Guatemala’s Public Health Messaging in Mayan Languages during the COVID-19 Pandemic

  • Meghan Webb Albion College
  • Miguel Cuj
Keywords: Guatemala, maya, Kaqchikel, Kiche, Mayan Languages, COVID-19


Guatemala is a pluriethnic country in Central America. The 24 languages (22 Mayan languages, Xinca, and Spanish) spoken in the country present a challenge in the effective dissemination of  public health messaging in an already understaffed and underresourced public health system. This paper examines how the government, community members, and NGOs have worked to ensure the translation—both linguistic and cultural—of messaging in Mayan languages during the COVID-19 pandemic. The paper describes the case of messaging in Mayan languages generally; however, the examples draw heavily from our own work in Kaqchikel and K’iche’ Maya communities. These are the two most commonly spoken Mayan languages in Guatemala and present a best case scenario, especially related to the availability of effective public health messaging. Our examination demonstrates that while all translations are important, if only symbolically, effective public health messaging must be mindful of local contexts. Translations need to adhere to the linguistic form of everyday speech and reflect the appropriate cultural contexts.


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