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Yucatec Maya language: Wikis


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Yucatec Maya
Maaya T'aan
Spoken in Mexico, Belize , Guatemala
Region Yucatán 547,098,
Quintana Roo 163,477,
Campeche 75,847,
Belize 5,000
Total speakers 805,000
Language family Mayan
  • Yucatecan
    • Yucatec-Lacandon
      • Yucatec Maya
Language codes
ISO 639-1 None
ISO 639-2 myn
ISO 639-3 yua

Yucatec Maya (Yukatek Maya in the revised orthography of the Academia de Lenguas Mayas de Guatemala), called Màaya t'àan (lit. "Maya speech") by its speakers, 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 - 1.2 million speakers.



A characteristic feature of Yucatec Maya (and all Mayan languages) is the use of ejective consonants - /p'/, /t'/, /k'/. Often referred to as glottalized consonants, they are produced at the same place of oral articulation as their non-ejective stop counterparts - /p/, /t/, /k/. However, the release of the lingual closure is preceded by a raising of the closed glottis to increase the air pressure in the space between the glottis and the point of closure, resulting in a release 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'àan "speech" vs. táan "forehead"). 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). Yucatec distinguishes between short vowels and long vowels - indicated by single versus double letters (ii ee aa oo uu) - and between high- and low-tone long vowels. High-tone vowels begin on a high pitch and fall in phrase-final position but rise elsewhere, sometimes without much vowel length; in either case this is indicated in writing by means of an acute accent (íi ée áa óo úu). Low-tone vowels begin on a low pitch and are sustained in length; they are sometimes but not always indicated in writing by means of a grave accent (ìi èe àa òo ùu). Also, Yucatec has contrastive laryngealization (creaky voice) on vowels, sometimes realized by means of a full intervocalic glottal stop and written as a long vowel with an apostrophe in the middle, 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 and others) 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)[1] where intransitive subjects are encoded like agents or patients based upon a number of semantic 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" (<ɔ>) was often used to represent [tsʼ], which is now more usually represented with <dz> (and as <tz'> in the revised ALMG orthography).


Yucatec Maya English
Pronunciation of
western Yucatán,
northern Campeche
and Central Quintana Roo
Normal translation Literal translation
B'ix a bèel? Bi'x a b'eh? How are you? How is your road?
Ma'alob', kux tèech? Good, and you? Not bad, as for you?
B'ey xan tèen. Same with me. Thus also to me.
Tu'ux ka b'in? Where are you going?
Tim b'in xíimbal. I am going for a walk.
B'ix a k'àab'a'? What is your name? How are you named?
In k'àab'a'e' Jorge. My name is Jorge. My name, Jorge.
Jach ki'imak in wóol in wilikech. Pleased to meet you. Very happy my heart to see you.
Ba'ax ka wa'alik? What's up? What (are) you saying?
What do you say?
Mix b'a'al. Mix b'a'ah. Nothing.
Don't mention it.
B'ix a wilik? How does it look? How you see (it)?
Jach ma'alob'. Very good.
Ko'ox! Let's go! (For two people - you and I)
Ko'one'ex! Let's go! (For a group of people)
B'a'ax a k'áat? What do you want?
(Tak) sáamal. Aasta sáamah. See you tomorrow. Until tomorrow.
Jach Dyos b'o'otik. Thank you.
God bless you very much.
Very much God pays (it).

English words derived from Maya

The word "shark" almost certainly derives from Yucatex Maya xoc.[2] The OED still 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." These dates, however, helped establish its recently discovered etymology, and very few dictionaries have had the chance to update this entry.

Another word is "cigarette". "Zik" is Maya for "smoke" and "zikil" is Chol Maya for "smoked", which in Chorti Maya is "zikar", the origin for "cigar" and thus "cigarette".

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.



Bolles, David (1997–). "Combined Dictionary–Concordance of the Yucatecan Mayan Language" (revised 2003). Foundation for the Advancement of Mesoamerican Studies, Inc. (FAMSI). Retrieved 2007-02-01. 
Bolles, David; and Alejandra Bolles (2004). "A Grammar of the Yucatecan Mayan Language" (revised online edition, 1996 Lee, New Hampshire). Foundation for the Advancement of Mesoamerican Studies, Inc. (FAMSI). The Foundation Research Department. Retrieved 2007-02-01. 
Brody, Michal (2004) (PDF). The fixed word, the moving tongue: variation in written Yucatec Maya and the meandering evolution toward unified norms (PhD thesis, UT Electronic Theses and Dissertations, Digital Repository ed.). Austin: University of Texas. OCLC 74908453. 
Coe, Michael D. (1992). Breaking the Maya Code. London: Thames and Hudson. ISBN 0-500-05061-9. OCLC 26605966. 
Curl, John (2005). Ancient American Poets: The Songs of Dzitbalche. Tempe: Bilingual Press. ISBN 1-931010-21-8. 
McQuown, Norman A. (1968). "Classical Yucatec (Maya)". in Norman A. McQuown (Volume ed.). Handbook of Middle American Indians, Vol. 5: Linguistics. R. Wauchope (General Editor). Austin: University of Texas Press. pp. 201–248. ISBN 0-292-73665-7. OCLC 277126. 
Tozzer, Alfred M. (1977) [1921]. A Maya Grammar (unabridged republication ed.). New York: Dover. ISBN 0-486-23465-7. OCLC 3152525. 

Language courses

In addition to universities and private institutions in Mexico, (Yucatec) Maya is also taught at:

Audio course materials are available for purchase at

Free online dictionary, grammar and texts:


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