Akatek language

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Native toGuatemala
Native speakers
45,430 (2003-2011)[1]
Official status
Recognised minority
language in
Language codes
ISO 639-3knj
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Akatek (Acateco) is a Mayan language spoken by the Akatek people primarily in the Huehuetenango Department, Guatemala in and around the municipalities of Concepción Huista, Nentón, San Miguel Acatán, San Rafael La Independencia and San Sebastián Coatán.[3] A number of speakers also live in Chiapas, Mexico. It is a living language with 58,600 speakers in 1998, of which 48,500 lived in Guatemala and the remaining in Mexico.[4]

Akatek is closely related to the two Mayan languages, Qʼanjobʼal and Jakaltek. The three languages together form the Qʼanjobʼal-Jakaltek sub-branch, which together with the Mochoʼ language form the Qʼanjobʼalan sub-branch, which again, together with the Chujean languages, Chuj and Tojolabʼal, form the branch Qʼanjobalan–Chujean. It is believed that Qʼanjobʼal–Jakaltek split into Akatek, Qʼanjobʼal and Jakaltek some 500 to 1,500 years ago.[citation needed]

Akatek was regarded as a dialect of the Qʼanjobʼal language until the 1970s, when linguists realized that it has a distinct grammar from that of Qʼanjobʼal.[5] That it has been thought a dialect of Qʼanjobʼal is reflected in the many names Akatek has had through time. One of its primary names before it was named Akatek was Western Qʼanjobʼal, but it has also been called Conob and various names including Qʼanjobʼal and the municipality where it is spoken.

An interesting aspect of Akatek grammar, which is also present in most other Qʼanjobalan languages, is the use of directional morphemes, which appear as enclitics. These morphemes make it possible for the speaker to talk about movement and direction in space without pointing or using other gestures. Consider the stative verb [ʔej] to be, which can appear as [ʔejʔok] existing inwards, [ʔejtok] existing towards there, away from the speaker and listener and [ʔeːltox] existing from the inside out, using different enclitics.



Akatek has 5 vowels:

Front Back
Unrounded Rounded
Close i u
Close-mid e o
Open a

Vowel length is distinctive, so one can say that the total number of vowels is 10.


Akatek has 24 consonants, including the glottal stop:

Bilabial Alveolar Postalveolar Retroflex Palatal Velar Uvular Glottal
Plosive Normal p t k ʔ
Implosive ɓ
Nasal m n
Fricative β̞ s ʃ ʂ x
Affricate Normal t͡s t͡ʃ ʈ͡ʂ
Ejective t͡sʼ t͡ʃʼ ʈ͡ʂʼ
Tap ɾ
Approximant l j

/p/ is realized as [pʰ] word-finally, [p] everywhere else.

Examples: pom [pom] copal, xopan [ʃopan] hollow, sip [sipʰ] tick

/k/ is realized as [kʰ] word-finally, [k] everywhere else.

Examples: kaapʼ [kaːɓ̥] two, mooke [moːke] tinaja, chʼok [t͡ʃʼokʰ] zanate

/t/ is realized as [tʰ] before plosive consonants, [t] everywhere else.

Examples: teʼ [teʔ] tree, satkan [satʰkan] sky, pʼit [ɓit] song

/ɓ/ is realized as [ɓ̥] word-finally, [ɓ] everywhere else.

Examples: kaapʼ [kaːɓ̥] two, pʼeyʼpʼal [ɓejɓal] the walking (thing)

/x/ is realized as [h] word-initially, [x] everywhere else.

Examples: xos [hos] egg, ajane [ʔaxane] foot

/n/ is realized as [m] before /p/ and /ɓ/, but [ŋ] before alveolar and velar consonants, [n] everywhere else.

Examples: Examples: inpʼit [imɓit] my song, ante [ʔaŋte] to cure, naa [naː] house


  1. ^ Akatek at Ethnologue (19th ed., 2016)
  2. ^ Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds. (2017). "Akateko". Glottolog 3.0. Jena, Germany: Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History.
  3. ^ Cabral, Ernesto Díaz Couder (2001). "Culturas e interculturalidad en Guatemala". Archived from the original on 2010-02-15.
  4. ^ Ethnologue
  5. ^ Maldonado, Roberto Zavala (1992). Acateco de la frontera sur.