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Maya language

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The Maya language is actually a family of related languages spoken from South-Eastern Mexico through northern Central America as far south as Honduras. It goes 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 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 Mayan civilisation as the Romance languages have to the speech of the Roman civilisation.

The largest dialect of Maya is often called Yucatec Maya by linguists but known simply as Maya to the 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 heiroglyps in 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 important dialect is Chol, spoken only in pockets in Chiapas and Guatemala today. A closely related dialect, Chorti Maya is spoken in a region around the boundries 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.

In the Highlands of Guatemala are the Quiche Maya dialects, including Quiche proper, Catchiquel, Kekchi, Tzutuhil, Pocomam, and Mam. The famous Popul Vuh is in Quiche.

The Huastec language is considered to be in the Maya language family, although it is distant both linguistically and geographically from the rest of the language family.

see also: Mayan civilization



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