Mayan Language & Geography

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Mayan Language and Geography 

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     Today, in the shrinking world, the number of spoken Mayan dialects number thirty-one.  The majority of these dialects are very limited geographically.  Somewhere under 95% of all indigenous Mayans are bilingual speakers.  That is, they speak their own native dialect, and also Spanish.  Both are considered their first language.  This is due to learning both languages during early childhood.  In the majority of these households, the Mayan dialect is spoken at home.

     Although there are thirty-one Mayan dialects spoken in Guatemala, only four of them comprise the majority of the Mayan population.  The four largest dialects are Mam, Kekchí, Quiché, and Cakchiquel.  Mam came from the Marnean language family, which in turn came from Proto-mayan.  Mam is spoken in northern Guatemala.  Both Quiché and Cakchiquel came from Quichean, which came from the earlier Greater Quichean, which originally came from the Proto-mayan.  Kekchí is mainly spoken in Belize, which just south of the Yucatán peninsula.  Kekchí was also derived from Greater Quichean, which once again, came from Proto-Mayan. 

     Although there are 31 present day similar Mayan dialects, they are different enough that one group cannot communicate with the other.  It is similar in effect, to Spanish and Portuguese.  Written, they look very similar.  Spoken, they sound alike.  But the two groups can’t communicate, one with the other.  Further north, in Mexico, the Mayan dialect Huastec is spoken.  It came from Huastecan, which came from Proto-Mayan.  “Proto” means unknown. 


From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

  A proto-language is the common ancestor of the languages that form a language family. Occasionally, the German term Ursprache (from Ur- "primordial" and Sprache "language") is used instead.

Often the proto-language is not known directly.

It is unknown where the Mayan language came from.

         Still speaking of present day Mexico, and noting that the ancient Mayan civilization began and ended in the Yucatán peninsula, it will be noted here that from the Proto-Mayan language, came Yucatecan.  From the Yucatecan, two general language groups evolved.  Each of these two groups evolved into two others, giving us 4 present day dialects that came from the Yucatecan.  One group evolved into the Itzá and the Mopan.   They are similar, but different.  The other group evolved into the Yucatec and the Lancandón.  Yucatec is spoken is the Yucatán today. 

     The Lancandón is a very small group of indigenous people who live in the forest in one small area of the Mexican state of Chiápas.  Chiápas is a very large state. The Lancandón live near the border of the state of Tabasco, a short distance north of the Guatemalan border.  They chiefly live along the Usumacinta River.    The Lancandón are possible the last “primitive” people on the North American Continent.  When they were virtually “discovered” in the 1950’s, they were still hunting with bow and arrows.  In about the 1990’s, the Lancandón began coming out of the forest and doing some trading with the Spanish people.  Today, with additional roads having been built, tourism has reached a few of their villages.  They are still very suspicious of all outsiders.  In their area, there is a “clear and present danger”.  It doesn’t come from the villagers, but from the soldiers of the Mexican army.  Recently, just before the turn of the millennium, a group of Evangelical pastors was visiting in one of the villages of the Lancandón,  One pastor was carried off my the army, taken to the closest airport, and promptly deported for subversive activity.  His friends thought he would be promptly returned, but he never came back to the village.  The “subversive activity” was that he was showing one of the Lancandón how to use a video camcorder.

     Two of the Lancandon villages are named Najá and Lacanjá.  Near Lacanjá, at the ruins of Bonampak, Pre-Columbian painted frescos can be seen on the walls and ceiling of a cave.  By B.C. 900 – 300, in the middle of the pre-classic period, four or five groups of the Lancandón had evolved.  Their present population is about 500.


     There are other non-Mayan indigenous languages also spoken today in Mexico and Central America.  There are approximately one and a half million Nahuatl people living in Mexico.  Well over sixty thousand of these speak one of their twenty-one dialects.  Well over one thousand of these speak only their native dialect.  That is, these, are not bilingual. The largest of the groups is called the Central Nahuatl, and are generally located around the capital.  The Nahuatl language came from the Aztec. 

       This group migrated down from the United States and founded their first capital, the city of Teotihuacán, about B.C. 100.  This city grew tremendously and eventually was called Mexico City.  They were immigrants from the present state of Utah, and were of the Uto-Aztecan family of languages.  The name Nahuatl means “four rivers”.  Other American Indian peoples who belong to the same family of languages are the Comanche,  the Shoshoni, the Paiute, and the Hopi Indians.

     Present day Nahuatl, just as present day Mayans, claim the Catholic religion, but both groups also believe in their native “magic”.  They believe that there are individuals who can change into wild animals, and that there are both men and women witches who turn into blood-sucking birds of the night.  Both groups also believe in the “spirits” of the hills, of the mountains, of rivers, and of caves.  The caves being one entrance to the next world for the dead.




         Don Ignacio Magaloni Duarte, a Yucatecan author, in his book Educadores del Mundo, 1969, suggests that many Mayan words are similar to words in other languages, and therefore deducts that perhaps the Mayan may be the mother language for other languages of the world.  He says that “Millenia ago, some Mayan tribes arrived in India.  These tribes were first called ‘Nagas’, and later ‘Danavas’.  Their capital city was Nagapur.  The historian Valmiki (4th Century B.C.) notes that in ancient times a race of people had arrived and settled in regions of Tibet; these were given the name Naga-Maya.  This is historical, not a myth or legend,  This same race leter took its civilization to Babylonia, Acadia, Egypt, and Greece.”

      He states that other coincidences are as follows: that many words of the Maya and the Naga are practically the same, as is their numbering system.  Examples are as follows:


                  Maya                     Naga                         Maya                 Naga


                    Hun                        Hun                                 .                         .

                    Ca                          Cas                                 ..                        ..

                    Ox                          Ox                                 ...                       ...

                    Can                        San                               ....                      ....

                    Ho                         Ho                              ___                     ___

                    Uc                         Usac                           _.__                    _.__

                    Uac                       Uac                            _..__                    _..__

                    Uaxac                   Uaxax                        _---_                    _..._

                    Bolom                  Bolam                        _...._                    _...._

                    Lahun                   Lahun                        ====                   ====


Also, Duarte states that the Mexican Solar Cosmogliph is almost identical to that of Egypt, and that the Creation Ideogram is almost identical to that of the Island of Crete, near Greece, in the Mediterranian.



Another investigator, James Churchward, says:  “...a notable fact is that we find Mayan words in all of the languages of the world.  In Japan, 40% of the Japanese language has Mayan roots.  In India, a great portion of the spoken languages come, without a doubt, from the Maya, and all of the European languages are permeated with Maya, especially the Greek, the alphabet of which is made up of Mayan words.  A Mexican Indian and a person from Japan can understand each other without the use of an interpreter.  There are many common roots in both languages.

(1)Duarte, Magaloni Ignacio, Educadores del Mundo, B. Costa-Amic, Mexico D.F., 1969, page 81, 56,57



     Carlos Villanueva, an anthropologist, says that Asiatic influences are common in Mesoamerica.  He states that the Corbelled Mayan arch, which has been used by the Mayans as early as 300 A.D., and which can be seen in most Mayan temples, are also extensively found in India, Pakistan, and Southeast Asia.  He states that the stelae of Copan and Quirigua’ are very similar to those of Indo-China and Indonesia. 



     “The Mahabarata and the Ramayana, sacred books of India, speak of the expulsion of a tribe of men called the ‘Mayas’, and of a Hindu divinity who bore the name of ‘Maya”.  One passage speaks of a tribe called ‘Nagas’, which inhabited India, and which was already in decline at the time of the writing of these books.  Ninety percent of their language resembles the Maya of this (Yucatan) region.”  (2)



     “The anthropologist said that he was in the company of a research team, in which was included an investigator named Yutaka Yonome, a man of Japanese descent.  Having finished their work in the Mexican state of Chiapas, they were in route to an area near the Guatemalan border.   Their bus stopped in the Chiapan city of Comita’n, in the Tojolabal district.  A group of local people, were speaking among themselves in their Tojolabal dialect of the Mayan language.  Their conversation fascinated Yutaka, who took out a notebook and began to write in Japanese.  When questioned by Villanueva, the Japanese scholar stated that he was understanding parts of their conversation.”  (ibid)



(2)   Gualberto Zapata Alonzo,  An Overview of the Mayan World, Merida, Yucatan, Mexico  1984, pages 58, 59



     A National Geographic Expedition in the mountains of Peru recently reported finding the ancient fossil remains of an adolescent indigenous girl.  The skeleton was found in a kneeling position.  Her skull had been fractured by a heavy blow to the head.  Her stomach still had remains of her last meal, which consisted of vegetables.  The finding had been very well preserved.  A DNA test was done and the results indicated that her blood “family” grouping was nearest to the people of Taiwan and Korea.  This lends itself to the time accepted theory that the indigenous people on the American Continent had migrated from Asia, northward, through Alaska, and then southward.

     After this migration southward into the United States, a large migration group passed over the Rocky Mountains.  Some of the immigrants continued eastward into Utah and the Dakotas.  Others pushed southward into Mexico, where once again, some continued eastward into the Yucatán Peninsula, and others southward on down into Guatemala, and even much further south, into Ecuador and on into the Peruvian mountains of South America.  Some estimate that this migration into Mexico took place around B.C. 2,500; some even much earlier, but I believe B.C. 2,500 is nearer the correct date.  This date is about 150 to 200 years after the estimated date of Noah’s flood.

          Indications are that they lived in small groups and temporary villages, sustaining themselves as gathers and hunters.  These small villages no doubt were comprised of the extended family and friends.  They were generally built along rivers or a lake.  Current archaeological investigation is under way around some lakes in the Guatemala Petén region.  The rivers and lakes  served as water for drinking, bathing, cooking, and fishing.  In their hunting efforts, these were places where game animals would come to drink.   The rivers served also for transportation through the mountains and forest.  Eventually these routes were used to begin trade with other villages.  Travel was most difficult in the Yucatán where there are no large rivers for water navigation.

        Just south of the Yucatán Peninsula, along the Gulf coast bay, the population evolved into the great heartland of the Olmecs.  The Olmec populus reached its peak around B.C. 1,200.  This was about 1,300 years after the initial migration into Mexico.

        Then, one of two things happened:  either a new group emerged out of the Olmec civilization, or a new indigenous group arrived in the Yucatán.  This new group grew in strength, and took advantage of the Olmec wisdom, taking it one step further.  They began to advance in architecture, building design, astronomy, and government.  They became THE MAYANS.  They began in the Yucatán, where they built their first temple.    They reached full development by A.D. 250, and enjoyed their advanced civilization for almost another seven hundred years!  Their expanding empire took them a little to the east, but mainly southward.  They literally poured over present day Guatemala and Belize; and even further, extending into northern Honduras and the northern coastal tip of El Salvador.

          At its peak during the “classic” period (A.D. 250 – 850) the total Mayan population  blanketed an area of about 120,000 square miles, covering vast areas of Mexico, Guatemala, and Belize, but only dipping into Honduras and El Salvador.  The Mayan territory of that day could be divided into three general areas.  First, there was the Yucatán Peninsula, with its cities such as Chichén Itzá and Uxmal.  Secondly, there were the Guatemalan “highland” people whose culture was somewhat different because of  heavy influences by the Aztecs.   Lastly, there were “lowland Mayas” of the rainforest.   This group covered the Guatemala Petén, extended eastward to the coast of Belize, northward into Chiápas, Mexico, and then southward into northern Honduras.  The lowland cities included those of Tikal, Palénque, Caracol, Copán, and Chichén Itzá.   The northernmost mayan temple is in the Yucatán, while the southernmost temple is in Copán, Honduras.

             A final note of interest is that the earliest Mayan cities were built in the Yucatán.  As the civilization deteriorated and construction came to a halt around A.D. 850 – 900,  the remaining Mayas returned once again to the Yucatán.  Was there a reason for that?   Perhaps so, perhaps not…