Akatek language

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Native to Guatemala
Region Huehuetenango
Ethnicity Akatek
Native speakers
57,000 (1998)[1]
Language codes
ISO 639-3 knj
Glottolog west2635[2]
This article contains IPA phonetic symbols. Without proper rendering support, you may see question marks, boxes, or other symbols instead of Unicode characters.

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, Q'anjob'al and Jakaltek. The three languages together form the Q'anjob'al-Jakaltek sub-branch, which together with the Mocho' language form the Q'anjob'alan sub-branch, which again, together with the Chujean languages, Chuj and Tojolab'al, form the branch Q'anjobalan–Chujean. It is believed that Q'anjob'al–Jakaltek split into Akatek, Q'anjob'al and Jakaltek some 500 to 1,500 years ago.[citation needed]

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

An interesting aspect of Akatek grammar, which is also present in most other Q'anjobalan 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: kaap' [kaːɓ̥] two, mooke [moːke] tinaja, ch'ok [t͡ʃʼokʰ] zanate

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

Examples: te' [teʔ] tree, satkan [satʰkan] sky, p'it [ɓit] song

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

Examples: kaap' [kaːɓ̥] two, p'ey'p'al [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: inp'it [imɓit] my song, ante [ʔaŋte] to cure, naa [naː] house


  1. ^ Akatek at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015)
  2. ^ Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin; Bank, Sebastian, eds. (2016). "Western Kanjobal". Glottolog 2.7. Jena: Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History. 
  3. ^ Cabral, Ernesto Díaz Couder (2001). "Culturas e interculturalidad en Guatemala". 
  4. ^ Ethnologue
  5. ^ Maldonado, Roberto Zavala (1992). Acateco de la frontera sur.