Learn Yucatec Maya (Mayan)

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About Yucatec Maya (Mayan)

Yucatec Maya, called maaya t'aan by local speakers, is an Indigenous American language spoken in Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula and Northern Belize. It is the most widely spoken of the surviving Mayan languages which are all descended from a common ancestral language spoken during the Ancient Mayan civilisation over 3,000 years ago. Although the modern-day Mayan languages, which number around 30, share the same language family, they are not generally mutually intelligible. There are Yucatec Maya language radio stations and TV shows and the language is also taught in a minority of primary schools and nurseries. uTalk recorded native speakers from the Yucatan Peninsula at the Indigenous radio station XHNKA-FM.

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Fun facts — Yucatec Maya (Mayan)

  • The word for the sun is k'iin and is the same word in the Mayan languages. K'iin also means ‘time’ and ‘day’ because the Ancient Maya used the sun to measure the passage of time.
  • There are different Mayan gods responsible for every aspect of life and death. There are also bad-tempered gods and friendly gods who can be given the colloquial suffix “-en” meaning “pal”, for example, yuumen.
  • During a drought, the ritual of ch'a' cháak - 'request for rain' - is performed. Parents tell their children to go under the table and make noises like frogs to encourage the rain to come.
  • When there is lightning – jaats' cháak – and no rain, locals say it is because the gods are irritated by someone and are trying to hit them with a thunderbolt!
  • Many place names in the Yucatan Peninsula are the result of a miscommunication. For example, the present day city Tekax was so named by Spanish colonialists after hearing locals refer to it as te' k'áaxo' – a direction meaning 'there in the mountains'!
  • Place names with Mayan derivations include the popular tourist destination Cancún, which is said to mean ‘nest of snakes’, from kaan - 'snake' - and ku'u' meaning 'to swell or overfill'. 

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