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Pronunciation /kʼit͡ʃeʔ/
Spoken in Guatemala
Region Central highlands
Total speakers approx. 1,000,000[1]
Language family Mayan
  • Quichean-Mamean
    • Greater Quichean
      • Quichean
        • Quiché-Achi
          • K'iche'
Official status
Official language in None
Recognised minority language in Guatemala[2]
Regulated by Academia de Lenguas Mayas de Guatemala (ALMG)
Language codes
ISO 639-1 None
ISO 639-2 myn
ISO 639-3 quc – K'iche'

The K'iche' language (Quiché in Spanish, Qatzijob'al or "our language" to its speakers) is a part of the Mayan language family. It is spoken by many K'iche' people in the central highlands of Guatemala. With close to a million speakers (some 7% of Guatemala's population), it is the second-most widely spoken language in the country after Spanish. Most speakers of K'iche' also have at least a working knowledge of Spanish except in some isolated rural villages. One of the notable speakers of the Quiché language is Rigoberta Menchú.

There is substantial dialectal variation, and the main dialects are sometimes considered to be separate languages. Most speakers use Central K'iche', which is the most commonly used in the media and education. Other dialects include West Central, San Andrés, Joyabaj, Eastern, Nahualá and Cunén. Although it is just one of the national languages and not the official language of Guatemala, and the first-language literacy rate is low, K'iche' is increasingly taught in schools and used on radio.

The most famous work in the Classical K'iche' language is the Popol Vuh (Popol Wu'uj in modern spelling).





a open front unrounded vowel [a]
ä mid centre unrounded vowel [ə]
e close-mid front unrounded vowel [e]
i close front unrounded vowel [i]
o close-mid back rounded vowel [o]
u close back rounded vowel [u]


Bilabial Alveolar Palatal Velar Uvular Glottal
plain implosive plain ejective plain ejective plain ejective plain ejective plain
Nasals m [m] n [n] nh [ŋ]
Plosive p [p] b' [ɓ] t [t] t' [tʼ] k [k] k' [kʼ] q [q] q' [qʼ] ' [ʔ]
Affricate tz [ts] tz' [tsʼ] ch [tʃ] ch' [tʃʼ]
Fricative s [s] x [ʃ] j [χ] h [h]
Rhotic r [r]
Approximant l [l] y [j] w [w]


Historically different orthographies have been used to transliterate the K'iche' language. The classic orthography of Father Ximénez who wrote down the Popol Wuj is based on the Spanish orthography and has been replaced by a new standardized orthography defined by the ALMG (Academia de Lenguas Mayas de Guatemala). Ethnohistorian and Mayanist Dennis Tedlock uses his own transliteration system completely different from any of the established orthographies, but this system will not be given here.

The first line of Popol Wuj in different orthographies:
Ximénez's classical orthography Are v xe oher tzíh varal Quíche ubí.
ALMG orthography Are’ uxe’ ojer tzij waral K’iche’ ub’i’.
(Ximénez's Spanish translation) Este es el principio de las Antiguas historias aquí en el Quiché.
(Tedlock's English translation) "This is the beginning of the ancient word, here in the place called Quiché."

Syntax and morphology

The Basic order of K'iche' is verb-object-subject (VOS) order,and like most mayan languages it is verb-initial. Variation in word order is not uncommon, and some modern speakers do also use SVO order.


The Nahualá dialect of K'iche' shows some differences from other K'iche' dialects: Nahualá preserves an ancient Proto-Mayan distinction between five long vowels (aa, ee, ii, oo, uu) and five short vowels (a, e, i, o, u). It is for this conservative linguistic feature that Guatemalan and foreign linguists have actively sought to have the language called "K'ichee'," rather than K'iche' or Quiché.

Unlike the most prominent K'ichee' dialects, the Nahualá dialect of K'ichee' also has a phoneme /h/ and a phoneme /N/, both of which occur only at the ends of words, almost exclusively after short vowels. Linguists have established firmly that the /h/ is a reflex of a proto-Mayan */h/. Linguists have not thoroughly investigated the origin of the /N/ phoneme, which occurs only in a few words.


  1. ^ According to the official 2002 census 1,270,953 were considered Maya K'iche' people (see "XI Censo Nacional de Población y VI de Habitación (Censo 2002) - Pertenencia de grupo étnico". Instituto Nacional de Estadística. 2002. Retrieved 2008-05-27.  ), of which 890,596 were considered K'iche' speakers (see "XI Censo Nacional de Población y VI de Habitación (Censo 2002) - Idioma o lengua en que aprendió a hablar". Instituto Nacional de Estadística. 2002. Retrieved 2008-05-27.  ).
    However, data from the Summer Institute of Linguistics (SIL) suggests that the total number of K'iche' speakers is over 2,000,000 people (see "Languages of Guatemala". Summer Institute of Linguistics (SIL). 2000. Retrieved 2008-05-27.  
  2. ^ Congreso de la República de Guatemala. "Decreto Número 19-2003. Ley de Idiomas Nacionales". Retrieved 22-06-2009.  


  • Munro S. Edmonson, Quiche-English Dictionary. Middle American Research Institute, Tulane University, publ. no. 30 (1965).
  • James L. Mondloch, Basic Quiche Grammar. Institute for Mesoamerican Studies, University at Albany, The State University of New York, publ. no. 2 (1978).
  • Abraham García-Hernández, Santiago Yac Sam, and David Henne Pontius, Diccionario Quiché-Español. Instituto Linguistico de Verano, Guatemala (1980).
  • Dennis Tedlock, Popol Vuh: The Definitive Edition of the Mayan Book of the Dawn of Life and the Glories of Gods and Kings. Touchstone Books (1996). ISBN 0-684-81845-0.
  • Sam Colop, Popol Wuj — Versión Poética K‘iche‘. PEMBI/GTZ/Cholsamaj, Guatemala (1999). (In the Quiché Maya language).
  • María Beatriz Par Sapón and Telma Angelina Can Pixabaj, Ujunamaxiik ri K'ichee' Ch'ab'al, Variación Dialectal en K'ichee' . Proyecto de Investigación Lingüística de Oxlajuuj Keej Maya' Ajtz'iib' (OKMA)/Editorial Cholsamaj, Guatemala City (2000). ISBN 99922-53-07-X

External links


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