Q'eqchi' language

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Native to Guatemala, Belize
Region Alta Verapaz, Petén, Izabal, Baja Verapaz, El Quiché; Toledo
Ethnicity Q'eqchi'
Native speakers
800,000  (2009)[1]
Official status
Official language in
Considered a national language of Guatemala[2] and Mexico[3]
Regulated by Academía de las Lenguas Mayas de Guatemala
Language codes
ISO 639-3 kek
This article contains IPA phonetic symbols. Without proper rendering support, you may see question marks, boxes, or other symbols instead of Unicode characters.

The Q'eqchi' language, also spelled Kekchi, is one of the Mayan languages, natively spoken within Q'eqchi' communities in Guatemala and Belize.


Q'eqchi' has traditionally been described as having two dialects—one spoken in Cobán, Alta Verapaz, and the surrounding areas; and an "eastern" dialect spoken everywhere else.[citation needed]

In Guatemala, Q'eqchi' is spoken in the departments of Alta Verapaz, Petén, Izabal, Baja Verapaz, and El Quiché. Several Maya communities in the Toledo District of Belize use this language as their first language, and the majority of Mayas in Toledo speak Q'eqchi'.

Locations investigated in Xtz'ilb'al Rix Li Aatinak Sa' Q'eqchi': Informe de Variación Dialectal en Q'eqchi (2007) are:

  1. Cobán, Alta Verapaz
  2. Chamelco, Alta Verapaz
  3. Lanquin, Alta Verapaz
  4. Cahabón, Alta Verapaz
  5. Chisec, Alta Verapaz
  6. Fray Bartolomé de las Casas, Alta Verapaz
  7. Chahal, Alta Verapaz
  8. San Luis, Petén
  9. Panzós, Alta Verapaz
  10. Senahú, Alta Verapaz
  11. Carchá, Alta Verapaz
  12. El Estor, Izabal
  13. Livingston, Izabal
  14. Tucurú, Alta Verapaz


Below is the Q'eqchi' phonology, with orthography (ALMG) in parentheses.


Table of consonant phonemes of Q'eqchi'
Bilabial Alveolar Post-alveolar Alveo-palatal Velar Uvular Glottal
Plosive p ɓ (p b') t (t t') k (k k') q (q q') ʔ (')
(loans from Spanish)
b (b) d (d) ɡ (g)
Affricate ts tsʼ (tz tz') tʃʼ (ch ch')
Fricative s (s) ʃ (x) x (j)
Nasal m (m) n (n)
Tap/Flap ɾ (r)
Lateral l (l)
Semivowel w (w) j (y)


Table of vowel phonemes of Q'eqchi'
Front Central Back
Close i u
Mid e o
Open a


With a few exceptions—interjections, such as uyaluy, mainly (Kockelman 2003)—stress always falls on the final syllable (Stewart 1980).


Several writing systems have been developed for Q'eqchi', but only two are in widespread use: SIL and ALMG.

Early transcriptions[edit]

Before Sedat and Eachus & Carlson developed the SIL orthography, field researchers attempted to piece together their own form of writing Q'eqchi' (as was done for many other "exotic" languages). For example, Robert Burkitt, in his 1902 paper "Notes on the Kekchí Language," developed a means of transcription very different from the current standards (as a matter of fact, he was one of the first field linguists to work with the orthography of Q'eqchi').[4]


One systematic orthography was developed by Summer Institute of Linguistics (SIL) field researchers, principally William Sedat in the 1950s and Francis Eachus and Ruth Carlson in the 1960s.[5] Though no longer considered standard, this orthography remains in circulation in large part due to the popularity of a few texts including the Protestant Bible produced by the SIL/Wycliffe Bible Translation Project, and a widely used language learning workbook "Aprendamos Kekchí."


The Proyecto Lingüístico Francisco Marroquín developed a newer orthography in the late 1980s and early 1990s. This system, as later modified by the Academia de Lenguas Mayas de Guatemala (ALMG), is now considered the standard, official way to write Q'eqchi', at least in Guatemala.

In the current orthography there are 33 graphemes (letters), each of which is meant to correspond to a particular phoneme. These include separate vowels for long and short sounds, as well as glottal stops accompanying certain consonants.

Comparison of the two major orthographies[edit]

Comparative examples of the ALMG and SIL orthographies
ALMG SIL English translation
maak'a ta chink'ul sa' laa muheb'al aaki'chebal maac'a ta chinc'ul sa' laa muhebal aaqui'chebaal May nothing happen to me in your shady places and your forests.
yo chi amaq'ink laj Kachil Petén yo chi amak'inc laj Cachil Petén Carlos lives (is living) in Petén.


At the time of the Spanish conquest of the Americas, Q'eqchi' was probably spoken by fewer people than neighboring languages such as Itza', Mopan, and Cholti', all of which are now moribund or extinct. The main evidence for this fact is not colonial documents, but the prevalence of loan words apparently stemming from these languages in Q'eqchi'. However, a number of factors made Q'eqchi' do better than the just-mentioned languages. One is the difficult mountainous terrain which is its home. Another is that, rather than simply being conquered, as the Cholti', or resisting conquest for an extended period, as the Itza' did for over 200 years, the Q'eqchi' came to a particular arrangement with the Spaniards, by which Dominican priests, led initially by Fray Bartolome de las Casas, were allowed to enter their territory and proselytize undisturbed, whereas no lay Spaniards were admitted. This led to their territory being renamed "Verapaz" (true peace) by the Spaniards, a name which continues today in the Guatemalan departments Alta Verapaz and Baja Verapaz. This relatively favorable early development allowed the people to spread, and even make war on neighboring Mayan groups. Although it was later followed by the brutal policies of the late-19th-century liberals and the late-20th century military governments, it largely explains the status of Q'eqchi' as the 3rd largest Mayan language in Guatemala and the 4th across the Mayan region. The relatively recent, postcolonial expansion is also the reason that Q'eqchi' is perhaps the most homogeneous of the larger Mayan languages.[6]


Like most other Mayan languages, Q'eqchi' is still in the process of becoming a written and literary language. Existing texts can roughly be divided into the following categories.

  1. Educational texts meant to teach people how to speak, read or write Q'eqchi'. This category includes materials such as dictionaries and grammars, as well as workbooks designed to be used in rural Guatemala schools in communities where the majority of the people are native speakers of Q'eqchi'.
  2. Religious texts. The Protestant version of the Bible (published by the SIL based on the work of William Sedat, and Eachus and Carlson) mentioned above is probably the most widely available text in Q'eqchi'. In the last twenty years or so, the Roman Catholic Church has been one of the primary proponents of written Q'eqchi'. Various Catholic organizations are responsible for producing a number of texts, including the New Testament, Genesis and Exodus, and various instructional pamphlets. A songbook entitled Qanimaaq Xloq'al li Qaawa' 'We praise the Lord' is very popular among Catholics, has been in print for many years, and is updated with new songs regularly. The Book of Mormon also is available in Q'eqchi' as are also other LDS religious texts.[7]
  3. Non-instructive secular texts have also begun to appear in the last ten years or so, although they are still few in number. The most ambitious of these works have been a free translation of the K'iche' text Popol Wuj ("Popol Vuh") by the Q'eqchi' language teacher and translator Rigoberto Baq Qaal (or Ba'q Q'aal), and a collection of Q'eqchi' folk tales. A number of government documents have also been translated into Q'eqchi', including the Guatemalan Constitution.

External links[edit]


  1. ^ Q'eqchi' at Ethnologue (17th ed., 2013)
  2. ^ Proyecto de Reformas a la Constitución Política
  3. ^ Catologo de Lenguas Indigenas de Mexico (2008)
  4. ^ Burkitt, Robert (1902). "Notes on the Kekchí". American Anthropologist 4 (3): 441–63. doi:10.1525/aa.1902.4.3.02a00060. 
  5. ^ SIL bibliography for Eachus and Carlson
  6. ^ Wichmann, Soeren. Loanwords in Q'eqchi', a Mayan language of Guatemala. 
  7. ^ Kai A. Andersen, “‘In His Own Language'”, Liahona, June 1997, 29; see available list of Q'eqchi' LDS publications at ldscatalog.com.


Wilson, Richard (1995). Maya Resurgence in Guatemala: Q'eqchi' Experiences. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press. ISBN 0-8061-2690-6. OCLC 31172908. 
Stewart, Stephen (1980). Gramática kekchí. Guatemala: Editorial Académica Centroamericana. OCLC 318333627. 
Kockelman, Paul (2003). "The Meanings of Interjections in Q'eqchi' Maya". Current Anthropology 44 (4): 467. doi:10.1086/375871.