On this day of gratitude, multiply the ways that you can say ‘Thanks’!
Download PDF: Thank You in 29 Mayan Languages
On this day of gratitude, multiply the ways that you can say ‘Thanks’!
Download PDF: Thank You in 29 Mayan Languages
The most recent Population and Housing Census of Belize (2010) reports three Mayan languages in use in the country: Q’eqchi’, Mopan, and Yucatec. While there were only about 2,500 hundred speakers of Yucatec Mayan remaining in Belize, for Q’eqchi’ and Mopan the numbers are much larger. Most Q’eqchi’ speakers are concentrated in the southernmost district of Toledo, while Mopan speakers are reported in significant numbers in Toledo but also in Stann Creek district as well. Total Q’eqchi’ speakers were reported at 17,581 (13,597 in Toledo) and total Mopan speakers of 10,649 (about half of which live in Toledo as well.) All told, the population of the Toledo district of Belize is reported to be about two-thirds Mayan-speaking (68.4%).
Attached is a one-page summary of the rural villages of the Toledo District with information about their ethnicity and economic activities taken from the 2000 national census and subsequent reports. A majority of the villages are mostly or partly Q’eqchi’-speaking. Note: the largest town in Toledo is Punta Gorda (not included in the table of rural villages below), which itself has a very diverse population of about 5,500.
From the publisher:
The Mayan Languages presents a comprehensive survey of the language family associated with the Classic Mayan civilization (AD 200–900), a family whose individual languages are still spoken today by at least six million indigenous Maya in Mexico, Guatemala, Belize, and Honduras.
This unique resource is an ideal reference for advanced undergraduate and postgraduate students of Mayan languages and linguistics. Written by a team of experts in the field, The Mayan Languages presents in-depth accounts of the linguistic features that characterize the thirty-one languages of the family, their historical evolution, and the social context in which they are spoken.
The Mayan Languages:
Consisting of topical chapters on the history, sociolinguistics, phonology, morphology, syntax, semantics, discourse structure, and acquisition of the Mayan languages, this book will be a resource for researchers and other readers with an interest in historical linguistics, linguistic anthropology, language acquisition, and linguistic typology.
Around 1700 AD the Lacandon Maya took refuge in the forest lowlands of Chiapas, Mexico, and in western Peten, Guatemala. They were never conquered by the Spanish and thus maintained many of their cultural practices well into the twentieth century. Their language belongs to the Yucatecan branch of the Maya language, a branch that is believed to have begun to diversify at least one thousand years ago. Today the Lacandon are split into northern and southern linguistic groups. This dictionary focuses on the southern Lacandon of Lacanja. Following the same trilingual format as Hofling’s Mopan Maya-Spanish-English Dictionary, this reference contains pronunciation and grammatical information. It is a hybrid of a root dictionary and one with words in alphabetical order; words can be looked up in these two different ways, making it easy to use for both native and nonnative speakers. It accommodates Spanish speakers who wish to learn Lacandon and in the future is likely to be helpful to Lacandon-speaking children, who increasingly use Spanish outside the home, while preserving a record of this indigenous language.
Charles Andrew Hofling is emeritus professor of anthropology at Southern Illinois University, USA. He is the author of Itzaj Maya Grammar (University of Utah Press 2000) and (University of Utah Press 2011).
Of extant languages, Ch’orti’ Mayan is the closest to ancient the Maya hieroglyphic script, but it is a language that is decreasing in usage. In southern Guatemala where it is spoken, many children no longer learn it, as Spanish dominates most experiences. From linguistic and anthropological data gathered over many years, Kerry Hull has created the largest and most complete Ch’orti’ Mayan dictionary to date. With nearly 9,000 entries, this trilingual dictionary of Ch’orti’, Spanish, and English preserves ancient words and concepts that were vital to this culture in the past.
Each entry contains examples of Ch’orti’ sentences along with their translations. Each term is defined grammatically and linked to a grammatical index. Variations due to age and region are noted. Additionally, extensive cultural and linguistic annotations accompany many entries, providing detailed looks into Ch’orti’ daily life, mythology, flora and fauna, healing, ritual, and food. Hull worked closely with native speakers, including traditional ritual specialists, and presents that work here in a way that is easily accessible to scholars and laypersons alike.
—John S. Robertson, Emeritus Professor of Linguistics, Brigham Young University
The development and widespread adoption of a uniform alphabet across all modern Mayan languages has solved a number of problems. Written forms of communication have been enhanced through standardization. Accuracy in pronouncing Mayan words from a written text, even when using a Mayan language with which one has limited familiarity, is now much higher. Because of its utility it might also be assumed that the modern Maya writing system would be applied to transcriptions of ancient Maya glyphs found in parchment documents, in paintings on walls and ancient pottery, as well as stone carvings that survive to this day. In fact, initially there was a tendency to abandon the old colonial-era orthography in favor of the new system.
Beginning in the late 1980s and especially in the 1990s, epigraphers backed away from these old conventions. Refinements in comparative linguistics and the direct participation of indigenous Mayan linguists led to more precise orthographies and standards across Mayan languages. Naturally epigraphers came to adopt these practices, and names for the days and months soon came to be represented just like any other term in Classic Mayan.Source: David Stuart, A Note on Spelling Days and Months, Maya Decipherment May 1, 2016. https://decipherment.wordpress.com/2016/05/01/a-note-on-spelling-days-and-months/
However, not all epigraphers have followed suit. And in some cases, a single epigrapher may alternate systems based on a given circumstance. This inconsistency has actually increased in recent years leading to some confusion among students of Maya glyphs. There is, however, a method to this madness. Consider the following rationale advanced by David Stuart in a recent post on Maya Decipherment:
After many years of adopting what might seem a more accurate and linguistically sensitive orthography, I’ve now gone back to the old ways for writing dates, preferring for example to write “10 Chicchan 18 Uo” instead of “10 Chikchan 18 Woh.” The reason is quite simple. In most instances we have no direct evidence of how day names were pronounced in the Classic period. Was the first day Imix or Imox? Was the thirteenth day Ben, Been or something else? Ancient scribes wrote day names as logographs (word signs) and only rarely presented any phonetic indicators about pronunciation, thus leaving modern students with many questions, and employing the old Yukatek nomenclature should immediately make clear that these are not necessarily the ancient names for these time periods. I would never want a student to automatically assume that the fifth day was pronounced as Chikchan in eighth century Palenque; in fact it probably wasn’t.Source: David Stuart, A Note on Spelling Days and Months, Maya Decipherment May 1, 2016. https://decipherment.wordpress.com/2016/05/01/a-note-on-spelling-days-and-months/
He goes on to note that in some cases we have clear evidence of how to transcribe glyphs, such as with the names of months on the Maya calendar because the corresponding glyphs are often true spellings. Such is the case with Ajaw, for example, which is considered a solid reconstruction (thus favoring an abandonment of the former writing convention of Ahau). In practice, however, it is still seen both ways.
The points Stuart makes are good ones. Adopting the modern standard alphabet when transcribing ancient Maya glyphs might cause us to collapse or gloss over important regional and temporal variations in the ways those words were actually used and pronounced. Or it might imply that we know more than we actually do about how those ancient terms were vocalized. So a carefully considered approach to transcription, even if it is inconsistent, seems a sound and cautious approach. Far more tantalizing, however, is the prospect that further research into the ancient Maya culture and its writing system could indeed yield further breakthroughs in our understanding of their achievements in language. And Stuart, who of course knows this better than anyone, obliquely hints at this in the conclusion to his post that I have quoted extensively here:
It is still important to realize that we are still in a relatively early stage in the true decipherment of the Maya hieroglyphic system, most of which took place only in the last three or so decades. It shouldn’t be surprising that Mayanists reassess and refine the standards we use for presenting epigraphic source material. It’s a continuous process.Source: David Stuart, A Note on Spelling Days and Months, Maya Decipherment May 1, 2016. https://decipherment.wordpress.com/2016/05/01/a-note-on-spelling-days-and-months/
It is generally believed that the ancient Maya developed the only complete writing system in Mesoamerica, meaning that they were the only civilization that could write everything they could say (citation). Much of what survives from what they wrote has been deciphered, and this remains an active field of scholarship with new discoveries being made. Both archaeologists and linguists have tools at their disposal to interpret and even reconstruct elements of ancient Mayan languages with regards to vocabulary (lexis), grammar (syntax), and sometimes even how they sounded when spoken (phonology and phonetics). Referring to Proto-Mayan and the natural process of language evolution, Michael Coe has noted that:
There are some 30 Mayan languages spoken today, some a closely related to each other as, say, Dutch is to English, and some as far apart from each other as English is from French. Just as languages scattered from Europe to Persia and India can be traced back to a common Proto-Indo-European ancestor, so can linguists reach back into the shadowy past to look for a common parent.Source: Breaking the Maya Code (Third Edition). Michael D. Coe, Thames & Hudson, Feb 27, 2012. p 48.
The following is a visual approximation of the family tree of Mayan languages as they descended from ‘Proto-Mayan’:
Only recently, as previously noted, have most of the languages of the Proto-Mayan linguistic diaspora adopted a standard modern format for writing. This has been useful especially for non-native speakers, for as Coe also noted:
Only a born optimist might tell you that the Mayan languages are easy to learn; they may be so for a Maya toddler, but for those of us that were brought up with the languages of Europe (including even Russian), these are tough for foreigners… In the first place, these languages sound like nothing we have heard before… As if the phonology weren’t difficult enough, there is the grammar, which bears not the slightest resemblance to anything we contended with when we learned ancient Latin, Greek, or any of the modern European languages. We are in another world altogether, with a different mindset.Source: Breaking the Maya Code (Third Edition). Michael D. Coe, Thames & Hudson, Feb 27, 2012. p 50.
So it is perhaps not surprising that the Europeans improvised as they sought to create written forms for these languages in their own alphabets derived from Latin. They used the letters and diacritical marks that they were familiar with, even if the results were imprecise in terms of a uniform and complete correspondence between the written forms and natural phonemes in the Mayan languages. Consider, for example, the usage of glottalization which is applied to many Mayan consonants. This type of utterance can involve a constriction of the throat and a stopping of the airflow using the lips, teeth, or palate, followed by a sudden release of air (referred to as a ‘plosive’ in linguistics). It is critical to convey these glottalizations in writing because they are phonemic-that is, they distinguish meaning (similar to the tones in some Asian languages, among words that might otherwise all appear to be written the same). Over the centuries, there has been significant variation in how to note glottalization. Sometimes it has been ignored altogether:
Something else which seems unfamiliar to us is the glottal stop, phonemically significant in Mayan although usually ignored in texts of the colonial period (I suppose because the natives knew when to use it, and the Spaniards didn’t care). This is just a constriction of the throat or glottis which English speakers use at the beginning of a word like ‘apple’ or in the exclamation ‘uh-oh!’. Linguists write it with an apostrophe or a dotless question mark.Source: Breaking the Maya Code (Third Edition). Michael D. Coe, Thames & Hudson, Feb 27, 2012. p 50.
If you would like to see one version of how Q’eqchi’ was written by anthropologists more than 100 years ago, see this article by Burkitt, 1902.
Now that most modern Mayan languages are written using a standardized alphabet well-suited to the needs of the various languages you might think that it would also be applied ‘backward’. That is, the modern alphabet would be used in the process of deciphering and transcribing ancient Maya writing into modern translations of these texts. In some cases this is what happens. In others there are reasons to revert to earlier writing conventions. In part 3 of this post I will summarize the current thinking and practice regarding modern Maya orthography with respect to ancient Maya texts.
Most modern Mayan languages were first written in the Roman alphabet by Christian missionaries tasked with evangelizing the natives. With many different ‘tribes’ and languages in play, over the years different groups of missionaries developed a number of different writing systems with no attempt to unify all Mayan languages under a single writing system. This persisted for centuries until the formal approval of a unified Mayan alphabet in Guatemala in 1987, as described in the following passage:
Con relación a los Idiomas Mayas, no fue hasta en 1,984 en el Segundo Congreso Lingüístico realizado en Xelajuuj No’j (Cd. Quetzaltenango) que se decidió unificar la escritura en Idioma Maya. La necesidad surgió por la existencia de varias formas de escritura, mismo que causaba confusión entre la población (Ramirez & Mazariegos, 1993:71). El alfabeto unificado fue aprobado en 1,987 e incluye todos los fonemas y símbolos comunes a los Idiomas Mayas para una escritura más completa y efectiva.Source: Tensión entre idiomas: Situación Actual de los Idiomas Mayas y el Español en Guatemala. Ajb’ee, Odilio Jiménez. Latin American Studies Association. Guadalajara, México abril 17-19 de 1,997.
When I first studied Q’eqchi’ Mayan in the late 1980’s almost all of the available written materials were produced in the alphabet developed by the Summer Institute of Linguistics (now SIL International), an organization with evangelistic aims that has produced a wide variety of excellent linguistic resources. Some of their publications are still in print and there are a number of Q’eqchi’ speakers and evangelizing groups who still prefer this system (e.g., Mennonites and a few other protestant sects. In contrast, Mormons, Jehova’s Witnesses and Catholics have all switched over to the standard Mayan alphabet now).
I didn’t return to the study of Q’eqchi’ in serious for about 20 years. Imagine my surprise when I learned that almost all Q’eqchi’ materials are now written and produced in a new alphabet. Not only were all of my old materials ‘obsolete’, I also needed to learn a new writing system in which many of the letters now corresponded to different sounds than what I was used to. The phonetics of some letter pairs were reversed. Some letters disappeared altogether and other letters were assigned their former roles. The system of diacritical marks and written representation of long vowels was overhauled. Literate native speakers of Q’eqchi’ have told me that they had no problem in making the switch, it was literally something that they accomplished overnight. But as a non-native speaker, and one who was accustomed to ‘seeing’ the written words in my head, it took me a couple of years to get really comfortable with the new system.
Not all of the ‘standard’ letters are used in all of the Mayan languages, so in effect each language has its own official alphabet. The utility comes in the fact that each letter now corresponds to a single sound within the International Phonetic Alphabet. This means that a speaker of one Mayan language can now generally read and understand how to pronounce words in other Mayan languages even if they don’t speak those languages. (If you would like to see the official Guatemalan presidential decree from 1987 sanctioning the various approved alphabets for Mayan languages you can click here to download the document.) The following table is an example of the Kaqchikel alphabet and its corresponding IPA symbols.
Even though there remain some disputes about the official Mayan alphabet in its current form, the effort to standardize around a single modern writing system has been incredibly useful for language students, linguists, Mayanists, and Maya enthusiasts. Recently, however, there has been a diverging train of thought with regards to whether to represent transliterations of Classic Mayan glyphs in the modern Mayan alphabet or by using the conventions of epigraphers that pre-date the standardized writing system. In parts 2 and 3 of this post I will further explore how the modern Maya writing systems have evolved and summarize the current thinking on this topic.
Voice recordings of 160 basic phrases in both Q’eqchi’ and English were recently uploaded to the experimental online version of the Q’eqchi’ ~ English dictionary project. They can be accessed by following this link: http://mayaglot.com/qeqchi_web_lex_2/categories/index.htm and then navigating to the Category titled “Kok’ Raqal Aatin / Basic Phrases” in the left-side pane (the fifth category up from the bottom). The phrases that appear in the category in the right-side pane will show a speaker icon for each entry which can be clicked to listen to the audio file.
Note: Not all browsers support the plug-in technology used with these recordings. If you get a message that it won’t work in your browser, your best bet is to try another browser that supports this type of playback.
Aajel ru ninb’antioxi re Laj Juan Carlos Coy (Fundación San Mateo, Senahú) ut re Lix Po (Julian Moon li xk’ab’a’ sa’ Inkles) intenq’ankil rik’ineb’ li xyaab’asinkil li kok’ raqal aatin sa’ Q’eqchi’ ut sa’ Inkles—chaab’ilex laa’ex!
This dictionary builds upon the Q’eqchi’ Mayan Thematic Dictionary previously published from this database. In this version the arrangement of entries in the Q’eqchi’-to-English section is presented alphabetically rather than by theme. This approach offers advantages to native Q’eqchi’ speakers learning English in that one can more easily locate the Q’eqchi’ word in question and learn its English equivalent(s).
There are three principal sections in this dictionary:
• Section I contains a simple introduction to Q’eqchi’ orthography and pronunciation for English speakers that are new to Q’eqchi’, as well as a comprehensive overview of Q’eqchi’ grammar that outlines the principal parts of speech and how they are formed into proper inflections, conjugations, and sentences. This grammar is new to this version of the dictionary and as far as I can tell it is the only Q’eqchi’ grammar written in English available in print.
• Section II is an alphabetical list of Q’eqchi’ words followed by their parts of speech and English equivalent(s). Many of the entries are illustrated. This section also contains a number of new and updated entries not found in the first edition of the Q’eqchi’ Mayan Thematic Dictionary.
• Section III is a reversal index that contains an alphabetical listing of the English words corresponding to all of the Q’eqchi’ entries in Section II.
The dictionary also includes helpful notes on grammatical usage and evidence for borrowed words where possible. In addition, this version includes entries for many Q’eqchi’ place names and their etymologies and English meanings. While not yet complete, these entries are not found in the first edition of the Q’eqchi’ Mayan Thematic Dictionary.
Follow this link to access an experimental online version of the Q’eqchi’ ~ English dictionary. This dictionary combines features of both traditional bilingual dictionaries and vocabularies used for language learning. It is a thematic dictionary, since one view of the content is an arrangement of entries by theme, rather than alphabetically. This approach offers advantages to students as a vocabulary builder, to writers as a thesaurus, and to linguists as an insight into the structure and usage of the language. There are also full alphabetical lists of all 8,500 entries in both Q’eqchi’ to English and English to Q’eqchi’. Additionally, there are also supporting pages that include a simple introduction to Q’eqchi’ orthography and pronunciation for English speakers that are new to Q’eqchi’ as well as notes on works consulted in the compilation of the dictionary and definitions of abbreviations used.
Feedback is welcome. Work is already underway on an expanded and revised version of the dictionary, perhaps to be published in 2016. Updates on its progress will be published on Mayaglot as they become available.
Abstract of academic article by Sergio Romero
Based on the study of the recent development of the K’ichee’ Facebook platform and Microsoft Windows’ K’ichee’ version, I discuss the conflict between Western and Maya language ideologies embodied in current translation practices in Guatemala. International corporations prefer hiring individual translators and consultants and avoid engaging the indigenous institutions charged with standardization and linguistic revitalization. The lack of community sanction for local corporate proxies leads to contestation of the translators’ credentials and provokes community turmoil. It also highlights opposed community views of globalization and of the best strategies to cope with the challenges and opportunities it affords. Finally, I examine the consequences for indigenous language revitalization of the current political economy of social media and corporate software.
Official Citation: Romero, S., Bill Gates speaks K’ichee’! The corporatization of linguistic revitalization in Guatemala, Language & Communication (2015), http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.langcom.2015.08.001
Mayaglot is a weblog devoted to ideas and developments in modern Mayan language, education, and culture. I am interested in how the Mayan linguistic communities of today are adapting their languages to the modern world. I have a particular interest in the Q’eqchi’ Mayan linguistic community since that is the one with which I am most familiar, but reflections on developments in other other Mayan languages are also welcome.
I plan to post occasionally based on my own readings and research and welcome thoughtful contributions and the participation of people with affiliated interests, whether they be academic or amateur in nature.
View and download the following file with formal greetings in 20 different languages from the Mayan family (including Spanish and English translations):
Maltyox, Matyox, Chjonta, B’antyox, Dyos Bo’otik!