The Maya Language

The Maya Language

While the most widely spoken language is Mexico is Spanish, there are several native language still spoken here. The Mexican Government officially recognises 68 local languages. The Maya culture is still very alive here in the Yucatán, most of all through the Maya language itself. While technically called Yukatek Maya, speakers know it only as Maya. Those who speak it live in the Yucatán Peninsula and Northern Belize. About 800,000 people speak it, and for many it will be their first language, with Spanish secondary.

An example of Maya language hieroglypics

An example of Maya hieroglyphics before adoption of the Latin alphabet.

It’s amazing the language has survived, as the Mayan empire established itself in 1500 BC and existed for 3000 years before falling at the hands of decline and disease to the Spanish conquistadores and colonists. Scribes originally wrote the language in beautifully ornate and complex hieroglyphs that meant both syllables and full words. Unfortunately the Spanish forced Mayan people to conform their language to the Latin alphabet in hope of stifling culture.

Maya in Tulum

We find Maya words all over the Yucatán, often in a mix with Spanish. Tulum itself means “wall” in Maya, referring to the fortification walls that protected the ancient city. “Cenotes” – the Spanish name of the pools of water found all over Quintana Roo, actually originates from the Maya “tz’onot” meaning abyss or cavity. Generations have also combined Maya words with Spanish, in compounds or names for food. One of the traditional foods of the Riviera Maya is “cochinita pibil”. “Cochinita” is the Spanish word for young pig, and “pibil” is Maya for “roasting”. These crossover terms help keep the Maya heritage alive through language as well as in culture.

The Maya language continues its 3500 year existence, both via integration with Spanish and through speakers today. There are three current radio stations with Maya programming, and two Maya language schools right here in Tulum! Come visit and learn more about this unique culture, and check out BRM Rentals for a great place to stay.