Yucatec Maya language

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search
"Maya language" redirects here. For other uses, see Maya language (disambiguation).
Màaya T'àan
Native to Mexico, Belize
Region Yucatán, Quintana Roo, Campeche, northern Belize
Native speakers
790,000 (2010 census)[1]
Official status
Official language in
Regulated by INALI
Language codes
ISO 639-3 yua
Glottolog yuca1254[3]
This article contains IPA phonetic symbols. Without proper rendering support, you may see question marks, boxes, or other symbols instead of Unicode characters.

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 and northern Belize. Maya is the only one of the approximately 32 languages of the Mayan language family that has the proper name Maya. To native speakers, the proper name is Maya and it is known only as Maya. The qualifier "Yucatec" is a tag linguists use to distinguish it from other Mayan languages (such as K'iche' and Itza' Maya). Thus, the use of term Yucatec Maya to refer to the language is a scientific jargon or nomenclature; its use is equivalent to persons referring to English as Germanic.

Yucatec Maya is incorrectly used as an ascribed ethnic, social, cultural, historical, national, racial, or civilizational term of identity or name. The use of Yucatec Maya as a term of identity is correctly used in the same way that terms such as Indo-European or Romance language speakers are used. The proper names of the Mayan languages, in contrast, tend to be the ethnic or cultural-racial names of identity. The word Mayan is, however, not an ethnic or cultural label or other term of social, political identification; Mayan, as an identity term, is an ascribed identity, not a self-identity.

In the Mexican states of Yucatán, some parts of Campeche, Tabasco, Chiapas, and Quintana Roo, Maya remains many speakers' first language today, with 800,000 speakers. There are 6,000 speakers in Belize. When these speakers identify as indigenous, they identify as Maya, not Mayan.


A characteristic feature of Yucatec Mayan (and all Mayan languages) is the use of ejective consonants/pʼ/, /tʼ/, /kʼ/. 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. The Mayan b is also glottalized, an implosive /ɓ/, and is sometimes written b', though this is becoming less common.

Yucatec Maya is one of only three Mayan languages to have developed tone, the others being Uspantek and one dialect of Tzotzil. Yucatec distinguishes 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 long 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 unusual in lacking temporal connectives such as 'before' and 'after'. Another aspect of the language is the core-argument marking strategy, which is a 'fluid S system' in the typology of Dixon (1994)[4] where intransitive subjects are encoded like agents or patients based upon a number of semantic properties as well as the perfectivity of the event.

Verb Paradigm[edit]

Class Ia: Transitive verbs of action or state[5] ('het', to open [something])
Phase Example
Present tin (tan-in) het-ik "I am opening something"
Past Simple tin (t-in) het-ah "I opened something"
Recent tz'in (tz'on-in) het-ah "I have just opened something"
Distant in het-m-ah "I opened something a long time ago"
Future Simple hēn (he-in) het-ik-e "I shall open something"
Possible kin (ki-in) het-ik "I may open something"
Going-to future bin in het-e "I am going to open something"
Imperative het-e "Open it!
Class Ia: Intransitive verbs of action or state ('het', to open)
Phase Example
Present tin (tan-in) het-el or het-el-in-kah (het-l-in-kah) "I am performing the act of opening"
Past Simple het-en or t'-het-en "I opened"
Recent tz'in het-el "I have just opened"
Future Simple hēn (he-in) het-el-e "I shall open"
Going-to future ben-het-ăk-en "I am going to open"
Imperative het-en "Open!"
Class Ia: Passive verbs of action or state ('het', to be opened)
Phase Example
Present tun (tan-u) het-s-el "it is being opened"
Past het-s-ah-b-i or het-s-ah-n-i "it was opened"
Future hu (he-u) het-s-el-e or bin het-s-ăk-i "it will be opened"
Class Ib: Transitive verbs of action or state with causal ('kim', to kill [something])
Phase Example
Present tin (tan-in) kim-s-ik "I am killing something"
Past Simple tin (t-in) kim-s-ah "I killed something"
Recent tz'in (tz'on-in) kim-s-ah "I have just something"
Distant in kim-s-m-ah "I killed something a long time ago"
Future Simple hēn (he-in) kim-s-ik-e "I shall kill something"
Possible kin (ki-in) kim-s-ik "I may kill something"
Going-to future bin in kim-s-e "I am going to kill something"
Imperative kim-s-e "Kill it!
Class Ia: Intransitive verbs of action or state with causal ('kim', to die)
Phase Example
Present tin (tan-in) kim-il or kim-il-in-kah "I am dying"
Past Simple kim-i or t'-kim-i "He died"
Recent tz'u kim-i "He has just died"
Future Simple hēn (he-in) kim-il-e "I shall die"
Going-to future bin-kim-ăk-en "I am going to die"
Imperative kim-en "Die!"
Class Ia: Passive verbs of action or state ('kim', to be killed)
Phase Example
Present tin (tan-in) kim-s-il "I am being killed"
Past kim-s-ah-b-i or kim-s-ah-n-i "he was killed"
Future hēn (he-in) kim-s-il-e or bin kim-s-ăk-en "I shall be killed"
Class II: Verbs in t-al, "endowed with" ('kux', to live)
Phase Example
Present tin (tan-in) kux-t-al "I am living"
Past kux-t-al-ah-en or kux-l-ah-en "I lived"
Future Simple hēn (he-in) kux-t-al-e "I shall be living"
Going-to future bin kux-tal-ăk-en "I am going to live"
Imperative kux-t-en or kux-t-al-en "Live!"
Class IIIa: Transitive nominal verbs ('tz'on', gun)
Phase Example
Present tin (tan-in) tz'on-ik "I am shooting something"
Past Simple tin (t-in) tz'on-ah "I shot something"
Recent tz'in (tz'ok-in) tz'on-ah "I have just shot something"
Distant in tz'on-m-ah "I shot something a long time ago"
Future Simple hēn (he-in) tz'on-ik-e "I shall shoot something"
Possible kin (ki-in) tz'on-ik "I may shoot something"
Going-to future bin in tz'on-e "I am going to shoot something"
Imperative tz'on-e "Shoot it!
Class IIIa: Intransitive nominal verbs ('tz'on', gun)
Phase Example
Present tin (tan-in) tz'on "I am shooting"
Past Simple tz'on-n-ah-en "I shot"
Recent tz'in (tz'ok-in) tz'on "I have just shot"
Distant tz'on-n-ah-ah-en "I shot a long tim ago"
Future Simple hēn (he-in) tz'on-e "I shall shoot"
Going-to future bin-tz'on-ăk-en "I am going to shot"
Imperative tz'on-en "Shoot!"
Class IIIa: Passive nominal verbs ('tz'on', gun)
Phase Example
Present tin (tan-in) tz'on-ol "I am being shot"
Past tz'on-ah-b-en or tz'on-ah-n-en "I was shot"
Future hēn (he-in) tz'on-ol-e "I shall be shot"


The Maya were literate in pre-Columbian times, when the language was written using Maya script. 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 with tz' in the revised ALMG orthography).

The Maya do not use or recognize the ALMG. Unfortunately, some academics have imposed the ALMG -- an orthographic convention created by Guatemalan Maya for Guatemalan Mayan languages -- on Maya orthography. While this seems to be a politically correct move, it is actually highly incorrect in both linguistic and political senses. To state what should be obvious, the Maya, who reside in Yucatan Mexico, are not native Guatemalans, are not Guatemalan Mayans, and do not live in Guatemala, and thus have not recognized or accepted the conventions established by Guatemalan Maya. Indeed, within the Yucatan Peninsula, there are three to six different groups of Maya revitalization scholars and intelligentsia that have been each developing and asserting their own specific version of a "definitive, authoritative" convention for writing Maya.

There is no consensus among these groups. There is no single orthodoxy; and thus books and other publications continue to be published in heterodox conventions. The main points of dispute are with regard to the representation of glottalization of consonants, tone and accent of vowels, the spacing of compound words and prefixing or other conjoining of clitics and morphemes, punctuation, and the actual spelling of words. It is not infrequent to find two publications might use the same contemporary orthography, but because writers often spell according to their own dialectical pronunciation, the spellings of words can be quite varied and inconsistent.


Labial Alveolar Palatal Velar Glottal
Nasal m [m] n [n]
Implosive b [ɓ]
Plosive aspirated p [pʰ] t [tʰ] k [kʰ] ' [ʔ]
ejective p' [pʼ] t' [tʼ] k' [kʼ]
Affricate aspirated tz [tsʰ] ch [tʃʰ]
ejective tz' [tsʼ] ch' [tʃʼ]
Fricative s [s] x [ʃ] j [x] h [h]
Approximant w [w~v] l [l] y [j]
Flap r [ɾ]

† the letter w may represent the sounds /w/ or /v/. The sounds are interchangeable in Yucatec Mayan although /w/ is considered the proper sound.


Yucatec Maya English
Pronunciation of
western Yucatán,
northern Campeche
and Central Quintana Roo
Normal translation Literal translation
Bix a beel? Bix a beh? How are you? How is your road?
Ma'alob, kux teech? Good, and you? Not bad, as for you?
Bey xan teen. Same with me. Thus also to me.
Tu'ux ka bin? Where are you going? Where do you go?
T(áan) in bin xíimbal. I am going for a walk.
Bix a k'aaba'? What is your name? How are you named?
In k'aaba'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 ba'al. Mix ba'ah. Nothing.
Don't mention it.
No thing.
Bix a wilik? How does it look? How you see (it)?
Jach ma'alob. Very good. Very not-bad
Ko'ox! Let's go! (For two people - you and I)
Ko'one'ex! Let's go! (For a group of people)
Ba'ax a k'áat? What do you want?
(Tak) sáamal. Aasta sáamah. See you tomorrow. Until tomorrow.
Jach Dyos bo'otik. Thank you.
God bless you very much.
Very much God pays (it).
Uacax Cow

English words derived from Yucatec Maya[edit]

The word "shark" almost certainly derives from Yucatec Maya xoc.[6] 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.

Use in modern-day media and popular culture[edit]

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.

In the video game Civilization V: Gods & Kings, Pacal, leader of the Maya, speaks in Yucatec Maya.

In August 2012, the Mozilla Translathon 2012 event brought over 20 Yucatec Mayan speakers together in a localization effort for the Google Endangered Languages Project, the Mozilla browser, and the MediaWiki software used by Wikipedia and other Wikimedia projects.[7]

Baktun, the "first ever Mayan telenovela," premiered in August 2013.[8][9]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ INALI (2012) México: Lenguas indígenas nacionales
  2. ^ Ley General de Derechos Lingüisticos Indígenas
  3. ^ Nordhoff, Sebastian; Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds. (2013). "Yucateco". Glottolog. Leipzig: Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology. 
  4. ^ Dixon, Robert M. W. (1994). Ergativity. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-44898-0. 
  5. ^ Tozzer, Alfred M. (1977). A Maya Grammar. New York: Dover Publications. ISBN 0-486-23465-7. 
  6. ^ Jones, Tom (1985). "The Xoc, the Sharke, and the Sea Dogs: An Historical Encounter". Fifth Palenque Round Table, 1983. The Pre-Columbian Art Research Institute. Retrieved 24 November 2013. 
  7. ^ Alexis Santos (2013-08-13). "Google, Mozilla and Wikimedia projects get Maya language translations at one-day 'translathon'". Engadget. Retrieved 2012-08-21. 
  8. ^ Munoz, Jonathan (2013-07-09). "First ever Mayan telenovela premieres this summer". Voxxi. Retrieved 2013-08-02. 
  9. ^ Randal C. Archibold (August 1, 2013). "A Culture Clings to Its Reflection in a Cleaned-Up Soap Opera". The New York Times. Retrieved August 2, 2013. 


Barrera Vásquez, Alfredo (dir.); Juan Ramón Bastarrachea Manzano (ed.); William Brito Sansores (ed.); Refugio Vermont Salas (col.); David Dzul Góngora (col.); Domingo Dzul Poot (col.) (2007) [1980]. Diccionario Maya (5a ed.) (in Spanish). Mexico City [Mérida, Yucatán]: Editorial Porrúa [Cordemex]. ISBN 978-970-07-2741-7. 
Blair, Robert W.; Refugio Vermont Salas; Norman A. McQuown (rev.) (1995) [1966]. Spoken Yucatec Maya ((Book I + Audio, Lessons I-VI; Book II + Audio, Lessons VII-XII). Program in Latin American Studies. Chapel Hill, NC: Duke University—University of North Carolina. 
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.  Check date values in: |date= (help)
Bolles, David; 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. 
Bricker, Victoria; Eleuterio Po'ot Yah; Ofelia Dzul de Po'ot (1998). A Dictionary of the Maya Language as Spoken in Hocabá, Yucatán. Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press. ISBN 0-87480-569-4. 
Brody, Michal (2004). The fixed word, the moving tongue: variation in written Yucatec Maya and the meandering evolution toward unified norms (PDF) (PhD thesis, UT Electronic Theses and Dissertations, Digital Repository ed.). Austin: University of Texas. OCLC 74908453. hdl:2152/1882. 
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.  External link in |title= (help)
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[edit]

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:

External links[edit]