Sunday, February 22, 2009

Language in the courts

Thanks to a post on ads-l, I saw this story from the LA Times. It lays out the difficulties of a California court in finding an interpreter for a Mixe speaker who was on trial.

It's worth reading, but note that this is a pervasive problem and one that has been dealt with horribly many times in the past. The most egregious case I know of is this one, of Santiago Ventura, a Mixtec speaker convicted of murder without the benefit of interpreters who spoke his language. He spent years in jail before it was sorted out. As it happens, both these languages are spoken in Oaxaca and a little info on the major languages of the region is here, and it's the source of this map, although as the Times story makes
clear, these labels are in some cases for families rather than languages.


John Cowan said...

When I saw "a rare dialect" in the subhead, I thought, O noes, yet another use of dialect as a derogatory term for a minority language.

But mirabile dictu, it turns out that the issue is indeed one of dialect, and we even get a clear and correct explanation of the Stammbaum model!

Mr. Verb said...

Right, there is for once a real dialect angle. I recall that you've worked on languages of southern Mexico (Mixtec even, right?) and so you know the other connection along the lines you note, namely that people regularly refer to indigenous languages there as 'dialects'.

John Cowan said...

I'm not even a linguist, never mind a Mexicanist; just an amateur.