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Maya language

The Mayan languages are a family of related languages spoken from South-Eastern Mexico through northern Central America as far south as Honduras. They go back at least some 5000 years in the Pre-Columbian era of Mesoamerica. Although the Spanish language (and in Belize the English language) is the official language of the area today, dialects of Maya are still spoken as a primary or secondary language by over 3 million Maya people in the region today. The group is sometimes known as the Mayance languages, a coinage that reflects the belief that the current Maya languages bear the same relation to the speech of the classical Maya civilization as the Romance languages have to the speech of the Roman civilisation.

The most used Maya language is often called Yucatec Maya by linguists but known simply as Maya to its speakers. It is spoken in the Yucatan Peninsula of Mexico as well as in parts of northern Belize and the Peten region of Guatemala. It is documented in the ancient hieroglyphs in Pre-Columbian Maya civilization sites such as Chichen Itza, has a rich literature through the Spanish Colonial era, and remains common as the first language in rural areas in Yucatan today, where in many towns even the Ladinos have a working knowledge of the tongue.

The second most historically important dialect or language is Chol , formerly widespread, but spoken only in pockets in Chiapas and Guatemala today. A closely related dialect, Chorti, is spoken in a region around the boundaries of the nations of Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador. These particular dialects are believed to be the most conservative in vocabulary and phonology, and are closely related to the language of the inscriptions of the ancient sites of the Classic era Central Lowlands.

The Classic Maya language is quite closely related to modern Chol and Yucatec, and the split between these two languages may be observed in Maya inscriptions.

In the Highlands of Guatemala are the Quichéan-Mamean Maya languages and dialects, including Quiché proper, Cachiquel, Kekchi , Tzutuhil, Pocomam, and Mam. The famous Popol Vuh is in Quiché. In the western highlands around Huehuetenango, Jacaltec is spoken.

The Huastec language, spoken in east-central Mexico, is part of the Mayan language family, although it is distant both linguistically and geographically from the rest of the language family.

Mayan languages

  • Cholan-Tzeltalan languages
    • Chol language
    • Chorti language
    • Chontal language
    • Tzeltal language
    • Tzotzil language
  • Huastecan languages
    • Huastec language
    • Chicomuceltec language
  • Kanjobalan-Chujean languages
    • Chuj language
    • Tojolabal language
    • Jacaltec language
    • Kanjobal language
    • Mocho language
  • Quichean-Mamean languages
  • Yucatecan languages

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Last updated: 10-24-2004 05:10:45