doing this research often generates text and recordings in Kaqchikel. Making sure our work is as responsible as possible means organizing this language data, preserving it for future generations, and make the less sensitive portions of it available for community members and researchers. Being a part of the FAMLi conference has helped us think about how technology can improve our language data plan, which is something I will be blogging about in the future.

You can check Facebook in Kaqchikel and donate towards our language work at: http://wachwuj.com/