Working Papers in Educational Linguistics (WPEL)




Health disparities among indigenous and non-indigenous peoples serve as a poignant indication of pervasive social injustices that have yet to be adequately addressed. With the potential to produce broad economic and social benefits, the development of quality indigenous health systems warrants further analysis and practical strategies to improve current policies. Using the case of Mexico, home to the second-largest population of indigenous language speakers in the Americas, this paper examines the important—and often misunderstood—role of language in health care. From a historical perspective, Mexico’s policies and indigenous health initiatives indicate a movement toward progress, yet they seemingly fail to take into account the critical role of language—not only as a means of receiving health information—but as a means of communicating complex feelings and emotions and connecting with cultural conceptions of health. By understanding the important relationship between health and language, as well as the potential for language to serve as a resource and a protective factor for health, greater attention may be given to the development of participatory, culturally relevant, holistic care. To this end, this paper suggests that the field of language planning, with a long history of examining the multifaceted goals, approaches, and strategies to language policy and planning, could provide a significant contribution and help reduce existing disparities in indigenous health systems.