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Translator, Linguist, and Cultural Anthropologist

I speak the following languages: English (native), Spanish (fluent), Cakchiquel [Guatemala] (fluent). I have also studied Esperanto, German, and Russian. I have traveled extensively in Latin America, the Caribbean, Europe, the Middle East, Africa, and the Pacific islands. I have lived abroad in El Salvador (October–December 1974), Guatemala (January 1975–August 1976; summer 1977; summer 1978), and a senior mission 2022–2023.

I have published translations in Spanish and Cakchiquel for the Guatemalan Ministry of Education, Century Publishing, and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (scriptures, hymns, missionary discussions, and temple ceremonies).

Spanish and Cakchiquel

I took Spanish and German classes in high school. I was called to a Spanish-speaking mission in Guatemala and El Salvador. After a week or two in the Language Training Mission (LTM), they progressed beyond any Spanish I already knew.

Spanish is the official language of Guatemala and is spoken in the major cities (30% of the population) and among the Latino people who live in the towns. There are also 23 native languages, which are mostly from the Mayan language family. Read an overview of languages in Guatemala. This assortment of languages causes several social, economic, educational, linguistic, and political challenges. (See my paper “Problems of a Divided Society: The Conflicting Cultures of Guatemala.”)

After four months in the mission field, I was one of a dozen elders assigned to work among the Cakchiquel Indians in central Guatemala and learn the language Cakchiquel. Cakchiquel (or, as spelled in modern orthography, Kaqchikel), is an indigenous Mesoamerican language from the Mayan family of languages. It is spoken by about 500,000 people in central Guatemala, most notably in and around the cities of Patzicía, Patzún, Tecpán, Sololá, Chimaltenango, Comalapa, and San José Poaquil. (Learn more about Cakchiquel and the history of Cakchiquel translation in the Church.)

A linguist from BYU, Dr. Robert Blair, came to Guatemala and taught us a few weeks of Cakchiquel and gave us each a Cakchiquel grammar book that he had developed in 1969. More importantly, he taught us techniques to learn a language, so that after he left, we could continue learning among the people. Learn more about this Cakchiquel class.

Although we had Dr. Blair’s grammar book, it was not comprehensive, so we had to learn a lot about the language on our own. Several of the original dozen missionaries learned to speak Cakchiquel well. Although we still spoke Spanish with our landlords and with the Latinos who lived in each town, the majority of the time we spoke Cakchiquel. I had the advantage of having a native Spanish-speaking companion, Elder Luis Manuel Argueta from El Salvador, at Camp Patzicía after the earthquake and I spoke Spanish with him exclusively for those two months. That helped my Spanish a lot. By the end of my mission, I spoke Spanish well, but I spoke Cakchiquel even better than Spanish. In the evenings in our missionary apartment with David Frischknecht, when the topic was about the people and their way of life, we would often slip from English into Cakchiquel, because it was easier to describe the details of farming and life using Cakchiquel words, which often are more specific to their way of life than are English or Spanish words.

At the end of my mission (in mid-1976), David Frischknecht, Julio Salazar (who had just finished his mission), and I were assigned to Patzicía to translate the missionary discussions for publication.

The Cakchiquel language is complex and there was a lot about the language that was not documented in Dr. Blair’s grammar book. After returning to BYU and engaging in linguistic studies, I found old Cakchiquel manuscripts (1521–1940) in the William Gates collection. I gleaned bits and pieces from each document and believed that there was more about the language than had been documented in any of the published grammar books. When I returned to Guatemala the following summers, I did additional research among the people and validated the following:

  • Adjectival forms. I learned that the explanations in the existing grammar books about adjectives were insufficient. None of them included all the ways to form an adjective, and their explanations of when to use which form were insufficient. I presented my findings at the Deseret Language and Linguistic Society Symposium in 1981, and published the peer-reviewed paper “An Examination of Adjectival Forms in the Cakchiquel Language“ in the Journal of Mayan Linguistics (vol. 3, num. 2, Fall 1982, University of Iowa Anthropology Dept.).
  • Ways to make nouns plural. There are two ways to make nouns plural: by adding the suffix -a or -i’. The various grammar books tried to explain when to use -a or -i’, but their explanations were superficial and had many exceptions to the rules. I found a more helpful way to explain when to use -a or -i’ and presented my findings at the Deseret Language and Linguistic Society Symposium in 1979 and published the peer-reviewed paper, “The Semantic Value of the -A’ and the -I’ Noun Plurals in Cakchiquel“ in the journal Notes on Linguistics (no. 13, January 1980, Linguistics Department of the Summer Institute of Linguistics, Inc.).
  • Verb forms. The Cakchiquel verb system is one of the most complex aspects of Cakchiquel grammar. English and Spanish may use a whole phrase of verb elements to describe the action, including auxiliary verbs like will or may, pronouns, subjects, and objects. However, Cakchiquel incorporates all these verb elements into a single word. The verb is also conjugated with elements that identify the tense (past, present, and future), mode (indicative and subjunctive/imperative), and suffixes which mark aspect (perfective and non-perfective). Other elements can include prefixes that indicate a given direction of motion and suffixes that indicate aspects of the action likes suddenness, quickness, or repetitiveness. Other suffixes can also be used to create verbs from nouns or adjectives. In his grammar book, Dr. Blair states, “Whereas in English, verbs have a maximum of five distinct forms (go, goes, went, gone, going), in Cakchiquel every transitive verb has more than 3,000 different forms.” In fact, from my studies (including studies during the summer of 1978), I identified additional verb elements that account for over one million ways to conjugate a verb.
  • During the summer of 1978, I also conducted additional linguistic research on reduplicative and chiasmatic verb forms. See my raw Cakchiquel linguistic field notes.

Upon returning to BYU, I decided I wanted to learn Spanish better, so I took classes in Spanish grammar, phonetics, phonology, and literature, and earned a bachelor’s degree in Spanish. I minored in linguistics, and had many self-directed study experiences in Cakchiquel, including studying other Mayan languages. I studied historical linguistics and linguistic etymology (the origin of languages and how they evolve over time) with Dr. Robert Blair and Dr. John Robertson. I wrote several papers on the cultural impacts of languages (such as “Problems of a Divided Society: The Conflicting Cultures of Guatemala”) and I wrote a cultural primer about the indigenous people of Guatemala for missionaries at the Missionary Training Center (see Culture for Missionaries: Guatemala Indian).

I spoke Spanish occasionally as a Church employee for about ten years as I communicated with the printing and distribution centers in Latin America. And I took a half a dozen 1–3-week trips to Latin America where I had the chance to speak Spanish.

In April 2016, I was sitting in the whirlpool at the gym after a workout and a lady I had never met sat down across from me and started to speak to me in Spanish. She commented about two people at the other end who were speaking in Chinese and how Chinese was interesting to listen to but was unintelligible to her. After we spoke for a few minutes—all in Spanish—she mentioned she was from Durango, Mexico, and asked what part of Mexico I was from. I said I was from Utah. She asked if I was born in Utah. I said, “yes.” Then she asked, “but where were you raised?” I said, “in Utah.” She then asked, “do your parents speak Spanish?” When I answered, “no,” she looked at me puzzlingly and asked, “then where did you learn Spanish?” I then explained that I learned it 40 years ago as a missionary in Guatemala. Again, puzzled, she asked if I had married someone from Guatemala. She then made several comments about how well I spoke Spanish and she could not believe that I learned it as a second language.

I was puzzled why she assumed at the outset that I was a Spanish speaker and began speaking to me in Spanish. I do not think I look Hispanic. Also, my mission was 40 years ago. Since all but four months of my mission was spent speaking Cakchiquel, I only spoke Spanish moderately well when I returned home. (My only Spanish-speaking companion was Elder Argueta for two months after the earthquake.) I then majored in Spanish at BYU—but that was 37 years prior to that time. I spent two summers in Guatemala. The first summer was in Patzún doing Cakchiquel translation work. The second summer, I lived in Guatemala City. During the day, I spoke Cakchiquel with the people who were helping with the audio recordings, but in the evenings and moving about town, I was immersed among Spanish speakers.

That occasion at the gym was not the only occasion where someone had mistaken me for a native Spanish speaker. Several months before that, someone at the Church Office Building spoke to me for a minute in the elevator lobby while waiting for an elevator. She was surprised when I told her I had learned Spanish on a mission.


Read a more complete history of Cakchiquel translation of Church materials. Access translations in Cakchiquel.

Scripture Translations, Summer of 1977

In April 1977, I returned to Guatemala with David Frischknecht to translate the Book of Mormon and other Church materials into Cakchiquel. David and I had been companions three times during the mission. David did the initial translation with a native Cakchiquel speaker from Patzún, and I typed the translations and reviewed them with groups of Church members from Patzicía and other towns. It was an intense project, working day and night. That summer, we translated the Selections from the Book of Mormon, several sections from the Doctrine and Covenants, and many hymns. (See Translation Book Mormon Invitation Letter ODonnal and Book Mormon Translation and Recording Project Approval.)

David and I arrived in Guatemala on April 25, 1977. It felt comfortable being back in Guatemala, however, it was different not being a missionary. We were now “Brother Richman” and “Brother Frischknecht” rather than “Elder Richman” and “Elder Frischknecht.” We were no longer missionaries, but not civilians either.

Before arriving, we had made plans to work in Patzicía, but it turned out that the informants we had arranged were not able to help us. “Informant” is a translation term that refers to a native speaker you consult with in writing the translations. The reason that David and I were needed was that the principal translators needed to speak and write Cakchiquel very well, as well as understand English. Guatemalans who are literate have learned to read and write in a Spanish-speaking school, so they do not have fluency writing or reading Cakchiquel. (Read more about this dilemma on my About Guatemala page.)

Based on the informants we were able to work with, some of whom were only available part of each day, we determined it was better to work in Patzún. On May 2, 1977, we set up living and working arrangements. We rented a house where I worked and where we slept. David worked at Julio Teleguario’s house, and we ate at Doña Mere’s house.

David worked on his own each morning until 4:00 p.m. writing by hand the initial translations. He would break down the sentences into kernel structures and translate them, without trying to make them perfectly worded translations. Then, from 4:00–8:30 p.m. he consulted with Julio Teleguario to refine the translations and ensure they sounded natural. The goal was ten pages of the Book of Mormon per day. That meant a 5:30 a.m. to 11:00 p.m. day with a half-hour break for breakfast and dinner and 1 hour for lunch. About halfway into the project, we changed our schedule to 4:30 a.m. to 10:30 p.m.

David would then pass the manuscripts to me for revision. I worked with men from different towns to ensure that the translation was understandable in the different dialects. The principal informants were Pablo Choc, Daniel Mich, and Leocadio Per from Patzicía and Herman Tum and Francisco Ajú from Patzún. I first read them a sentence or two and asked them to tell me in different words what the sentences meant to them. This was done entirely in Cakchiquel. (We almost never spoke in Spanish because we did not want any interpretation bias to enter the translation process from using a third language.) When we came to a word that was lacking, I did not give them the Spanish equivalent and ask them for the Cakchiquel word for it. Rather, I explained the situation in Cakchiquel and asked them what word they would use to describe it.

I then asked them questions to be sure that what we had written was what was intended by the scripture. What is done? Who/What does it? To whom/what is it done? For whom/what is it done? With what is it done? How long is it done? How much time does it take to do it? How frequently is it done? How quickly is it done? When is it done? Where does the event take place? What do people say about the event? How is it done? What caused the event to happen? What will happen if this event happens? What is another way of saying this? What is the opposite of this event? Who made/caused it? What is its purpose? What other things have this abstract quality? What other events have this abstract quality? What is another way to say the same thing? This depth of questioning was often needed, because Cakchiquel has an extraordinary number of ways to express verbs, and the verb form could carry unintended meaning if we were not careful. (Learn more about the language complexities of Cakchiquel in the chapter “Translator, Linguist, and Cultural Anthropologist.”)

The next step was to read a whole section aloud to an informant. By reading a whole section—in contrast to verse-by-verse or sentence-by-sentence—the informant could see how the whole section fit together and determine if everything was said correctly. I also checked key words from the chapter with various informants from several towns.

I then typed the translations in a special format to be scanned by BYU’s optical scanner. I sent some pages to Dr. Blair, Julio Salazar, Gary Larson, and Steve Schmolinger in the states to read, revise, and give feedback. I also sent a copy to Enoe de Jesús Matzer, Rigoberto Miza, and Luis Simón in Comalapa. These were returned with comments and corrections. These were then read to other native speakers to check their reactions.

On May 7, 1977, Eb Davis visited us, along with Josiah Douglas from the Church curriculum department. We talked with them about the needs for curriculum materials in Guatemala. I asked Eb some questions we had run into in the translations. One question was about whether the Brother of Jared was his older brother or his younger brother. The Book of Mormon does not specify whether he was older or younger. In Cakchiquel, there are different words for “older brother” and “younger brother.” Eb thought about it for about five seconds and said he was his older brother. I asked him how he knew, and he answered that the first thought that entered his mind was that he was his older brother because Jared went to his brother for help. He said, “The Spirit said, ‘yes’ and so he was his older brother.” Eb said that no one probably needed to know that before now, and the Spirit told him that he was his older brother. I am continually impressed with the spirituality of Brother Davis.

On May 15, 1977, we attended a district conference in Patzicía. The Mizas were there from Comalapa with their new-born boy. They told me they had named him Lery Robert Miza Xocop. They named him “Lery” after me. I was touched by that.

I worked one day with Francisco Ajú. Even though he could not read at all, he brought his Book of Mormon with him. Even though he could not read a letter, he would mark the scriptures in his book. When we came to a part that he really liked, he would ask me which verse it was, and he would find it in his book and mark it. He knew the numbers but could not read any of the words. After we had finished the work that day, we talked a few minutes about the Book of Mormon. Once he looked up at me and said, “Brother, this book is so beautiful and true.” Although he could not read and did not have the opportunity to study the book, he still had a strong testimony about it. The people we worked with got excited about the stories and teachings as we went along. I could tell that they had only understood them superficially in Spanish. Francisco Ajú could not help but repeat “Gran Chucha!” as we went along because it was all so exciting to him. Wherever we attended church meetings and talked, we read parts of the Book of Mormon translations. It was exciting to read them to people who had been members for 10 or 15 years and see their faces light up as they understood things for the first time.

On June 28, 1977, Román Choc entered the mission home. He was the sixth missionary from Patzicía. He was preceded by Daniel Choc, José Leon Choy, Fulgencio Choy, Feliza Choy, Mauro Choc, and now Román Choc. (Julio Salazar was also listed as having left from Patzicía.) Those missionaries really strengthened the Patzicía Branch when they returned.

On July 9, 1977, the day before I turned 22 years old, David Frischknecht took me to Antigua for a pizza dinner for my birthday. It was the best pizza I’ve ever eaten.

We finished our process: (1) David’s initial translations and refinements with Julio, (2) my reviews with informants, both sentence-by-sentence and then chapter-by-chapter, (3) typing the translations, (4) reviewing them with others in Comalapa and in the United States, (5) reading passages in talks on Sundays, and (6) reviewing key terminology and key chapters with members in special meetings on Sundays after the regular meetings.

We then needed to translate and revise Joseph Smith 2, the Family Guidebook, Small Branch Guidebook, Branch Organizational Guidebook, the hymns, and another section or two from the Doctrine and Covenants.

I met with people in Guatemala City ̶ the Minister of Education (about literacy materials), people in the Department of Education, and the director of the Summer Institute of Linguistics.

Eb Davis returned on July 23, 1977. He brought a camera and asked me to take pictures to print in the Cakchiquel and Quiché missionary flipcharts.

The Cakchiquel literacy program arrived and President O’Donnal assigned Sister Teri Turvaville to begin teaching from it.

I returned home about August 8, 1977.

Temple Ordinance Translations

During August and September of 1979, I spent many days in the Salt Lake Temple translating the temple initiatory ordinances, endowment, and sealing ceremonies into Cakchiquel. David Frischknecht reviewed and revised them in December 1980. Later, Pablo Choc came from Guatemala to make a final review of it.

May 27–30, 1991, I worked at the temple with two native Cakchiquel speakers (Rigoberto Miza and Martin Per) to complete the native language review of the temple ceremonies that I translated in 1979 and 1980. During those two weeks, we made many revisions that improved the readability and understandability of the translation. Rigoberto and Martin were a good team, representing two different dialects and two age groups (two major concerns with the Cakchiquel translations). There was a good spirit about the work. During that time, we had the added benefit of two Quiché natives (Angel Chavez and Vidalmino Sarate) and two Quiché-speaking missionaries (Alan Christensen and Hugh Biesinger) who were also in Salt Lake working on the Quiché translations. Hugh and I became friends while in Guatemala the summer of 1978 when we worked on the dictionary project. Since Quiché is a sister language to Cakchiquel, we were able to consult and share ideas, which were most helpful.

The translations were certified on June 4, 1991, with Brother Metcalf (the managing director of the Temple Department), two others from the Temple Department, Eb Davis, Justus Ernst, Hugh, Alan, me, and the four brothers from Guatemala.

Another review of the translation was done with the help of two Guatemalans who came to Salt Lake the week of February 24–28, 1992.

The following cast members traveled to the Salt Lake Temple for the recording beginning June 8, 1992: Martin Per Toj, Santos Per Mich, Felisa Holegario Choy de Choc, Rigoberto Miza Moxo, Ruben Meren Ajsivinac, Rolando Mich Cua, and German Tun lxem. I recorded some of the parts as well. The week prior to the recording, Martin Per Toj and Rigoberto Miza Moxo came to assist with the final review of the translation.

On November 9, 2005, I spent the afternoon in the Salt Lake Temple with the audiovisual sound engineers reviewing the audio recording of the Cakchiquel temple endowment. They recently re-edited it for their new digital equipment and needed me to verify that the editing was correct to match the two temple films. It was a privilege to carefully review the words of the temple ceremonies. It was amazing to study the repetition and understand its meaning more deeply.

In August 2018, the Translation Division approached me and David Frischknecht about translating into Cakchiquel changes in the temple ordinances. I was in the middle of planning for the changes in Sunday meetings that were announced at the October 2018 general conference. David had just returned from South Africa as the Director for Temporal Affairs and was just beginning as the managing director of the Welfare Department. It would have required one or both of us going to Guatemala for about ten days to work with native Cakchiquel speakers in the Guatemala City temple. Below is the response from David Frischknecht after they approached him.

Dear Brother Michael Peck,

I would be pleased to participate if asked to do so, dependent on approval from the Presiding Bishopric to be away from my responsibilities in Welfare Services for the week. Larry and I have worked well together over many years with native language speakers on translation. Having both of us would be the ideal for speed, quality, etc. However, I have full confidence in Larry if he is the person assigned to this. He would go with my endorsement, support, faith, prayers, and confidence.

Warm regards,
David F.

In the end, they found another way to accomplish the work without either of us being involved.

Other Translations

In the 1980s, many more Latter-day Saint resources were translated into Cakchiquel. See a list of the LDS materials translated into Cakchiquel (Kaqchikel). See a Church News report about emerging translations in the Church.

One session of general conference was interpreted into Cakchiquel, Quiché, and Kekchí every six months. Translators and interpreters included David Frischknecht, Julio Salazar, Fulgencio Choy, Martin Per, Feliciana Xocop, Elma Misa, Greg Sansom, Gary Larson, and me. In about 2005, processes were set up in Guatemala for people in-country to interpret and have the interpretation transmitted by satellite to the various towns.

I also completed translations in Spanish and Cakchiquel for the Guatemalan Ministry of Education and Century Publishing.

Certified Spanish Translator

At BYU commencement in April 1979, in addition to receiving my bachelor’s degree in Spanish, I was awarded a translation certificate. (See BYU commencement program 20Apr1979.) Requirements included two years of Spanish classes, mastery of the target language, six month’s residence in the source language, sufficient reading of literature, thorough knowledge of and sensitivity to the culture, completion of four semesters of course work (12 credit hours plus 8 hours of labs) in translation and interpretation, and a senior thesis.

In November 1979, I took the American Translators Association accreditation test in Spanish. I organized a group of about 15 students who wanted to take the test, and I asked Lynn Tyler (associate director of the Language and Intercultural Research Center) and Marian McMaster (one of my Spanish teachers) to proctor it. Only one student in the group passed. It was not me.

On February 26, 1980, I became an active member of the American Translators Association. (See ATA certificate,  and ATA Translation Services Directory 1983.)

Dictionary Project 1978

In the summer of 1978, I went to Guatemala with Drs. Robert Blair and John Robertson of the BYU Linguistics Department and 11 other BYU linguistics and anthropology students to compile several dictionaries of Mayan languages. We donated our summer to compile learner’s dictionaries with the hope of helping missionaries and others who wanted to learn the native Mayan languages. Julio Salazar, Greg Sansom, and I worked on the Cakchiquel dictionary, along with native speakers Juan Yool and Alejandro Choc.

We drove from Provo to Guatemala in a school bus that was built in the 1950s—before I was born. We also took a red van. We had to get the bus ready for the trip by sanding and painting it, changing the tires, and removing some of the seats. The trip was long, but enjoyable because of the people in the group.

  • Greg Sansom was my missionary companion in Sololá. I enjoyed his happy disposition. Greg was very athletic and there was some healthy competition between Greg, Hugh, and me. The three of us got along very well.
  • Hugh Biesinger had been working for the LTM writing the Quiché grammar with Dr. Robertson. I admire him—and the other guys—for coming. They could have gotten jobs to help pay for school, but instead agreed to work without pay to do something they believed in. The dedication of the group was a missionary-type dedication.
  • Randy Ellsworth was a determined guy who had overcome unbeatable odds. Two years before, he was crushed under the Patzicía chapel in the earthquake. (See article in the Washington Post.) Now, he was back in Guatemala and walking with little trouble. He was engaged to Silvia Lang from Momostenango and was married in August just after he returned from the dictionary project.
  • Julio Salazar had been working with David Frischknecht and me in Provo for a year and a half. We got along very well and confided many things with each other. He was happy to be back in Guatemala.
  • Doug Tedford had been working for the translation division with Quiché. He learned his Quiché from books and lacked the practical knowledge that Hugh had.
  • John Bringhurst ended his mission in the Kekchí area only a few months before. He had mastered the language and loved the people.
  • Steve Wilson did not know an Indian language, but he came along to learn some Pocomchí and write some materials to help missionaries.
  • Margaret Blair, Dr. Blair’s daughter, came to work on radio programs in Momostenango.
  • Olivia de Rojas came as a guest of the Foundation for Indian Development to meet Cordell Anderson. She was from Mexico City and had been at BYU for three years.
  • Lluvia was Olivia’s 16-year-old daughter.
  • Robert Blair oversaw the project. I saw him in a new light on the trip. He was unorganized, but incredibly smart and a hard worker. His sense of humor either eased the tension or built it. We all worked at an “animal” pace, so it was easy to get angry and discouraged.
  • John Robertson was also responsible for the project. He developed theories about nearly everything. His theories were interesting and usually well-founded, but he sometimes jumped in head-first before checking things out. I was impressed with his abilities and enjoyed working with him.
  • Mike Hironymous, Myron Hill, and Jeff Bently were three who stayed in the lowlands of Mexico to work on Yucatec and other languages there.
  • Larry Richman. I went back to Guatemala because I loved the people and wanted to see the Lord’s work progress among them. The others called me “the animal” because I worked like an animal to keep up on the 400+ pages of dictionary entries that needed to be transcribed from the audio recordings. They would throw me a pen once in a while to keep me going.

We left Provo on April 26, 1978. We spent a night at the U.S.-Mexico border at Matamorros trying to get Julio through. We spent nights in small towns along the way. Sunday night, as Greg, Julio, Hugh, Randy, and I went to bath in a river that ran through town, we stumbled on a five-story hotel with a swimming pool. The workers there let us swim and shower. It was like an oasis.

We stopped at the ruins at Palenque. It was interesting to visit the ruins with a team of linguists and anthropologists. They saw things and explained things I would never have noticed. That night, we swam at a beautiful resort on the river not too far from Palenque. Drs. Blair and Robertson wanted to stay there another day to do a little work with the Chol language, so they sent Randy and me ahead to get things set up. Randy and I arrived at the Guatemalan border at La Mesilla about 11:30 p.m. After crossing the border, we had a two kilometer walk in the dark to the Guatemalan customs building. I was a bit nervous walking in the dark in a strange place near the Mexican border, not knowing about any possible drug cartel activity. We passed two men on the road who stopped to talk with us for a moment. They called us “hermanitos” (“brothers”) and made us feel at home. I then felt safe, calm, and secure. It felt good to be back in Guatemala. After passing through customs, we slept in a bus that was to leave at 6:00 a.m. the next morning. We arrived in Huehuetenango at 8:00 a.m. and talked with the people at the Proyecto Linguistico Francisco Marroquín who had been working on a Cakchiquel dictionary for several years.

I went to Patzún and Patzicía to locate informants (native speakers to consult with) to help us. I visited with some members who were working on the Patzicía chapel. It brought back good memories to see them and talk with them. Ricardo Cua had died that Monday. He was poisoned by insecticides he was preparing. His wife was the Relief Society president when I was a missionary. After she died in the earthquake, he was baptized, and I confirmed him. He was a counselor in the branch presidency when he died. Josefina Cua, their oldest child, asked me to see that her parents were sealed in the temple. So, after the required one year waiting period, I submitted the necessary forms and on July 18, 1979, David and Nancy Frischknecht and I went to the Provo Temple to do the work for them and for their son Baudilio who was eleven months old when he died in the earthquake of 1976 alongside his mother Arcadia. I did the initiatory and endowment work for Ricardo, and Nancy did the same for Arcadia. David and Nancy were sealed in proxy for Ricardo and Arcadia, and I was proxy for Baudilio as he was sealed to his parents. Temple work is truly satisfying when you can do it for someone you know.

We spent the next many weeks in Cobán at the Val Paraíso ranch run by Cordell Anderson. He ran the Foundation for Indian Development, which did many things to help the Indians in Guatemala. [He later apostatized from the Church.]

We had informants from Patzicía (Alejandro Choc and his wife), Patzún (Juan Yo’ol), Momostenango (Julian Acabal Wix), Totonicapán (Juan Batz), and Cobán to compile dictionaries in Cakchiquel, Quiché, and Kekchí. John Bringhurst worked with the Kekchí informant on his own. We compiled the Cakchiquel and Quiché dictionaries simultaneously. We began each day at 4:00 a.m. Julio would read the words and phrases in Spanish, and the informants would record their translations on tape. A monitor for Cakchiquel and one for Quiché listened to the responses and clarified them when necessary. At the same time, Randy or Doug and I sat upstairs in the small A-frame house and transcribed the tapes.

We finished eliciting the responses from the informants before the end of May. I finished transcribing a day later. Greg and I compiled some domain dictionaries (themed word lists) while we waited for the Quichés to finish.

Once we finished work on the dictionaries, Randy, Hugh, Greg, José Obando (a part-time worker for the translation division who lived in Quetzaltenango), and I took two days and went to El Salvador. We stayed in San Salvador with Freddy Martinez, who finished his mission in Guatemala days before. We swam at the beach, swam at Los Chorros, ate the famous pupusas in Santa Tecla, and hit the big city at night. I tried to call Luis Manuel Argueta in San Miguel but could not find his number. On the return trip, we stopped at Ahuachapán to see the Síntigo family. It was the realization of a three-year dream to see them again. I wanted to go back upon completing my mission, then the next summer, but never could. We visited a few minutes with Jesús, Dalila, Rafael, Jaime, and Rutílio.

June 5–12, 1978, Greg and I stayed at Doña Mere’s house in Patzún to revise and confirm all the entries in the dictionary and to fill in any missing pieces. Greg and I borrowed Enrique Teleguario’s motorcycle on Friday and went to Sololá on the back road through Godínez. Greg ordered some kaites (sandals) at the market and we visited a few members. We then went back to Panajachel and swam in Lake Atitlán.

Later in the summer, John Robertson wrote me a letter and said, “You do superlative work. I’ve truly enjoyed working with you. The Cakchiquel dictionary is turning out to be an excellent piece of work. If I ever wrote you a letter of recommendation, I could surely write a strong one.”

On June 13, 1978, we flew from Guatemala City to Flores where we met Dr. Blair, Brother and Sister Robinson, Mike, Mario, and Steve. We drove to Tikal and spent the afternoon climbing the temples. We spent the next day in Belize and the following day in Cancún. We took the ferry to Isla Mujeres, a small island off the coast. The water was so clear that we could see the sea floor all the way to the island. We drove the bus down to the south end of the island to snorkel at the Garrafón reef. I was amazed at the colors in the coral and at all the life on it. There were schools with thousands of fish. We could dive down and swim through the school and be completely engulfed in fish. Some men on the beach told us they had seen sharks down at the southern point of the island, so Randy and I swam down to see them. Along the way, we saw hundreds of starfish and seashells on the pure white sand. As we got almost to the point of the island, we got caught in a current that began to carry us out to sea. We got concerned when we noticed it was carrying us towards four-foot barracudas, who are territorial fish. We had to swim full-strength perpendicular to the current to get out of it. We swam around the point of the island and climbed out on the sharp coral rocks. That night, we walked around the town at the north end of the island and had dinner at a restaurant. The “animals” (Hugh, Randy, Greg, and I) swallowed raw turtle eggs and we slept on the beach.

The next morning, the four “animals” planned to go scuba diving. We found out minutes before the ferry left that the bus was on it. We jumped on the ferry to grab our gear just as it was leaving. Randy did not make it back onto the dock before the ferry pulled away. He tried to jump off the ferry into the water and swim back to the dock, but the guard on the ferry would not let him. Fortunately, a man in a boat saw his predicament and drove alongside the ferry, picked up Randy, and brought him back to the dock.

We took the Mexico Divers excursion to the Manchones reef. While diving, our instructor speared a foot-long mackerel with his spear gun. That was the bait for a four-foot barracuda that came along and snapped the mackerel in two while it was still on the spear. The instructor then speared the barracuda. When he pulled in the barracuda, it still had half of the mackerel in its mouth. Our lunch was the barracuda and 20–30 large shrimp a piece. Just before lunch, we rode giant sea turtles which were in a corral near the shore. On the boat ride to another place to snorkel, we basked in the sun atop the boat. Every few minutes, Greg would sit up and say, “I can’t believe we actually did it!” Then, someone else would say, “Can you believe that we’re lying on top of a boat after scuba diving off an island in the Caribbean Sea?” The scuba trip was worth every penny of the US $15.50 (350 pesos) that we paid for it. On the way back, we saw half a dozen dolphins.

We drove to the ruins at Chichén Itzá. They were impressive, although not as majestic as those at Tikal. We then drove over to see the night show at Uxmal. We arrived in Villahermosa, Mexico, the morning of June 18, 1978. I split off from the group there to return to Guatemala for the rest of the summer to direct the Cakchiquel recordings. (See the next section “Audio Recordings in Cakchiquel.”) The dictionary group returned home. I had mixed emotions that morning. I wanted to stay with the group of “animals” I had grown to love, but at the same time, I wanted to go to Guatemala to get the recordings done. The last thing I wanted was to be left alone in a Mexican bus terminal at 6:00 a.m. on a Sunday morning. I arrived at the border at La Mesilla that night at 8:00 p.m. and slept in the bus that would leave the next morning.

Learn more about and see photos of the dictionary project.

After returning to Provo at the end of the summer in 1978, and until August of 1980, I worked as a linguistic consultant for New World Languages at BYU. I designed the format for computer processing for this and three other dictionaries. I edited the manuscripts and prepared the trilingual Cakchiquel-Spanish-English dictionary for printing. The dictionary also included a concise grammar section. In 1981, Drs. Blair and Robertson arranged for the Diccionario Español-Cakchiquel-Inglés to be published by Garland Publishing, a prestigious publisher in New York City. To my knowledge, no books ever made it to Guatemala or the hands of a missionary.

Years later, to fulfill the original intent of this project, I requested and received permission from the BYU Copyright Licensing Office to republish the dictionary as an educational and humanitarian effort to help missionaries, students, and others who want to learn the Cakchiquel language. I also hope that it would help native Cakchiquel Indians learn Spanish and English. I provided a searchable PDF online to read and download. I also offered to send a photocopy of the dictionary to anyone who requested it.

Audio Recordings in Cakchiquel

From June until November 1978, I was the director of recording for BYU Sound Services, responsible for producing audio recordings of written translations in Cakchiquel of the Testimony of the Prophet Joseph Smith pamphlet, the Gospel Principles manual, Selections from The Book of Mormon, and Book of Mormon Stories. These audio recording were an attempt to address the educational dilemma described on my About Guatemala page. Because many of the people are illiterate, or if they read, are unable to read their native language fluently, the Church made audio recordings of some of the Cakchiquel translations so the people can listen to them.

I selected recording facilities, located and trained talent, acted as sound technician, and coordinated editing and post-production later in the United States. After much searching, I was able to find two native Cakchiquels who could read somewhat fluently—a member of the Church who was finishing up high school (Fulgencio Choy) and a teacher (Juan Yo’ol) who was not a member of the Church. We recorded for about a month, until August 10. Most of it was recorded at a studio named CINTTA and some at the Radio Nuevo Mundo in Guatemala City. Julio Salazar helped the narrators rehearse and I directed the recordings. With some practice, they were able to read with good intonation and feeling.

The recordings then required a lot of editing at BYU Sound Studios over the next school year. I completed the proofing of the edits on June 1, 1979. The recordings were eventually duplicated, and a few copies were distributed in October 1979. Later, in December 2000, the recordings were digitally re-mastered and reissued with new packaging. I posted them online. See a list of Cakchiquel materials, which provides copies of all the Cakchiquel translations and resources I could gather.

My last Sunday in Guatemala, August 13, 1978, was a district conference in Patzicía. President O’Donnal was there, as well as my friends and the missionaries from the other towns. Fulgencio Choy was sustained as the branch president the previous Sunday. At the end of the meeting, he asked me to come up and say a few words. I told them how much I loved them, and I asked them to support Fulgencio. Fulgencio asked the members to stay and pick up the folding chairs that were used for the district conference. After the prayer, I expected to see most people leave, and only a faithful few stay to help. But to my surprise, everyone ̶ including the nanas and the men ̶ began folding up the chairs. I did not see anyone leave. It really warmed my heart. I do not know if my comments about supporting Fulgencio as branch president had anything to do with it, but I really felt a spirit of cooperation and service. The next day, I got on a plane a flew home. I hated to leave. I wished I were a few years older, graduated from school, and married, so I could stay and set up the school I had planned, and live in the Patzicía branch.

Linguistic Studies, Cultural Anthropology, and Folklore

After completing the audio recordings in Guatemala on August 10, 1978, I kept myself busy. I stayed at Julio Salazar’s house when in Guatemala City, at Doña Mere’s when in Patzún, and with the elders when in various other towns. I translated and reviewed about 85 hymns, including a special hymn for the choir to sing at the dedication of the new Patzicía chapel. I translated the baptismal interview questions and phrases to help missionaries learn to give blessings, confirmations, and ordinations. I field tested the Book of Mormon in Tecpán, Patzicía, Comalapa, and Itzapa. I revised the Church glossary of Cakchiquel terminology and translated the Joseph Smith and Joseph F. Smith visions (now Doctrine and Covenants, sections 137 and 138). I also met with the Guatemalan Ministry of Education’s Chief of Literacy and presented him with my translation of a reading primer entitled Mi Primer Amigo. In my spare time, I bought a guitar and learned to play it.

I conducted the linguistic studies mentioned in the section “Spanish and Cakchiquel” above. I also researched Mayan legends and folklore by interviewing many people and recording their stories. I later transcribed and translated the stories into Spanish and English and published them in the book Tales of the Cakchiquels: Trilingual Collection of Folklore from the Cakchiquel Indians of Guatemala; Cuentos de los cakchiqueles: Recopilación trilingüe de cuentos populares de los indígenes cakchiqueles de Guatemala and also in a supplement Tzijonic pa Cakchiquel; Cuentos en Cakchiquel; Stories in Cakchiquel.

In college, I minored in linguistics. I studied some Russian, Chinese, Hebrew, and Esperanto. The final exam in one class was to translate a page of the Bible from Esperanto to English.

In November 1977, I wrote a 35-page research paper on the cultural differences between the Latinos and the Indians.

In December 1977, I was hired by the Language Training Mission (whose name was changed to Missionary Training Center in October 1978) to write a culture book for Guatemala, including information about the indigenous people. From December 1977 to April 1978, I worked with Jeff Hafen to write the book Culture for Missionaries: Guatemalan Indian to help missionaries understand the cultures of the native peoples of GuatemalaI tried to include not only general instructions and information concerning missionary work in Guatemala, but also specifics on how to approach the Indian people and how to respect their beliefs and ways of life. Review copies were sent to current and former mission presidents (Willard I. Skousen, Robert B. Arnold, and John O’Donnal). After clearing Church Correlation, the manual was published in 1980.