|Mesoamerica: Southern Mexico; Guatemala; Belize; western Honduras and El Salvador; small refugee and emigrant populations, especially in the United States and Canada|
|Linguistic classification||One of the world's primary language families|
|ISO 639-2 / 5||myn|
Location of Mayan speaking populations. See below for a detailed map of the different languages.
|Classic Maya collapse|
|Spanish conquest of the Maya|
The Mayan languagesform a language family spoken in Mesoamerica and northern Central America. Mayan languages are spoken by at least 6 million Maya peoples, primarily in Guatemala, Mexico, Belize and Honduras. In 1996, Guatemala formally recognized 21 Mayan languages by name, and Mexico recognizes eight more within its territory.
A language family is a group of languages related through descent from a common ancestral language or parental language, called the proto-language of that family. The term "family" reflects the tree model of language origination in historical linguistics, which makes use of a metaphor comparing languages to people in a biological family tree, or in a subsequent modification, to species in a phylogenetic tree of evolutionary taxonomy. Linguists therefore describe the daughter languages within a language family as being genetically related.
Mesoamerica is a historical region and cultural area in North America. It extends from approximately central Mexico through Belize, Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, and northern Costa Rica, and within this region pre-Columbian societies flourished before the Spanish colonization of the Americas. In the 16th century, European diseases like smallpox and measles caused the deaths of upwards of 90% of the indigenous people. It is one of five areas in the world where ancient civilization arose independently, and the second in the Americas along with Norte Chico (Caral-Supe) in present-day Peru, in the northern coastal region.
Central America is a region found in the southern tip of North America and is sometimes defined as a subcontinent of the Americas. This region is bordered by Mexico to the north, Colombia to the southeast, the Caribbean Sea to the east and the Pacific Ocean to the west and south. Central America consists of seven countries: Belize, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua and Panama. The combined population of Central America is estimated to be between 41,739,000 and 42,688,190.
The Mayan language family is one of the best-documented and most studied in the Americas.Modern Mayan languages descend from the Proto-Mayan language, thought to have been spoken at least 5,000 years ago; it has been partially reconstructed using the comparative method. The proto-Mayan language diversified into at least six different branches: the Huastecan, Quichean, Yucatecan, Qanjobalan, Mamean and Chʼolan–Tzeltalan branches.
The Americas comprise the totality of the continents of North and South America. Together, they make up most of the land in Earth's western hemisphere and comprise the New World.
Proto-Mayan is the hypothetical common ancestor of the 30 living Mayan languages, as well as the Classic Maya language documented in the Maya inscriptions. While there has been some controversy with Mayan subgrouping, there has been a general agreement that the following are the main five subgroups of the family: Huastecan, Yucatecan, Cholan-Tzeltalan, Kanjobalan-Chujean, and Quichean-Mamean.
Historical linguistics, also termed diachronic linguistics, is the scientific study of language change over time. Principal concerns of historical linguistics include:
Mayan languages form part of the Mesoamerican language area, an area of linguistic convergence developed throughout millennia of interaction between the peoples of Mesoamerica. All Mayan languages display the basic diagnostic traits of this linguistic area. For example, all use relational nouns instead of prepositions to indicate spatial relationships. They also possess grammatical and typological features that set them apart from other languages of Mesoamerica, such as the use of ergativity in the grammatical treatment of verbs and their subjects and objects, specific inflectional categories on verbs, and a special word class of "positionals" which is typical of all Mayan languages.
The Mesoamerican language area is a sprachbund containing many of the languages natively spoken in the cultural area of Mesoamerica. This sprachbund is defined by an array of syntactic, lexical and phonological traits as well as a number of ethnolinguistic traits found in the languages of Mesoamerica, which belong to a number of language families, such as Uto-Aztecan, Mayan, Totonacan, Oto-Manguean and Mixe–Zoque languages as well as some language isolates and unclassified languages known to the region.
A sprachbund, also known as a linguistic area, area of linguistic convergence, diffusion area or language crossroads, is a group of languages that have common features resulting from geographical proximity and language contact. They may be genetically unrelated, or only distantly related. Where genetic affiliations are unclear, the sprachbund characteristics might give a false appearance of relatedness. Areal features are common features of a group of languages in a sprachbund.
Relational nouns or relator nouns are a class of words used in many languages. They are characterized as functioning syntactically as nouns, although they convey the meaning for which other languages use adpositions. In Central America, the use of relational nouns constitutes an areal feature of the Mesoamerican Linguistic Area, including the Mayan languages, Mixe–Zoquean languages, and Oto-Manguean languages. Relational nouns are also widespread in South-East Asia, East Asia, the Munda languages of South Asia, Micronesian languages and in Turkish.
During the pre-Columbian era of Mesoamerican history, some Mayan languages were written in the logo-syllabic Maya script. Its use was particularly widespread during the Classic period of Maya civilization (c. 250–900). The surviving corpus of over 10,000 known individual Maya inscriptions on buildings, monuments, pottery and bark-paper codices,combined with the rich postcolonial literature in Mayan languages written in the Latin script, provides a basis for the modern understanding of pre-Columbian history unparalleled in the Americas.
The pre-Columbian era incorporates all period subdivisions in the history of the Americas before the appearance of significant European influences on the American continent, spanning the time of the original settlement in the Upper Paleolithic period to European colonization during the Early Modern period.
Mesoamerican chronology divides the history of prehispanic Mesoamerica into several periods: the Paleo-Indian, the Archaic, the Preclassic or Formative (2500 BCE–250 CE), the Classic (250–900 CE), and the Postclassic (900–1521 CE), Colonial (1521–1821), and Postcolonial (1821–present). The periodization of Mesoamerica is based on archaeological, ethnohistorical, and modern cultural anthropology research. The endeavor to create cultural histories of Mesoamerica dates to the early twentieth century, with ongoing work by archeologists, ethnohistorians, historians, and cultural anthropologists.
In a written language, a logogram or logograph is a written character that represents a word or phrase. 漢字 are logograms; some Egyptian hieroglyphs and some graphemes in cuneiform script are also logograms. The use of logograms in writing is called logography, and a writing system that is based on logograms is called a logographic system. In the alphabets and syllabaries, individual written characters represent sounds only, rather than entire concepts. These characters are called phonograms in linguistics. Unlike logograms, phonograms do not have word or phrase meanings singularly until the phonograms are combined with additional phonograms thus creating words and phrases that have meaning. Writing language in this way, is called phonetic writing as well as orthographical writing.
Mayan languages are the descendants of a proto-language called Proto-Mayan or, in Kʼicheʼ Maya, Nabʼee Mayaʼ Tzij ("the old Maya Language").The Proto-Mayan language is believed to have been spoken in the Cuchumatanes highlands of central Guatemala in an area corresponding roughly to where Qʼanjobalan is spoken today. The earliest proposal was that of Sapper (1912) which identified the Chiapas-Guatemalan highlands as the likely "cradle" of Mayan languages was published by the German antiquarian and scholar Karl Sapper. Terrence Kaufman and John Justeson have reconstructed more than 3000 lexical items for the proto-Mayan language.
A proto-language, in the tree model of historical linguistics, is a language, usually hypothetical or reconstructed, and usually unattested, from which a number of attested known languages are believed to have descended by evolution, forming a language family. In the family tree metaphor, a proto-language can be called a mother language.
Karl Theodor Sapper was a German traveller, explorer, antiquarian and linguist, who is known for his research into the natural history, cultures and languages of Central America around the turn of the 20th century.
Terrence Kaufman is an American linguist specializing in documentation of unwritten languages, lexicography, Mesoamerican historical linguistics and language contact phenomena. He is emeritus professor of the department of anthropology at the University of Pittsburgh.
According to the prevailing classification scheme by Lyle Campbell and Terrence Kaufman, the first division occurred around 2200 BCE, when Huastecan split away from Mayan proper after its speakers moved northwest along the Gulf Coast of Mexico.Proto-Yucatecan and Proto-Chʼolan speakers subsequently split off from the main group and moved north into the Yucatán Peninsula. Speakers of the western branch moved south into the areas now inhabited by Mamean and Quichean people. When speakers of proto-Tzeltalan later separated from the Chʼolan group and moved south into the Chiapas highlands, they came into contact with speakers of Mixe–Zoque languages. According to an alternative theory by Robertson and Houston, Huastecan stayed in the Guatemalan highlands with speakers of Chʼolan–Tzeltalan, separating from that branch at a much later date than proposed by Kaufman.
Lyle Richard Campbell is an American scholar and linguist known for his studies of indigenous American languages, especially those of Central America, and on historical linguistics in general. Campbell is professor emeritus of linguistics at the University of Hawaii at Manoa.
The Gulf Coast of Mexico or East Coast of Mexico stretches along the Gulf of Mexico from the border between Mexico and the United States at Matamoros, Tamaulipas all the way to the tip of the Yucatán Peninsula at Cancún. It includes the coastal regions along the Bay of Campeche. Major cities include Veracruz, Tampico, and Coatzacoalcos.
The Yucatán Peninsula, in southeastern Mexico, separates the Caribbean Sea from the Gulf of Mexico, with the northern coastline on the Yucatán Channel. The peninsula lies east of the Isthmus of Tehuantepec, a northwestern geographic partition separating the region of Central America from the rest of North America. It is approximately 181,000 km2 (70,000 sq mi) in area, and is almost entirely composed of limestone.
In the Archaic period (before 2000 BCE), a number of loanwords from Mixe–Zoquean languages seem to have entered the proto-Mayan language. This has led to hypotheses that the early Maya were dominated by speakers of Mixe–Zoquean languages, possibly the Olmec.In the case of the Xincan and Lencan languages, on the other hand, Mayan languages are more often the source than the receiver of loanwords. Mayan language specialists such as Campbell believe this suggests a period of intense contact between Maya and the Lencan and Xinca people, possibly during the Classic period (250–900).
During the Classic period the major branches began diversifying into separate languages. The split between Proto-Yucatecan (in the north, that is, the Yucatán Peninsula) and Proto-Chʼolan (in the south, that is, the Chiapas highlands and Petén Basin) had already occurred by the Classic period, when most extant Maya inscriptions were written. Both variants are attested in hieroglyphic inscriptions at the Maya sites of the time, and both are commonly referred to as "Classic Maya language". Although a single prestige language was by far the most frequently recorded on extant hieroglyphic texts, evidence for at least three different varieties of Mayan have been discovered within the hieroglyphic corpus—an Eastern Chʼolan variety found in texts written in the southern Maya area and the highlands, a Western Chʼolan variety diffused from the Usumacinta region from the mid-7th century on,and a Yucatecan variety found in the texts from the Yucatán Peninsula. The reason why only few linguistic varieties are found in the glyphic texts is probably that these served as prestige dialects throughout the Maya region; hieroglyphic texts would have been composed in the language of the elite.
Stephen Houston, John Robertson and David Stuart have suggested that the specific variety of Chʼolan found in the majority of Southern Lowland glyphic texts was a language they dub "Classic Chʼoltiʼan", the ancestor language of the modern Chʼortiʼ and Chʼoltiʼ languages. They propose that it originated in western and south-central Petén Basin, and that it was used in the inscriptions and perhaps also spoken by elites and priests.However, Mora-Marín has argued that traits shared by Classic Lowland Maya and the Chʼoltiʼan languages are retentions rather than innovations, and that the diversification of Chʼolan in fact post-dates the classic period. The language of the classical lowland inscriptions then would have been proto-Chʼolan.
During the Spanish colonization of Central America, all indigenous languages were eclipsed by Spanish, which became the new prestige language. The use of Mayan languages in many important domains of society, including administration, religion and literature, came to an end. Yet the Maya area was more resistant to outside influence than others,and perhaps for this reason, many Maya communities still retain a high proportion of monolingual speakers. The Maya area is now dominated by the Spanish language. While a number of Mayan languages are moribund or are considered endangered, others remain quite viable, with speakers across all age groups and native language use in all domains of society.
As Maya archaeology advanced during the 20th century and nationalist and ethnic-pride-based ideologies spread, the Mayan-speaking peoples began to develop a shared ethnic identity as Maya, the heirs of the Maya civilization.
The word "Maya" was likely derived from the postclassical Yucatán city of Mayapan; its more restricted meaning in pre-colonial and colonial times points to an origin in a particular region of the Yucatán Peninsula. The broader meaning of "Maya" now current, while defined by linguistic relationships, is also used to refer to ethnic or cultural traits. Most Mayans identify first and foremost with a particular ethnic group, e.g. as "Yucatec" or "Kʼicheʼ"; but they also recognize a shared Maya kinship.Language has been fundamental in defining the boundaries of that kinship. Fabri writes: "The term Maya is problematic because Maya peoples do not constitute a homogenous identity. Maya, rather, has become a strategy of self-representation for the Maya movements and its followers. The Academia de Lenguas Mayas de Guatemala (ALMG) finds twenty-one distinct Mayan languages." This pride in unity has led to an insistence on the distinctions of different Mayan languages, some of which are so closely related that they could easily be referred to as dialects of a single language. But, given that the term "dialect" has been used by some with racialist overtones in the past, as scholars made a spurious distinction between Amerindian "dialects" and European "languages", the preferred usage in Mesoamerica in recent years has been to designate the linguistic varieties spoken by different ethnic group as separate languages.
In Guatemala, matters such as developing standardized orthographies for the Mayan languages are governed by the Academia de Lenguas Mayas de Guatemala (ALMG; Guatemalan Academy of Mayan Languages), which was founded by Maya organisations in 1986. Following the 1996 peace accords, it has been gaining a growing recognition as the regulatory authority on Mayan languages both among Mayan scholars and the Maya peoples.
The Mayan language family has no demonstrated genetic relationship to other language families. Similarities with some languages of Mesoamerica are understood to be due to diffusion of linguistic traits from neighboring languages into Mayan and not to common ancestry. Mesoamerica has been proven to be an area of substantial linguistic diffusion.
A wide range of proposals have tried to link the Mayan family to other language families or isolates, but none is generally supported by linguists. Examples include linking Mayan with the Uru–Chipaya languages, Mapuche, the Lencan languages, Purépecha and Huave. Mayan has also been included in various Hokan and Penutian hypotheses. The linguist Joseph Greenberg included Mayan in his highly controversial Amerind hypothesis, which is rejected by most historical linguists as unsupported by available evidence.
Writing in 1997, Lyle Campbell, an expert in Mayan languages and historical linguistics, argued that the most promising proposal is the "Macro-Mayan" hypothesis, which posits links between Mayan, the Mixe–Zoque languages and the Totonacan languages, but more research is needed to support or disprove this hypothesis.In 2015, Campbell noted that recent evidence presented by David Mora-Marin makes the case for a relationship between Mayan and Mixe-Zoquean languages "much more plausible".
The Mayan family consists of thirty languages. Typically, these languages are grouped into 5-6 major subgroups (Yucatecan, Huastecan, Chʼolan–Tzeltalan, Qʼanjobʼalan, Mamean, and Kʼichean).The Mayan language family is extremely well documented, and its internal genealogical classification scheme is widely accepted and established, except for some minor unresolved differences.
One point still at issue is the position of Chʼolan and Qʼanjobalan–Chujean. Some scholars think these form a separate Western branch(as in the diagram below). Other linguists do not support the positing of an especially close relationship between Chʼolan and Qʼanjobalan–Chujean; consequently they classify these as two distinct branches emanating directly from the proto-language. An alternative proposed classification groups the Huastecan branch as springing from the Chʼolan–Tzeltalan node, rather than as an outlying branch springing directly from the proto-Mayan node.
Studies estimate that Mayan languages are spoken by more than 6 million people. Most of them live in Guatemala where depending on estimates 40%-60% of the population speaks a Mayan language. In Mexico the Mayan speaking population was estimated at 2.5 million people in 2010, whereas the Belizean speaker population figures around 30,000.
The Chʼolan languages were formerly widespread throughout the Maya area, but today the language with most speakers is Chʼol, spoken by 130,000 in Chiapas.Its closest relative, the Chontal Maya language, is spoken by 55,000 in the state of Tabasco. Another related language, now endangered, is Chʼortiʼ, which is spoken by 30,000 in Guatemala. It was previously also spoken in the extreme west of Honduras and El Salvador, but the Salvadorian variant is now extinct and the Honduran one is considered moribund. Chʼoltiʼ, a sister language of Chʼortiʼ, is also extinct. Chʼolan languages are believed to be the most conservative in vocabulary and phonology, and are closely related to the language of the Classic-era inscriptions found in the Central Lowlands. They may have served as prestige languages, coexisting with other dialects in some areas. This assumption provides a plausible explanation for the geographical distance between the Chʼortiʼ zone and the areas where Chʼol and Chontal are spoken.
The closest relatives of the Chʼolan languages are the languages of the Tzeltalan branch, Tzotzil and Tzeltal, both spoken in Chiapas by large and stable or growing populations (265,000 for Tzotzil and 215,000 for Tzeltal).Tzeltal has tens of thousands of monolingual speakers.
Qʼanjobʼal is spoken by 77,700 in Guatemala's Huehuetenango department,with small populations elsewhere. The region of Qʼanjobalan speakers in Guatemala, due to genocidal policies during the Civil War and its close proximity to the Mexican border, was the source of a number of refugees. Thus there are now small Qʼanjobʼal, Jakaltek, and Awakatek populations in various locations in Mexico, the United States (such as Tuscarawas County, Ohio and Los Angeles, California ), and, through postwar resettlement, other parts of Guatemala. Jakaltek (also known as Poptiʼ ) is spoken by almost 100,000 in several municipalities of Huehuetenango. Another member of this branch is Akatek, with over 50,000 speakers in San Miguel Acatán and San Rafael La Independencia.
Chuj is spoken by 40,000 people in Huehuetenango, and by 9,500 people, primarily refugees, over the border in Mexico, in the municipality of La Trinitaria, Chiapas, and the villages of Tziscau and Cuauhtémoc. Tojolabʼal is spoken in eastern Chiapas by 36,000 people.
The Quichean–Mamean languages and dialects, with two sub-branches and three subfamilies, are spoken in the Guatemalan highlands.
Qʼeqchiʼ (sometimes spelled Kekchi), which constitutes its own sub-branch within Quichean–Mamean, is spoken by about 800,000 people in the southern Petén, Izabal and Alta Verapaz departments of Guatemala, and also in Belize by 9,000 speakers. In El Salvador it is spoken by 12,000 as a result of recent migrations.
The Uspantek language, which also springs directly from the Quichean–Mamean node, is native only to the Uspantán municipio in the department of El Quiché, and has 3,000 speakers.
Within the Quichean sub-branch Kʼicheʼ (Quiché), the Mayan language with the largest number of speakers, is spoken by around 1,000,000 Kʼicheʼ Maya in the Guatemalan highlands, around the towns of Chichicastenango and Quetzaltenango and in the Cuchumatán mountains, as well as by urban emigrants in Guatemala City.The famous Maya mythological document, Popol Vuh , is written in an antiquated Kʼicheʼ often called Classical Kʼicheʼ (or Quiché). The Kʼicheʼ culture was at its pinnacle at the time of the Spanish conquest. Qʼumarkaj, near the present-day city of Santa Cruz del Quiché, was its economic and ceremonial center. Achi is spoken by 85,000 people in Cubulco and Rabinal, two municipios of Baja Verapaz. In some classifications, e.g. the one by Campbell, Achi is counted as a form of Kʼicheʼ. However, owing to a historical division between the two ethnic groups, the Achi Maya do not regard themselves as Kʼicheʼ. The Kaqchikel language is spoken by about 400,000 people in an area stretching from Guatemala City westward to the northern shore of Lake Atitlán. Tzʼutujil has about 90,000 speakers in the vicinity of Lake Atitlán. Other members of the Kʼichean branch are Sakapultek, spoken by about 15,000 people mostly in El Quiché department, and Sipakapense, which is spoken by 8,000 people in Sipacapa, San Marcos.
The largest language in the Mamean sub-branch is Mam, spoken by 478,000 people in the departments of San Marcos and Huehuetenango. Awakatek is the language of 20,000 inhabitants of central Aguacatán, another municipality of Huehuetenango. Ixil (possibly three different languages) is spoken by 70,000 in the "Ixil Triangle" region of the department of El Quiché.Tektitek (or Teko) is spoken by over 6,000 people in the municipality of Tectitán, and 1,000 refugees in Mexico. According to the Ethnologue the number of speakers of Tektitek is growing.
The Poqom languages are closely related to Core Quichean, with which they constitute a Poqom-Kʼichean sub-branch on the Quichean–Mamean node.Poqomchiʼ is spoken by 90,000 people in Purulhá, Baja Verapaz, and in the following municipalities of Alta Verapaz: Santa Cruz Verapaz, San Cristóbal Verapaz, Tactic, Tamahú and Tucurú. Poqomam is spoken by around 49,000 people in several small pockets in Guatemala.
Yucatec Maya (known simply as "Maya" to its speakers) is the most commonly spoken Mayan language in Mexico. It is currently spoken by approximately 800,000 people, the vast majority of whom are to be found on the Yucatán Peninsula.It remains common in Yucatán and in the adjacent states of Quintana Roo and Campeche.
The other three Yucatecan languages are Mopan, spoken by around 10,000 speakers primarily in Belize; Itzaʼ, an extinct or moribund language from Guatemala's Petén Basin;and Lacandón or Lakantum, also severely endangered with about 1,000 speakers in a few villages on the outskirts of the Selva Lacandona, in Chiapas.
Wastek (also spelled Huastec and Huaxtec) is spoken in the Mexican states of Veracruz and San Luis Potosí by around 110,000 people.It is the most divergent of modern Mayan languages. Chicomuceltec was a language related to Wastek and spoken in Chiapas that became extinct some time before 1982.
Proto-Mayan (the common ancestor of the Mayan languages as reconstructed using the comparative method) has a predominant CVC syllable structure, only allowing consonant clusters across syllable boundaries. Campbell & Kaufman (1985) Most Proto-Mayan roots were monosyllabic except for a few disyllabic nominal roots. Due to subsequent vowel loss many Mayan languages now show complex consonant clusters at both ends of syllables. Following the reconstruction of Lyle Campbell and Terrence Kaufman, the Proto-Mayan language had the following sounds. It has been suggested that proto-Mayan was a tonal language, based on the fact that four different contemporary Mayan languages have tone (Yucatec, Uspantek, San Bartolo Tzotzil and Mochoʼ), but since these languages each can be shown to have innovated tone in different ways, Campbell considers this unlikely.
The classification of Mayan languages is based on changes shared between groups of languages. For example, languages of the western group (such as Huastecan, Yucatecan and Chʼolan) all changed the Proto-Mayan phoneme */r/ into [j], some languages of the eastern branch retained [r] (Kʼichean), and others changed it into [tʃ] or, word-finally, [t] (Mamean). The shared innovations between Huastecan, Yucatecan and Chʼolan show that they separated from the other Mayan languages before the changes found in other branches had taken place.
The palatalized plosives [tʲʼ] and [tʲ] are not found in any of the modern families. Instead they are reflected differently in different branches, allowing a reconstruction of these phonemes as palatalized plosives. In the eastern branch (Chujean-Qʼanjobalan and Chʼolan) they are reflected as [t] and [tʼ]. In Mamean they are reflected as [ts] and [tsʼ] and in Quichean as [tʃ] and [tʃʼ]. Yucatec stands out from other western languages in that its palatalized plosives are sometimes changed into [tʃ] and sometimes [t].
The Proto-Mayan velar nasal *[ŋ] is reflected as [x] in the eastern branches (Quichean–Mamean), [n] in Qʼanjobalan, Chʼolan and Yucatecan, [h] in Huastecan, and only conserved as [ŋ] in Chuj and Jakaltek.
Vowel quality is typically classified as having monophthongal vowels. In traditionally diphthongized contexts, Mayan languages will realize the V-V sequence by inserting a hiatus-breaking glottal stop or glide insertion between the vowels. Some Kʼichean-branch languages have exhibited developed diphthongs from historical long vowels, by breaking /e:/ and /o:/.
The morphology of Mayan languages is simpler than that of other Mesoamerican languages,yet its morphology is still considered agglutinating and polysynthetic. Verbs are marked for aspect or tense, the person of the subject, the person of the object (in the case of transitive verbs), and for plurality of person. Possessed nouns are marked for person of possessor. In Mayan languages, nouns are not marked for case and gender is not explicitly marked.
Proto-Mayan is thought to have had a basic verb–object–subject word order with possibilities of switching to VSO in certain circumstances, such as complex sentences, sentences where object and subject were of equal animacy and when the subject was definite.Today Yucatecan, Tzotzil and Tojolabʼal have a basic fixed VOS word order. Mamean, Qʼanjobʼal, Jakaltek and one dialect of Chuj have a fixed VSO one. Only Chʼortiʼ has a basic SVO word order. Other Mayan languages allow both VSO and VOS word orders.
In many Mayan languages, counting requires the use of numeral classifiers, which specify the class of items being counted; the numeral cannot appear without an accompanying classifier. Some Mayan languages, such as Kaqchikel, do not use numeral classifiers. Class is usually assigned according to whether the object is animate or inanimate or according to an object's general shape.Thus when counting "flat" objects, a different form of numeral classifier is used than when counting round things, oblong items or people. In some Mayan languages such as Chontal, classifiers take the form of affixes attached to the numeral; in others such as Tzeltal, they are free forms. Jakaltek has both numeral classifiers and noun classifiers, and the noun classifiers can also be used as pronouns.
The meaning denoted by a noun may be altered significantly by changing the accompanying classifier. In Chontal, for example, when the classifier -tek is used with names of plants it is understood that the objects being enumerated are whole trees. If in this expression a different classifier, -tsʼit (for counting long, slender objects) is substituted for -tek, this conveys the meaning that only sticks or branches of the tree are being counted:
|untek wop (one-tree Jahuacte) "one jahuacte tree"||untsʼit wop (one-stick jahuacte) "one stick from a jahuacte tree"|
|one-||"plant"||jahuacte tree||one-||"long.slender.object"||jahuacte tree|
The morphology of Mayan nouns is fairly simple: they inflect for number (plural or singular), and, when possessed, for person and number of their possessor. Pronominal possession is expressed by a set of possessive prefixes attached to the noun, as in Kaqchikel ru-kej "his/her horse". Nouns may furthermore adopt a special form marking them as possessed. For nominal possessors, the possessed noun is inflected as possessed by a third-person possessor, and followed by the possessor noun, e.g. Kaqchikel ru-kej ri achin "the man's horse" (literally "his horse the man").This type of formation is a main diagnostic trait of the Mesoamerican Linguistic Area and recurs throughout Mesoamerica.
Mayan languages often contrast alienable and inalienable possession by varying the way the noun is (or is not) marked as possessed. Jakaltek, for example, contrasts inalienably possessed wetʃel "my photo (in which I am depicted)" with alienably possessed wetʃele "my photo (taken by me)". The prefix we- marks the first person singular possessor in both, but the absence of the -e possessive suffix in the first form marks inalienable possession.
Mayan languages which have prepositions at all normally have only one. To express location and other relations between entities, use is made of a special class of "relational nouns". This pattern is also recurrent throughout Mesoamerica and is another diagnostic trait of the Mesoamerican Linguistic Area. In Mayan most relational nouns are metaphorically derived from body parts so that "on top of", for example, is expressed by the word for head.
Mayan languages are ergative in their alignment. This means that the subject of an intransitive verb is treated similarly to the object of a transitive verb, but differently from the subject of a transitive verb.
Mayan languages have two sets of affixes that are attached to a verb to indicate the person of its arguments. One set (often referred to in Mayan grammars as set B) indicates the person of subjects of intransitive verbs, and of objects of transitive verbs. They can also be used with adjective or noun predicates to indicate the subject.
|Usage||Example||Language of example||Translation|
|Subject of an intransitive verb||x-ix-ok||Kaqchikel||"You [plural] entered"|
|Object of a transitive verb||x-ix-ru-chöp||Kaqchikel||"He/she took you [plural]"|
|Subject of an adjective predicate||ix-samajel||Kaqchikel||"You [plural] are hard-working."|
|Subject of a noun predicate||ʼantz-ot||Tzotzil||"You are a woman."|
Another set (set A) is used to indicate the person of subjects of transitive verbs (and in some languages, such as Yucatec, also the subjects of intransitive verbs, but only in the incompletive aspects), and also the possessors of nouns (including relational nouns).
|Usage||Example||Language of example||Translation|
|Subject of a|
|x-ix-ru-chöp||Kaqchikel||"He/she took you guys"|
|Possessive marker||ru-kej ri achin||Kaqchikel||"the man's horse" (literally: "his horse the man")|
|Relational marker||u-wach ulew||Classical Quiché||"on the earth" (literally: "its face the earth", i.e. "face of the earth")|
In addition to subject and object (agent and patient), the Mayan verb has affixes signalling aspect, tense, and mood as in the following example:
|Aspect/mood/tense||Class A prefix||Class B prefix||Root||Aspect/mood/voice||Plural|
|Incompletive||1st person sg. Patient||2nd person sg. Agent||hit||Incompletive|
|(Kʼicheʼ) kinachʼayo "You are hitting me"|
Tense systems in Mayan languages are generally simple. Jakaltek, for example, contrasts only past and non-past, while Mam has only future and non-future. Aspect systems are normally more prominent. Mood does not normally form a separate system in Mayan, but is instead intertwined with the tense/aspect system.Kaufman has reconstructed a tense/aspect/mood system for proto-Mayan that includes seven aspects: incompletive, progressive, completive/punctual, imperative, potential/future, optative, and perfective.
Mayan languages tend to have a rich set of grammatical voices. Proto-Mayan had at least one passive construction as well as an antipassive rule for downplaying the importance of the agent in relation to the patient. Modern Kʼicheʼ has two antipassives: one which ascribes focus to the object and another that emphasizes the verbal action.Other voice-related constructions occurring in Mayan languages are the following: mediopassive, incorporational (incorporating a direct object into the verb), instrumental (promoting the instrument to object position) and referential (a kind of applicative promoting an indirect argument such as a benefactive or recipient to the object position).
In Mayan languages, statives are a class of predicative words expressing a quality or state, whose syntactic properties fall in between those of verbs and adjectives in Indo-European languages. Like verbs, statives can sometimes be inflected for person but normally lack inflections for tense, aspect and other purely verbal categories. Statives can be adjectives, positionals or numerals.
Positionals, a class of roots characteristic of, if not unique to, the Mayan languages, form stative adjectives and verbs (usually with the help of suffixes) with meanings related to the position or shape of an object or person. Mayan languages have between 250 and 500 distinct positional roots:
Telan ay jun naq winaq yul bʼe.
- There is a man lying down fallen on the road.
Woqan hin kʼal ay max ekkʼu.
- I spent the entire day sitting down.
Yet ewi xoyan ay jun lobʼaj stina.
- Yesterday there was a snake lying curled up in the entrance of the house.
In these three Qʼanjobʼal sentences, the positionals are telan ("something large or cylindrical lying down as if having fallen"), woqan ("person sitting on a chairlike object"), and xoyan ("curled up like a rope or snake").
Compounding of noun roots to form new nouns is commonplace; there are also many morphological processes to derive nouns from verbs. Verbs also admit highly productive derivational affixes of several kinds, most of which specify transitivity or voice.
As in other Mesoamerican languages, there is widespread metaphorical use of roots denoting body parts, particularly to form locatives and relational nouns, such as Kaqchikel -pan ("inside" and "stomach") or -wi ("head-hair" and "on top of").
A number of loanwords of Mayan or potentially Mayan origins are found in other languages, principally Spanish, English, and some neighboring Mesoamerican languages. In addition, Mayan languages borrowed words, especially from Spanish.
A Mayan loanword is cigar . sic is Mayan for "tobacco" and sicar means "to smoke tobacco leaves". This is the most likely origin for cigar and thus cigarette.
The English word "hurricane", which is a borrowing from the Spanish word huracán is considered to be related to the name of Maya storm deity Jun Raqan. However, it is probable that the word passed into European languages from a Cariban language or Taíno.
The complex script used to write Mayan languages in pre-Columbian times and known today from engravings at several Maya archaeological sites has been deciphered almost completely. The script is a mix between a logographic and a syllabic system.
In colonial times Mayan languages came to be written in a script derived from the Latin alphabet; orthographies were developed mostly by missionary grammarians.Not all modern Mayan languages have standardized orthographies, but the Mayan languages of Guatemala use a standardized, Latin-based phonemic spelling system developed by the Academia de Lenguas Mayas de Guatemala (ALMG). Orthographies for the languages of Mexico are currently being developed by the Instituto Nacional de Lenguas Indígenas (INALI).
The pre-Columbian Maya civilization developed and used an intricate and fully functional writing system, which is the only Mesoamerican script that can be said to be almost fully deciphered. Earlier-established civilizations to the west and north of the Maya homelands that also had scripts recorded in surviving inscriptions include the Zapotec, Olmec, and the Zoque-speaking peoples of the southern Veracruz and western Chiapas area—but their scripts are as yet largely undeciphered. It is generally agreed that the Maya writing system was adapted from one or more of these earlier systems. A number of references identify the undeciphered Olmec script as its most likely precursor.
In the course of the deciphering of the Maya hieroglyphic script, scholars have come to understand that it was a fully functioning writing system in which it was possible to express unambiguously any sentence of the spoken language. The system is of a type best classified as logosyllabic, in which symbols (glyphs or graphemes ) can be used as either logograms or syllables.The script has a complete syllabary (although not all possible syllables have yet been identified), and a Maya scribe would have been able to write anything phonetically, syllable by syllable, using these symbols.
At least two major Mayan languages have been confidently identified in hieroglyphic texts, with at least one other language probably identified. An archaic language variety known as Classic Maya predominates in these texts, particularly in the Classic-era inscriptions of the southern and central lowland areas. This language is most closely related to the Chʼolan branch of the language family, modern descendants of which include Chʼol, Chʼortiʼ and Chontal. Inscriptions in an early Yucatecan language (the ancestor of the main surviving Yucatec language) have also been recognised or proposed, mainly in the Yucatán Peninsula region and from a later period. Three of the four extant Maya codices are based on Yucatec. It has also been surmised that some inscriptions found in the Chiapas highlands region may be in a Tzeltalan language whose modern descendants are Tzeltal and Tzotzil.Other regional varieties and dialects are also presumed to have been used, but have not yet been identified with certainty.
Use and knowledge of the Maya script continued until the 16th century Spanish conquest at least. Bishop Diego de Landa Calderón of the Catholic Archdiocese of Yucatán prohibited the use of the written language, effectively ending the Mesoamerican tradition of literacy in the native script. He worked with the Spanish colonizers to destroy the bulk of Mayan texts as part of his efforts to convert the locals to Christianity and away from what he perceived as pagan idolatry. Later he described the use of hieroglyphic writing in the religious practices of Yucatecan Maya in his Relación de las cosas de Yucatán .
Colonial orthography is marked by the use of c for /k/ (always hard, as in cic /kiik/), k for /q/ in Guatemala or for /kʼ/ in the Yucatán, h for /x/, and tz for /ts/; the absence of glottal stop or vowel length (apart sometimes for a double vowel letter for a long glottalized vowel, as in uuc /uʼuk/), the use of u for /w/, as in uac /wak/, and the variable use of z, ç, s for /s/. The greatest difference from modern orthography, however, is in the various attempts to transcribe the ejective consonants.
In ca. 1550, Francisco de la Parra invented distinctive letters for ejectives in the Mayan languages of Guatemala, the tresillo and cuatrillo (and derivatives). These were used in all subsequent Franciscan writing, and are occasionally seen even today. In 1605, Alonso Urbano doubled consonants for ejectives in Otomi (pp, tt, ttz, cc / cqu), and similar systems were adapted to Mayan. Another approach, in Yucatec, was to add a bar to the letter, or to double the stem.
|pʼ||pp, ꝑ, ꝑꝑ, 𝕡*|
|tʼ||th, tħ, ŧ||tt, th|
*Only the stem of 𝕡 is doubled, but that is not supported by Unicode.
A ligature ꜩ for tz is used alongside ꜭ and ꜫ. The Yucatec convention of dz for /tsʼ/ is retained in Maya family names such as Dzib.
Since the colonial period, practically all Maya writing has used a Latin alphabet. Formerly these were based largely on the Spanish alphabet and varied between authors, and it is only recently that standardized alphabets have been established. The first widely accepted alphabet was created for Yucatec Maya by the authors and contributors of the Diccionario Maya Cordemex, a project directed by Alfredo Barrera Vásquez and first published in 1980. /tʼ/ and the non-ejective sequence /tʔ/ (previously tʼ and t7) are both written tʼ. Other major Maya languages, primarily in the Mexican state of Chiapas, such as Tzotzil, Tzeltal, Chʼol, and Tojolabʼal, are not generally included in this reformation, and are sometimes written with the conventions standardized by the Chiapan "State Center for Indigenous Language, Art, and Literature" (CELALI), which for instance writes "ts" rather than "tz" (thus Tseltal and Tsotsil).Subsequently, the Guatemalan Academy of Mayan Languages (known by its Spanish acronym ALMG), founded in 1986, adapted these standards to 22 Mayan languages (primarily in Guatemala). The script is largely phonemic, but abandoned the distinction between the apostrophe for ejective consonants and the glottal stop, so that ejective
From the classic language to the present day, a body of literature has been written in Mayan languages. The earliest texts to have been preserved are largely monumental inscriptions documenting rulership, succession, and ascension, conquest and calendrical and astronomical events. It is likely that other kinds of literature were written in perishable media such as codices made of bark, only four of which have survived the ravages of time and the campaign of destruction by Spanish missionaries.
Shortly after the Spanish conquest, the Mayan languages began to be written with Latin letters. Colonial-era literature in Mayan languages include the famous Popol Vuh , a mythico-historical narrative written in 17th century Classical Quiché but believed to be based on an earlier work written in the 1550s, now lost. The Título de Totonicapán and the 17th century theatrical work the Rabinal Achí are other notable early works in Kʼicheʼ, the latter in the Achí dialect.The Annals of the Cakchiquels from the late 16th century, which provides a historical narrative of the Kaqchikel, contains elements paralleling some of the accounts appearing in the Popol Vuh. The historical and prophetical accounts in the several variations known collectively as the books of Chilam Balam are primary sources of early Yucatec Maya traditions. The only surviving book of early lyric poetry, the Songs of Dzitbalche by Ah Bam, comes from this same period.
In addition to these singular works, many early grammars of indigenous languages, called "artes", were written by priests and friars. Languages covered by these early grammars include Kaqchikel, Classical Quiché, Tzeltal, Tzotzil and Yucatec. Some of these came with indigenous-language translations of the Catholic catechism.
While Mayan peoples continued to produce a rich oral literature in the postcolonial period (after 1821), very little written literature was produced in this period.
Because indigenous languages were excluded from the education systems of Mexico and Guatemala after independence, Mayan peoples remained largely illiterate in their native languages, learning to read and write in Spanish, if at all.However, since the establishment of the Cordemex and the Guatemalan Academy of Mayan Languages (1986), native language literacy has begun to spread and a number of indigenous writers have started a new tradition of writing in Mayan languages. Notable among this new generation is the Kʼicheʼ poet Humberto Akʼabʼal, whose works are often published in dual-language Spanish/Kʼicheʼ editions, as well as Kʼicheʼ scholar Luis Enrique Sam Colop (1955–2011) whose translations of the Popol Vuh into both Spanish and modern Kʼicheʼ achieved high acclaim.
The Huastec or Téenek, are an indigenous people of Mexico, living in the La Huasteca region including the states of Hidalgo, Veracruz, San Luis Potosí and Tamaulipas concentrated along the route of the Pánuco River and along the coast of the Gulf of Mexico.
Kʼicheʼ are indigenous peoples of the Americas and are one of the Maya peoples. The Kʼicheʼ language is a Mesoamerican language in the Mayan language family. The highland Kʼicheʼ states in the pre-Columbian era are associated with the ancient Maya civilization, and reached the peak of their power and influence during the Mayan Postclassic period. The meaning of the word Kʼicheʼ is "many trees". The Nahuatl translation, Cuauhtēmallān "Place of the Many Trees (People)", is the origin of the word Guatemala. Quiché Department is also named for them. Rigoberta Menchú, an activist for indigenous rights who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1992, is perhaps the best-known Kʼicheʼ.
The Maya peoples are an ethnolinguistic group of indigenous peoples of Mesoamerica. They inhabit southern Mexico, Guatemala, Belize, El Salvador and Honduras. The overarching term "Maya" is a collective designation that includes the peoples of the region which share some degree of cultural and linguistic heritage; however, the term embraces many distinct populations, societies and ethnic groups that each have their own particular traditions, cultures and historical identity.
Mesoamerican languages are the languages indigenous to the Mesoamerican cultural area, which covers southern Mexico, all of Guatemala and Belize and parts of Honduras and El Salvador and Nicaragua. The area is characterized by extensive linguistic diversity containing several hundred different languages and seven major language families. Mesoamerica is also an area of high linguistic diffusion in that long-term interaction among speakers of different languages through several millennia has resulted in the convergence of certain linguistic traits across disparate language families. The Mesoamerican sprachbund is commonly referred to as the Mesoamerican Linguistic Area.
Yucatec Maya, called mayaʼ tʼàan by its speakers, is a Mayan language spoken in the Yucatán Peninsula and northern Belize. To native speakers, the proper name is Maya and it is known only as Maya. The qualifier "Yucatec" is a tag linguists use to distinguish it from other Mayan languages. Thus the use of the term Yucatec Maya to refer to the language is scientific jargon or nomenclature.
Tzotzil is a Maya language spoken by the indigenous Tzotzil Maya people in the Mexican state of Chiapas. Most speakers are bilingual in Spanish as a second language. In Central Chiapas, some primary schools and a secondary school are taught in Tzotzil. Tzeltal is the most closely related language to Tzotzil and together they form a Tzeltalan sub-branch of the Mayan language family. Tzeltal, Tzotzil and Chʼol are the most widely spoken languages in Chiapas.
Mayan Sign Language is a sign language used in Mexico and Guatemala by Mayan communities with unusually high numbers of deaf inhabitants. In some instances, both hearing and deaf members of a village may use the sign language. It is unrelated to the national sign languages of Mexico and Guatemala, as well as to the local spoken Mayan languages and Spanish.
The Kaqchikel language is an indigenous Mesoamerican language and a member of the Quichean–Mamean branch of the Mayan languages family. It is spoken by the indigenous Kaqchikel people in central Guatemala. It is closely related to the Kʼicheʼ (Quiché) and Tzʼutujil languages.
The Mixe–Zoque languages are a language family whose living members are spoken in and around the Isthmus of Tehuantepec, Mexico. The Mexican government recognizes three distinct Mixe–Zoquean languages as official: Mixe or ayook with 188,000 speakers, Zoque or o'de püt with 88,000 speakers, and the Popoluca languages of which some are Mixean and some Zoquean with 69,000 speakers. However the internal diversity in each of these groups is great and the Ethnologue counts 17 different languages, and the current classification of Mixe–Zoquean languages by Wichmann (1995) counts 12 languages and 11 dialects. Extinct languages classified as Mixe–Zoquean include Tapachultec, formerly spoken on Tapachula, along the southeast coast of Chiapas.
Achi is a Mayan language very closely related to Kʼicheʼ. It is spoken by the Achi people, primarily in the department of Baja Verapaz in Guatemala.
Awakatek is a Mayan language spoken in Guatemala, primarily in Huehuetenango and around Aguacatán. The language only has around 9000 speakers, and is considered vulnerable by UNESCO. In addition, the language in Mexico is critically endangered, with only 3 elderly speakers left in Champotón, Campeche as of 2000.
Itzaʼ is a critically endangered Mayan language spoken by the Itza people near Lake Peten Itza in north-central Guatemala. The language has only 25 fluent speakers and 60 nonfluent speakers.
Mopan is a language that belongs to the Yucatecan branch of the Mayan languages. It is spoken by the Mopan people who live in the Petén Department of Guatemala and in the Maya Mountains region of Belize. There are between three and four thousand Mopan speakers in Guatemala and six to eight thousand in Belize.
The Uspanteko is a Mayan language of Guatemala, closely related to Kʼicheʼ. It is spoken in the Uspantán and Playa Grande Ixcán municipios, in the Department El Quiché. It is also one of only three Mayan languages to have developed contrastive tone. It distinguishes between vowels with high tone and vowels with low tone.
The ChʼolanAKACholan–Tzeltalan languages are a branch of the Mayan family of Mexico. These languages break into six sections being Cholan and Tzeltalan. Cholan has then two subsections being Western Cholan and Chʼoltiʼan; these composing the two larger sections of slight linguistic differences portrayed by Kuryłowicz's Fourth Law of Analogy. The language Tzeltalan also breaks up into sections; Tzendal, Tzotzil, and Wastekan. These subsections differ by similar linguistic differences.
Kʼicheʼ, or Quiché, is a Maya language of Guatemala, spoken by the Kʼicheʼ people of the central highlands. With over a million speakers, Kʼicheʼ is the second-most widely spoken language in the country after Spanish. Most speakers of Kʼicheʼ languages also have at least a working knowledge of Spanish.
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VictoriaReiflerBricker is an American anthropologist and ethnographer, known for her studies of Mesoamerican culture.
| Maya civilization |
|Huastec test of Wikipedia at Wikimedia Incubator|
|Yucatec Maya test of Wikipedia at Wikimedia Incubator|
|Chʼol test of Wikipedia at Wikimedia Incubator|
|Tzeltal test of Wikipedia at Wikimedia Incubator|
|Mam test of Wikipedia at Wikimedia Incubator|
|Kaqchikel test of Wikipedia at Wikimedia Incubator|