Language: Tsotsil Maya

On Translating Indigenous Languages

The translator bears a particular kind of ethical responsibility towards the text, the poet, and poet’s community.

Perhaps it goes without saying, but in 2018 translating Indigenous literatures in the Américas from Indigenous languages and/or Spanish is a political act. Even prior to now, at dinner parties and other settings for droll conversation in the United States, people have often perked up when I mention that I study Mesoamerican languages and cultures. With an interest typically grounded in lost civilizations, ancient mysteries, and, occasionally, UFOs, they usually then follow up with an inquiry as to why, if I study dead languages, I didn’t opt to study Latin, ancient Greek, or Biblical Hebrew instead. When I assert that no, Maya languages such as Yucatec and Tsotsil are far from dead, many people refuse to believe it and are more than happy to contest the point.

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Weekly Dispatches from the Frontlines of World Literature

Your weekly literary news from around the world.

Our team is always keen to keep you up to speed on the most recent prizes, festivals, and publications regarding the most important writers around the world. With this in mind,  we are excited to bring you the latest news from our editors-at-large in Mexico, Central America and Indonesia. Stay tuned for next week! 

Paul Worley and Kelsey Woodburn, Editors-at-Large, reporting from Mexico: 

The Tsotsil Maya poetry and book arts collective Snichimal Vayuchil held a book presentation for its latest publication, Uni tsebetik, on November 30 at the La Cosecha Bookstore in San Cristobal de las Casa, Chiapas, Mexico. A collection of works by the group’s female members, the volume was introduced by the Tsotsil sculptor and multimedia artist Maruch Méndez and anthropologist Diane Rus. The event is part of a big month for the group, which includes the publication of their selected works translated into English, and a reading of works from Uni tsebetik at the Tomb of the Red Queen in the Maya archeological site of Palenque.

The same night, the State Center for Indigenous Languages, Arts, and Literature (CELALI) held a book presentation for its latest publication, Xch’ulel osil balamil, by poet and artist María Concepción Bautista Vázquez. The anthology Chiapas Maya Awakening contained her work in an English translation by Sean S. Sell, who was interviewed in Asymptote in April.

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