The Q’eqchi’ are the predominant Maya group in the central highlands and northern lowlands of Guatemala. Geographically, Q’eqchi’ is the largest Maya language community in Guatemala. Q’eqchi’ is widely spoken in the northern Quiche’, in Alta and Baja Verapaz, Isabal, Petén and to a lesser extent southern Belize and parts of Mexico and El Salvador.
The Q’eqchi’ language is part of the greater Quiche’an language family. The ancestral territory of the Q’eqchi’ runs from Coban and the mountain of Xucaneb in the west along the Sierra Yalijux and Cahabon river valley eastward to Lanquin / Cahabon and the mountain of Itzamna’ in the east. Historically, the Q’eqchi’ were a highland people, marginalized by more powerful groups: the Chol, Lacandon and Acalas whose ancient territory was a step lower in elevation. In the last hundred years the Q’eqchi’ have increased numerically and geographically. They immigrated (or were forced) to the lowlands of Izabal and Belize and then to the lowlands of northern Alta Verapaz and the Peten. These migrations have made the Q’eqchi’ language the widest spoken Maya language of Guatemala as understood by geographic area.
The Q’eqchi’ Maya consider themselves heirs of the rich culture and history of the ancient Maya. The Q’eqchi’ homeland encompasses the only Mayan territory never conquered militarily by the Spanish (Tezulutlan). The Q’eqchi’ language is derived from Proto-Mayan and there are many examples of shared vocabulary between Proto-Mayan and Q’eqchi’. Although Q’eqchi’ is a member of the Quiche’an language family, its geographic proximity through history to the Cholean languages of their closest neighbors also left its mark on their vocabulary and grammar.
Q’eqchi’s nearest relative is Uspantec, a small language group west of the Rio Negro. Nothing much else is closely related to Q’eqchi’. Other Quiche’an languages seem to share more in common (the preceding passages are based largely on Cahill, 2014).