Learning the language is vital to get closer to the culture and thinking of a people. The Yucatecan Mayan language reserves wonderful confidences about who speaks it.

When you live abroad it is a great opportunity and something vital to learn the language or languages ​​of the place where you live. In the Yucatan Peninsula, Yucatecan and Spanish are spoken.

Years ago I signed up for Maya classes, and in the first classes I noticed the duality in the Mayan language, a duality that occupies much of the intrinsic cultural understanding of the Maya. Through the language we use we discover our own culture, what furnishes our heads, our mental structures and perceptions.

With great sorrow I say that I do not speak the Mayan language, something that I must solve taking up classes. Precisely, when I took Maya classes in the Cancun House of Culture, I had a hearing problem that has severely impaired my hearing and I am unable to hear the phonetics of words clearly and precisely. It is like the loss of sight that you stop seeing clearly and you cannot read well, for this reason it costs me a lot to learn it, and I am lazy. For me it will be a pride to show respect by speaking the language, no matter how difficult it may be.

Yucatecan Mayan language

Spanish is the dominant language all in Mexico and in the Yucatan Peninsula, being only the Spanish necessary to travel and communicate. The Yucatecan Mayan language is the ancestral language of this land, and the most spoken indigenous language in all of Mexico.

Mayan language linguistic family

The reality of the Yucatan Peninsula is that the speaker has trouble communicating in his language When you leave your everyday environment. If you know Spanish you are not in this situation.

In the state of Yucatán, demographic data indicates a appreciable change in the use of Spanish and Maya since the 40 years. From that decade, the number of monolingual Mayan speakers began to decrease as the number of bilinguals increased.

As I know these lands, I have observed that there are many children who stop learning and speaking Mayan, even some are ashamed. On the other hand there is much talkative rather than proud of his identity that conveys those values ​​within the family.

The sad reality is that the issue of linguistic inequality between Spanish and Yucatecan Maya must be fought to avoid losing it.

YearTotal populationBilingualMonolingual

1930386,096129,119 (33.4%)113,179 (29,3%)
1940418,210167,538 (40.1%)98,447 (23,5%)
1970758,355303,075 (40.0%)54,195 (7.1%)
19901.362,940472,163 (34,6%)40,355 (3.0%)
Mayan language

Duality in the Yucatecan Mayan language:

In the Yucatecan Mayan language numerous words contain opposite meanings. As an example the word ts'aak which means medicine and poison. They may be antagonistic, but they are part of the same cycle, similar to thinking Yin Yang that profess several oriental cultures. The Yucatec Mayan language is witness to this dual and circular way of thinking. Duality in language is part of the cyclical thinking of Maya.

In comparison my education is more linear: We always think moving straight ahead, forward. In Mayan lands think in cycles: what happens now is repeated in time in one way or another. Mayan calendars, unlike the Gregorian calendar that goes in progressive line, they are cyclic. When one cycle ends, another begins with a series of similarities and antagonisms.

The ancient Mayans were extraordinary mathematicians, and they knew better than anyone that there is no end, that movement is what gives meaning to our life, being part of different cycles in space-time, we are all part of a whole. In the collective and cultural consciousness of the Maya, this knowledge is intrinsic. Honestly, this cyclic way of thinking of Maya seems much more accurate. They know that life is cycles, we think we are part of a time. They are part of all time.

The ancient Maya observed nature to form his cosmogony, a way of doing and thinking that is very similar to this anonymous Tibetan: «the only truth is in nature«. That the observation of nature is your learning base I understand that it is a great way to learn.

Yucatec Mayan language
Map Mayan languages ​​sXVI according to P. Mathews. Reproduction

«You look for it, you look for it and you don't look for it»:

This dual vision in the Mayan language has given way over time to curious expressions in the Spanish of the Peninsula. It is a Spanish very influenced by the Mayan language, something beautiful to appreciate if you know a little. One of the example sentences of a curious expression is with the verb kaxan (it means Search and find) when it says: «You look for it, you look for it and you don't look for it».

One of these past days I was looking for a white road (sacbé in Yucatecan Maya) to get to a cenote, and a kind Yucatecan who was collecting firewood told me in Spanish "if you are looking for the white road", and I smiled to understand that he said "if he finds it."

Here the reason for this expression, where we find again the duality in the words given by this cyclical thought.

Yucatec Mayan language

Understand part of the Mayan culture

To understand this region and its inhabitants it is essential to appreciate this dual sense of the Mayan language. In addition to cyclical thinking, it certainly gives them another way of seeing life.

It is clear that each people sees the constellations in their own way: the Chinese see dragons in their sky and the Greeks see Cassiopeia. We all have our cultural band that limits us from seeing other skies. The diversity of cultures is wonderful that we are striving to homogenize.

The Yucatecan Mayan language, another way of thinking 1
Heavens according to the Chinese.
The Yucatecan Mayan language, another way of thinking 2
Heaven according to the Greeks.

Writings of interest about the Yucatecan Mayan language

I leave a link with several articles from the website of Chilam Balam of the linguist Fidencio Briceno Chel, from whom it is always a pleasure to learn, admirable the work of both popularizers of the Mayan culture. Another link from the Wow written by Fidencio Briceno for those interested is more information about the maya yucateco, the most spoken Mayan language today.

When I write on the blog about the Mayan culture my pulse trembles for fear of saying stupid things. I hope to treat the issue with success, they are only reflections as a walker and lover of these lands.

Good way,

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Sandra Salvadó Training photographer, traveler by vocation and certified tourism guide by the Government of Mexico. We promote natural wonders and contemporary Mayan culture. Great fan of pre-Hispanic history. Author of the blog and co-founder of The Shortest Path Travel, agency that guides you through alternative paths in Mayan lands. Social and sustainable tourism in the Yucatan Peninsula and Chiapas.
I am at your disposal for whatever you need. Let's talk.

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