Mayan languages

The Mayan languages ​​form a language family in the Mesoamerican cultural region and spoken by the Maya in Central America.

Must distinguish you between the historic Mayan language, which are known for example from the inscriptions of the Mayan ruins (see Maya writing ), and the still existing current Mayan languages ​​spoken by the descendants of the former Mayan civilization in Guatemala, Southeast Mexico, Belize and western Honduras are spoken.


The Maya speak not a homogeneous language, but different Mayan languages ​​( for example, the Mayathan on the Yucatán Peninsula or the Kekchi in Guatemala ), which belong to a common language family. All of these individual languages ​​can be traced back to an original form of the Maya language, the Proto - Maya, which was the basis for the later development of individual branches and sub-groups about 4,000 years ago. Like, for example, in European languages ​​also developed here regional " Mayan dialects ", some of which are very similar to each other though, but in some ways also can be very different again. Very long the splitting of the language family is located (eg Quiché, Cakchiquel, and Kekchi in Guatemala) back into the two main branches Lowland Maya (eg Mayathan ) and Highland Maya. Even before the Conquest there were many different Mayan languages ​​that make up today's variants have developed. At the height of the Maya civilization was an early form of Chol and Mayathan was spoken.

Linguistic structure

The Mayan languages ​​are Ergativsprachen and follow the pattern of ergative - absolutive, in contrast to the accusative languages ​​(such as German ), which follows the pattern of nominative - accusative. Since the Mayan languages ​​have no morphological case on nouns, the labeling of the case of subject and object must necessarily take place on the verb. To view the grammatical function of both prefixes and suffixes are used. In some of the Mayan languages ​​also takes place (similar to the Quechua ) is a distinction of the word we, depending on whether the addressee is included in the group or not ( eg I he she you he I versus them without you).

Exact local names have, for example, in the Tzeltal language with the direction information "up", "down " and " transverse to it " and be met in addition to a variety of descriptive terms. Example, if one wants to say that an object is on another, it must be said: the one object is in the back of the other. In Kaqchikel the word "inside" must be expressed with "chi rupam " (= " word- his - belly" ). Or " ti'na " is in Tzotzil " door" and is literally expressed " house - mouth ".


There are basically in the Mayan languages ​​the same vowels as well as in German: aeiou. In some of the languages ​​in addition the long vowels (similar to aa- ee -ii - oo -oo ) are still to be counted. Some of the Mayan languages ​​have further still hissing and crackling sounds. The consonants are as follows:

The uvular plosive [q ] or [q '] is in the Mayan language of the Yucatan and Chiapas (eg Mayathan and Chol ) to a velar [k ] or [ k' become ], while in the highlands he Mayan languages, such as Quiché, Cakchiquel, and Kekchi is received. In Mayathan he has coincided with [k ] or [k '], while in the original Chol [k ] is shifted to [ ʧ ] (" ch" ).

Classification of the current Mayan languages

The classification of spoken today different Mayan languages ​​in specific language groups and language families does not take place uniformly in the literature and is adopted by various linguists different.

Classification ( officially in Mexico and Guatemala)

Classification according to SIL International

The list below is based on the classification of SIL International and follows the language classification. SIL International is one in the division - as with other language families as well - even closely related Mayan variants as separate languages ​​and, therefore, comes to the greatest number of individual languages.

In total there are in the SIL classification 69 Mayan languages ​​, which can be assigned to the different language groups. The number of speaker refers to surveys that originate mostly from the last 15 years and can only be regarded as approximate. When naming the individual languages ​​usually a geographical classification has been made, were so many languages ​​according to the localities, regions or directions in which they are found, named. The codes given are the official SIL codes of the respective languages.