Yucatec Maya language

Yucatec Maya language

Infobox Language
name=Yukatek Maya
nativename=Maaya T'aan
states=Mexico, Belize , Guatemala
region=Yucatán 547,098,
Quintana Roo 163,477,
Campeche 75,847,
Belize 5,000

Yucatec Maya ("Maaya T'aan" in the revised orthography of the "Academia de Lenguas Mayas de Guatemala") is a Mayan language spoken in the Yucatán Peninsula, northern Belize and parts of Guatemala. To native speakers, it is known only as Maya - "Yucatec" is a tag linguists use to distinguish it from other Mayan languages (such as K'iche' and Itza' Maya).

In the Mexican states of Yucatán, northern Campeche and Quintana Roo, Maya remains many speakers' first language today, with approximately 800,000 speakers.


A characteristic feature of Yucatec Maya (and all Mayan languages) is the use of ejective consonants - /p'/, /k'/, /t'/. Often referred to as glottalized consonants, they are pronounced more or less like their non-ejective counterparts, though the pronunciation is briefly halted and then released with a characteristic "popping" sound. These sounds are written using an apostrophe after the letter to distinguish them from the plain consonants (e.g., "t'áan" "speech" vs. "táan" "chest"). The apostrophes indicating these sounds were not common in written Maya until the 20th century but are now becoming more common. Yucatec Maya is one of only three Mayan languages to have developed tone (the others are Uspantek and one dialect of Tzotzil). It distinguishes between vowels with high and low tones - high tone is usually indicated in writing by an acute accent (á í é ó ú). Also, Yucatec has contrastive laryngealization on vowels, as in the plural suffix -o'ob.

Like almost all Mayan languages, Yucatec Maya is verb initial. Word order varies between VOS and VSO with VOS being the most common. Many sentences may appear to be SVO, but this order is due to a topic-comment system similar to that of Japanese. One of the most widely studied areas of Yucatec is the semantics of time in the language. Yucatec, like many other languages of the world (Kalaallisut, arguably Mandarin Chinese, Guaraní inter alia) does not have the grammatical category of tense. Temporal information is encoded by a combination of aspect, inherent lexical aspect (aktionsart), and pragmatically governed conversational inferences. Yucatec is further unique in the world's languages for lacking temporal connective such as 'before' and 'after'. Another unique aspect of the language is the core argument marking strategy which is a 'fluid S system' in the typology of Dixon (1994) [cite book |author=aut|Dixon, Robert M. W. |authorlink=R. M. W. Dixon |year=1994 |title=Ergativity |publisher=Cambridge University Press |location=Cambridge |isbn=0521448980] where intransitive subjects are encoded like agents or patients based upon a number of semantics properties as well as the perfectivity of the event.


The Maya were literate in pre-Columbian times, when the language was written using Maya hieroglyphs. The language itself can be traced back to proto-Yucatecan, the ancestor of modern Yucatec Maya, Itza, Lacandon and Mopan. Even further back, the language is ultimately related to all other Maya languages through proto-Mayan itself.

Yucatec Maya is now written in the Latin script. This was introduced during the Spanish Conquest of Yucatán which began in the early 16th century, and the now-antiquated conventions of Spanish orthography of that period ("Colonial orthography") were adapted to transcribe Yucatec Maya. This included the use of x for the postalveolar fricative sound (often spelled as sh in English), a sound that in Spanish has since turned into a velar fricative nowadays spelled j, except in a few geographic names such as "México".

In colonial times a "reversed c" (IPA|ɔ) was often used for the IPA| [ʦ’] sound now more usually written dz (and latterly as tz' in the revised ALMG orthography).

Common Phrases in Maya

"Bix a bel?" (pronounced "B'ix a b'eh?" in parts of western Yucatán and northern Campeche)

:How are you? (literally "How is your road?")

"Ma'alob, kux tech?"

:Good, and you? (literally "not bad, as for you?")

"Bey xan ten."

:Same with me (literally "thus also to me")

"Tux ka bin?"

:Where are you going?

"Tim b'in xíimbal."

:I am going for a walk.

"Bix a k'àab'a'?"

:What is your name? (Literally "how are you named?")

" In k'aaba' Jorge."

:My name is Jorge (Literally "Jorge my name")

"Hach ki'imak in wóol in wilikech"

:Pleased to meet you (Literally "very happy my heart I see you")

"Ba'ax ka wa'alik?"

:What's up? (Literally, "what are you saying (it)" or "what do you say?")

"Mix bá'al." (Pronounced "Mix b'á'ah" in parts of western Yucatán and northern Campeche)


"Bix a wilik?"

:How does it look? (Literally "how you see (it)?")

"Jach Ma'alob"'

:Very good.


:Let's go! (For two people - you and I)


:Let's go! (For a group of people)

"Ba'ax a ka?"

:What do you want?

"Tak sáamal" (the word "tak" is often lost in many areas of the northern lowlands, and it is replaced with "hasta sáamah" in western Yucatán and northern Campeche)

:Until Tomorrow. (Meaning "See you tomorrow")

"Hach dyos bo'otik."

:Thank you very much. (Literally "very much God pays (it)")

"Mix bá'al." (Pronounced "Mix b'á'ah" in parts of western Yucatán and northern Campeche)

:It's nothing (don't mention it - you're welcome) (literally, "Nothing").

English word derived from Maya

According to "Breaking the Maya Code: Revised Edition" by Michael D. Coe, 1999, the English word "shark" comes directly from the Maya "xoc" for "fish". The OED print edition describes the origin of shark as "uncertain", noting that it "seems to have been introduced by the sailors of Captain (afterwards Sir John) Hawkins's expedition, who brought home a specimen which was exhibited in London in 1569".

Use in modern-day media and popular culture

Yucatec-language programming is carried by the CDI's radio stations XEXPUJ-AM (Xpujil, Campeche), XENKA-AM (Felipe Carrillo Puerto, Quintana Roo) and XEPET-AM (Peto, Yucatán).

The 2006 film "Apocalypto", directed by Mel Gibson, was filmed entirely in Yucatec Maya, the script was translated into Maya by Hilario Chi Canul of the Maya community of Felipe Carrillo Puerto who also worked as a language coach on the production.



: cite web |author=aut|Bolles, David |year=1997– |title=Combined Dictionary–Concordance of the Yucatecan Mayan Language |publisher=Foundation for the Advancement of Mesoamerican Studies, Inc. (FAMSI) |format=revised 2003 |url=http://www.famsi.org/reports/96072/index.html |accessdate=2007-02-01 : cite web |author=aut|Bolles, David |coauthors=and aut|Alejandra Bolles |year=2004 |title=A Grammar of the Yucatecan Mayan Language |publisher=The Foundation Research Department |work=Foundation for the Advancement of Mesoamerican Studies, Inc. (FAMSI) |format=revised online edition, 1996 Lee, New Hampshire |url=http://www.famsi.org/research/bolles/grammar/index.html |accessdate=2007-02-01 : cite book |author=aut|Coe, Michael D. |authorlink=Michael D. Coe |year=1992 |title=Breaking the Maya Code |publisher=Thames and Hudson |location=London |isbn=0-500-05061-9 |oclc=26605966 : cite book |author=aut|Curl, John |year=2005 |title= Ancient American Poets: [http://red-coral.net/Dzit.html The Songs of Dzitbalche] |location= Tempe |publisher= Bilingual Press |isbn=1-931010-21-8: cite book |author=aut|McQuown, Norman A. |year=1968 |chapter=Classical Yucatec (Maya) |pages=pp.201–248 |title=Handbook of Middle American Indians, Vol. 5: Linguistics |editor=Norman A. McQuown (Volume ed.) |others=R. Wauchope (General Editor) |publisher=University of Texas Press |location=Austin |isbn=0-292-73665-7 |oclc=277126 : cite book |author=aut|Tozzer, Alfred M. |authorlink=Alfred Tozzer |year=1977 |origyear=1921 |title=A Maya Grammar |edition=(unabridged republication) |publisher=Dover |location=New York |isbn=0-486-23465-7 |oclc=3152525

Language courses

In addition to universities and private institutions in Mexico, (Yucatec) Maya is also taught at:
* [http://home.uchicago.edu/~johnlucy/CH479-03-SYL.htm The University of Chicago] ,
* [http://www.leidenuniv.nl Leiden University, Netherlands] ,
* [http://www.courses.fas.harvard.edu/4772 Harvard University] ,
* [http://anthropology.tulane.edu/courses.cfm Tulane] ,
* [http://www.indiana.edu/~mlcp/courses.php Indiana University] ,
* [http://www.wisc.edu University of Wisconsin-Madison] , and
* [http://www.duke.edu/web/carolinadukeconsortium/yucatec_maya/index.html The University of North Carolina] .Audio course materials are available for purchase at
* [http://languages.uchicago.edu/old/products.shtml The University of Chicago Language Labs and Archives] .

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