The Mayan languages (alternatively: Maya languages) form a language family spoken in Mesoamerica and northern Central America. Mayan languages are spoken by at least 6 million indigenous Maya, primarily in Guatemala, Mexico, Belize and Honduras. In 1996, Guatemala formally recognized 21 Mayan languages by name, and Mexico recognizes eight more.

The Mayan language family is one of the best documented and most studied in the Americas. Modern Mayan languages descend from Proto-Mayan, a language thought to have been spoken at least 5,000 years ago; it has been partially reconstructed using the comparative method.

Mayan languages form part of the Mesoamerican Linguistic Area, an area of linguistic convergence developed throughout millennia of interaction between the peoples of Mesoamerica. All Mayan languages display the basic diagnostic traits of this linguistic area. For example, all use relational nouns instead of prepositions to indicate spatial relationships. They also possess grammatical and typological features that set them apart from other languages of Mesoamerica, such as the use of ergativity in the grammatical treatment of verbs and their subjects and objects, specific inflectional categories on verbs, and a special word class of "positionals" which is typical of all Mayan languages.

During the pre-Columbian era of Mesoamerican history, some Mayan languages were written in the Maya hieroglyphic script. Its use was particularly widespread during the Classic period of Maya civilization (c. 250–900 CE). The surviving corpus of over 10,000 known individual Maya inscriptions on buildings, monuments, pottery and bark-paper codices, combined with the rich postcolonial literature in Mayan languages written in the Latin alphabet, provides a basis for the modern understanding of pre-Columbian history unparalleled in the Americas.

Modern MayanEdit

  • Q'eqchi' or Kekchi is a Mayan language spoken by about 500,000 people in Guatemala and Belize. Q'eqchi' speakers are found mainly in the departments of Alta Verapaz, Petén, Izabal, Baja Verapaz, and El Quiché of Guatemala, and in the Toledo district of Belize.
  • Tsotsil or Tzotzil is a Mayan language spoken in the Mexican state of Chiapas by about 330,000 people. It is closely related to Tzeltal and Ch'ol and is part of the Cholan-Tzeltalan branch of the Mayan language family.
  • Kaqchikel or Kaqchiquel is a Mayan language spoken in the Central Highlands of Guatemala by about half a million people. It is a member of the Quichean-Mamean branch of Mayan languages and is closely related to K'iche' (Quiché) and Tz'utujil. The name of the language used to be written Cakchiquel or Cakchiquiel. An orthography for Kaqchikel was developed by the Academia de Lenguas Mayas de Guatemala (Guatemalan Academy of Mayan Languages).