Mam Translation in NYC
May 14, 2019 10:42 AM   Subscribe

I'm a lawyer in New York City and have recently taken on a pro bono immigration client who speaks only Mam - a Mayan language primarily spoken in parts of Guatemala. While I've tracked down phone translators, I've found it impossible to find even one in-person English to Mam translator. If anyone happens to have any recommendations for finding a hard to find translator in NYC - or a Mam translator in particular - I'd greatly appreciate it.
posted by slide to Writing & Language (14 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
The Guatemalan embassy may have leads on translators.
posted by bilabial at 10:56 AM on May 14 [1 favorite]

One of these folks was featured in a NYTimes article and though many work in Los Angeles, one of them says 'country-wide' They may also have recommendations:
posted by vacapinta at 10:59 AM on May 14

I did research on a different Mayan language, and if I was trying to solve this problem I'd start by reaching out to linguists who've published on Mam. Googling "Mam linguistics" gets you the people who would have been my first recommendations, plus a few more who I don't know but who look promising, so you might as well just start there.

The linguists you find won't have time to do translation work themselves. They probably won't even be fully fluent speakers, unless they're Mam people publishing on their own language. But they will definitely have established working relationships with fluent speakers, and good reasons for passing along information to help the community. If someone's research consultant's nephew in New York knows someone who does this sort of thing, they may be able to put you in touch.

(I'm also sharing this with some speakers/researchers of other Mayan languages, in case anyone knows someone who knows someone. It's a long shot, but I'll let you know if something comes up.)
posted by nebulawindphone at 11:14 AM on May 14 [7 favorites]

"Interpreter" (not "translator") is probably a better search term for what you're looking for.
posted by JimN2TAW at 12:06 PM on May 14 [6 favorites]

I had to do something similar (not in law, and different, very regional language) and we found someone through the Mormon Church. Because Mormons often go on missions to more less well-traveled places, they often learn languages that most people don't otherwise study. Our translator had married a local and spoke perfectly.
posted by caoimhe at 12:36 PM on May 14 [3 favorites]

A long shot, but you could email this professor of linguistics, who authored a book on the grammar of Mam and appears to be the main academic expert on the language in the US. She might be able to help you find someone.

Nora C. England

Alternatively, here's someone else who speaks Mam and has connections to Mam-speaking Maya communities: John Watanabe
posted by EllaEm at 1:04 PM on May 14

You could also try Mt. Sinai and Columbia Presbyterian Hospitals. They try to have as many language-speakers on call as possible in case of emergencies.
posted by Mchelly at 1:23 PM on May 14

A New York Times article with that language in its title says that immigration courts have contracted with SOS International to provide interpretation services for indigenous people, including Mam. You could reach out and see if they know of people in NYC, or see if they themselves have any contractors in NYC.

You might want to see if the Binational Front of Indigenous Organizations or maybe the National Association of Immigration Judges has any recommendations.
posted by WCityMike at 1:49 PM on May 14

If you have a telephone interpreter, would it be an option for you and your client to sit together with the telephone interpreter on speakerphone?

In medicine, this is a standard way to interpret more obscure languages where no single hospital sees enough patients to justify a full-time interpreter.
posted by meaty shoe puppet at 8:21 PM on May 14

I know the CUNY mexican studies dept has fluent speakers of a number of mesoamerican languages, although I'm not sure if any are mayan. Also RAICES in texas has had similar issues and you could ask them for resources.
posted by poffin boffin at 9:40 PM on May 14

There's a group of Mam speakers in Morristown NJ: who might be able to hook you up. Good luck, and thank you for donating your time... anyone who's looking for a Mam translator nowadays is almost certainly trying to help with some heartbreaking legal issues.
posted by cgs06 at 10:45 PM on May 14 [5 favorites]

If you message me, I have a few professional courts language access coordinators I can connect you with.
posted by anya32 at 12:08 PM on May 15

Asking my linguist contacts got me another recommendation for Santa Perfitt (from vacapinta's link), and one for Oswaldo Martin of Oakland, who my friend says is "doing terrific community work on regularizing terminology for court cases" in Mam. Neither one is in New York, but they're more people who might know people, depending on how much energy you have for tracking down leads.
posted by nebulawindphone at 8:25 AM on May 16

Thank you all for the great advice and recommendations. I've been travelling, but plan to start plowing through these options to see if any bear fruit tomorrow and will report back if any are successful. Thanks again.
posted by slide at 4:08 PM on May 20

« Older Gear: Car camping edition, Canada focus   |   Re-enchantment Narratives Newer »

You are not logged in, either login or create an account to post comments