Tzʼutujil language

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Native toGuatemala
RegionWestern Highlands
Ethnicity106,000 Tzʼutujil (2019 census)
Native speakers
72,000 (2019 census)[1]
Official status
Recognised minority
language in
Regulated byAcademia de Lenguas Mayas de Guatemala (ALMG)
Language codes
ISO 639-3tzj
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Tzʼutujil /ˈtstəhl/ is a Mayan language spoken by the Tzʼutujil people in the region to the south of Lake Atitlán in Guatemala. Tzʼutujil is closely related to its larger neighbors, Kaqchikel and Kʼicheʼ. The 2002 census found 60,000 people speak Tzʼutujil as their mother tongue. The two Tzʼutijil dialects are Eastern[3] and Western.[4]

The majority of the Tzʼutujil people have Spanish as their second language, although many of the older people, or those in more remote locations do not. Many children also do not learn Spanish until they go to school around the age of five although more importance is now being placed upon it due to the influx of tourism into the region. As of 2012, the Community Library Rijaʼtzuul Naʼooj in San Juan La Laguna features story telling for children in Tzʼutujil; bilingual children's books are also available.[5] Spanish is used in written communication.[citation needed][clarification needed]


In the charts below each of the Tzʼutujil phonemes is represented by the character or set of characters that denote it in the standard orthography developed by the Guatemalan Academy of Mayan Languages (ALMG) and sanctioned by the Guatemalan government. Where different, the corresponding symbol in the International Phonetic Alphabet appears in brackets.

Stress is always on the final syllable of native words, except for the adjectival vowel suffix in certain environments.[6]


Tzʼutujil has five short and five long vowels.

Short Long
i [ɪ] ii [iː] close front unrounded vowel
e [ɛ] ee [eː] mid front unrounded vowel
a [ɐ] aa [aː] open central unrounded vowel
o [ɔ] oo [oː] mid back rounded vowel
u [ʊ] uu [uː] close back rounded vowel

Ee and oo tend to be more open ([ɛː, ɔː]) before a glottal stop.

Many words allow either a and e, and although many allow a only, there are few which require e, suggesting that /e/ is merging into /a/. A smaller number of words allow either a or o.[6]


Like other Mayan languages, Tzʼutujil does not distinguish voiced and voiceless stops and affricates but instead distinguishes pulmonic and glottalized stops and affricates.[6]

Bilabial Alveolar Post-alv./
Velar Post-
Nasal m ⟨m⟩ n ⟨n⟩
plain p ⟨p⟩ t ⟨t⟩ ts ⟨tz⟩ ⟨ch⟩ k ⟨k⟩ q ⟨q⟩ ʔ ⟨ʼ⟩
glottalized ɓ ⟨bʼ⟩ ɗ ⟨tʼ⟩ tsʼ ⟨tzʼ⟩ tʃʼ ⟨chʼ⟩ ⟨kʼ⟩ ʛ ~ ⟨qʼ⟩
Fricative s ⟨s⟩ ʃ ⟨x⟩ χ ⟨j⟩
Trill r ⟨r⟩
Approximant β ~ w ⟨w⟩ l ⟨l⟩ j ⟨y⟩

The glottalized stop and affricates chʼ, tzʼ are ejective, while , are voiced implosives before vowels, and ejectives ([], []) elsewhere (before consonants and at the ends of words). may be either ejective or implosive before vowels, ejective elsewhere.

The pulmonic stops and affricates, p, t, tz, ch, k, q, are tenuis before vowels and aspirated elsewhere.

Velar k, kʼ are palatalized before i, and also usually before a non-back vowel (i, e, a) followed by a post-velar (q, qʼ, j), though the latter dissimilation is not completely productive.

W is [β] before front vowels (i, e) and [w] before non-front vowels (a, o, u).

J is a post-velar [x] in most positions, but [h] before two consonants or a word-final consonant.

At the beginning of a morpheme, there is no distinction between glottal stop and zero: Monosyllabic forms always have a glottal stop, with the exception of a few grammatical forms which never do, and when prefixed the glottal stop is retained. With polysyllabic forms the glottal stop is optional, and when prefixed it is not retained. Usually initial glottal stops are invisible to the morphology, but in some words they are treated as consonants.

Liquids and approximants, r, l, w, y, are devoiced word-finally and before consonants, even before voiced consonants as in elnaq [ɛl̥náq]. The nasals, m, n, are partially devoiced word-finally: they start off voiced, and end up voiceless.[6]

Sample words and phrases[edit]

  • maltyoox or mal diox – 'thank-you'
  • menuc xuben – 'you're welcome' (also said after finishing every meal)
  • saqari – 'good morning'
  • xqaʼj qʼiij – 'good afternoon'
  • xok aaqʼaʼ – 'good night'
  • naʼan – 'good-bye'
  • joʼ – 'let's go!'
  • utz aawach – 'how are you?'
  • jeeʼ – 'yes'
  • maniʼ or majon – 'no'


  1. ^ Tzutujil at Ethnologue (24th ed., 2021) closed access
  2. ^ Congreso de la República de Guatemala. "Decreto Número 19-2003. Ley de Idiomas Nacionales". Retrieved 2009-12-14.
  3. ^ Eastern Tzutujil at Ethnologue (16th ed., 2009) closed access
  4. ^ Western Tzutujil at Ethnologue (16th ed., 2009) closed access
  5. ^ "Library as a Starting Point to Revitalize Tzʼutujil Language". Rising Voices. 2012-10-31. Retrieved 2012-11-17.
  6. ^ a b c d Daley 1985


  • Dayley, Jon P. (1985). Tzutujil Grammar. Berkeley, California: University of California Press. ISBN 0-520-09962-1.
  • García Ixmatá, Pablo (1997). Rukeemiik ja Tzʼutujiil Chiiʼ: Gramática tzʼutujiil. Guatemala City, Guatemala: Cholsamaj. ISBN 99922-53-13-4.
  • Grimes, Larry. "Tzʼutujil Phonetics". Mayan Languages Collection of Larry Grimes. The Archive of the Indigenous Languages of Latin America: Media: audio. Access: public. Resource: TZJ003R001.
  • Pérez Mendoza, Francisco; Miguel Hernández Mendoza (1996). Diccionario Tzʼutujil. Antigua Guatemala, Guatemala: Proyecto Lingüístico Francisco Marroquín/Cholsamaj.

External links[edit]