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A Champion for Indigenous Languages

In addition to his full-time position as ISP Coordinator, Malcolm Botto is a champion of the K’iche’ indigenous language, particularly with his extensive efforts with language and international study abroad programs.

As a young child from Argentina, Botto migrated to Hawaii with his family, where he heard a variety of languages. With Spanish as his native language, Botto also learned Hawaiian-English Creole and English in his youth. When he was sixteen, Botto accompanied his stepfather on a work trip to Guatemala; riding on the back of a pickup truck, Botto heard Mayan languages for the first time while listening to speakers of Kaqchikel and Tzutujil.

On his mission in Guatemala, Botto learned Q’eqchi’-Mayan. After his mission, he participated in the 1998 BYU Anthropology Field Study and lived in a K’iche’-speaking community. After that experience, Botto focused his work on the K’iche’ language, including taking other students to K’iche’-speaking communities. He continued his studies in K’iche’ on a language study abroad in Guatemala and through graduate field work, where he examined “rock-maya” music among young K’iche’ speakers in Santa Catarina Ixtahuacan.

Through the years, Botto has worked on translation work for the Church, the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services, and the Utah Attorney General’s Office. In the last three years, he has co-directed summer programs for the K’iche’ language at the request of Vanderbilt and Tulane University. He is writing coursework for young kids with the help of his wife and local K’iche’-speaking families.

Botto’s work reflects his love for language and human connection. “There is great cultural and historical knowledge in language,” Malcolm Botto recently described. “I feel strongly the drive to strengthen, promote and make visible indigenous languages and safeguard the loss of these languages and the knowledge and experience in them.”

“There is an important and necessary human connection made when someone learns a new language and uses it,” he continued. “We are better equipped to empathize and understand others when we learn a new language, especially if it is very different from our own.”

Through BYU coursework in K’iche’, students can enrich their education and connect with others. In addition to BYU’s many language programs, the university has been offering multiple courses of K’iche’ since Winter 2003. Students can take introductory or advanced coursework, depending on their interest. Many students that have taken K’iche’ courses have continued on to graduate studies or participated in the Anthropology Field Study.

Without Malcolm Botto’s championing of indigenous languages, BYU would not be able to provide coursework or experiential learning for students. The center thanks Botto for his sincere diligence and remarkable efforts.