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The Q'eqchi' language, also spelled Kekchi, K'ekchi', or kekchí, is one of the Mayan languages, spoken within Q'eqchi' communities in Guatemala and Belize.
The area where Q'eqchi' is spoken spreads across northern Guatemala into southern Belize. There are also some Q'eqchi' speaking communities in Mexico.
It was calculated that the core of the Q'eqchi' speaking area in northern Guatemala extends over 24,662 square kilometers (about 9,522 square miles). The departments and specific municipalities where Q'eqchi' is regularly spoken in Guatemala include:
|Department||Municipalities where Q'eqchi' is spoken|
|Alta Verapaz||Chahal, Chisec, Cobán, Fray Bartolomé de las Casas, Lanquín, Panzós, Chamelco, Carchá, Cahabón, Senahú, Tucurú|
|Petén||La Libertad, Poptún, San Luis, Sayaxché|
|Quiché||Ixcán, Playa Grande, Uspantán|
|Izabal||El Estor, Livingston, Morales|
In the country of Belize, Q'eqchi' is spoken in the Toledo District. Q'eqchi' is the first language of many communities in the district, and the majority of Maya in Toledo speak it.
Terrence Kaufman described Q'eqchi' as having two principle dialect groups: the eastern and the western. The eastern group includes the varieties spoken in the municipalities of Lanquín, Chahal, Chahabón and Senahú, and the western group is spoken everywhere else.
Below are the Q'eqchi' phonemes, represented with the International Phonetic Alphabet. To see the official alphabet, see the chart in the Orthographies section of this article.
Q'eqchi' has 29 consonants, 3 of which were loaned from Spanish.
|voiced||b 2||d 2||ɡ 2|
Q'eqchi' has 10 vowels, which differ in quality and also in length.
|Close||i iː||u uː|
|Mid||e eː||o oː|
With a few exceptions—interjections, such as uyaluy, and adjectives which have an unstressed clitic on the end—stress always falls on the final syllable.
Like many other Mayan languages, Q'eqchi' is an ergative–absolutive language, which means that the object of a transitive verb is grammatically treated the same way as the subject of an intransitive verb. Individual morphemes and morpheme-by-morpheme glosses in this section are given in IPA, while "full words," or orthographic forms, are given in the ALMG orthography.
There are two kinds of pronouns in Q'eqchi': independent pronouns and pronominal affixes. The independent pronouns are much like pronouns in English or Spanish, while the pronominal affixes are attached to words such as nouns, verbs, and statives and used for inflection. Like other Mayan languages, Q'eqchi' has two sets of pronominal affixes, referred to as set A and set B. The following table provides all the pronominal affixes.
|Set A||Set B|
|3rd||ɾ- -eɓ / -eʔɾ||ʃ- -eɓ / eʔx||-eʔ / -eɓ|
When these affixes are attached to transitive verbs, set A affixes indicate the ergative agent while set B indicates the absolutive object.
|translation||full word||morpheme breakdown||translation||full word||morpheme breakdown|
|Tense/aspect||Set B||Set A||base||Tense/aspect||Set B||Set A||base|
|we saw you||xatqil||ʃ||at||q||il||I called you||xatinb'oq||ʃ||at||in||ɓoq|
|they saw you||xate'ril||ʃ||at||eʔɾ||il||s/he called you||xatxb'oq||ʃ||at||ʃ||ɓoq|
When a set B affix is attached to an intransitive verb, it indicates the subject of the intransitive verb.
|translation||full word||morpheme breakdown|
|you (pl.) slept||xexwar||ʃ||eʃ||waɾ|
When an affix from set A is prefixed to a noun, it indicates possession. As their name suggests, the prevocalic forms of set A affixes are only found before vowels. However, the rules for the distribution of "preconsonantal" set A prefixes on nouns are more complex, and they can sometimes be found before vowels as well as consonants. For example, loan words (principally from Spanish) are found with preconsonantal affixes, regardless of whether they begin with a consonant or not. In contrast, kinship and body part words—which are words very unlikely to be loaned—always take the prevocalic prefixes if they begin with vowels. The following chart contrasts these two situations.
|Body part and kinship terms||Loan words|
|my wife||wixaqil||*inixaqil||my manure/fertilizer||mi abono||inab'oon||*wab'oon|
|my older brother||was||*inas||my altar||mi altar||inartal||*wartal|
|my tongue||waq'||*inaq'||my sugar||mi azúcar||inasuukr||*wasuukr|
When an affix of set B serves as the suffix of a stative, it indicates the subject or theme of the stative.
|he/she/it is big||nim||nim - ∅|
|we are big||nimo||nim - o|
|you (pl.) are three||oxib'ex||oʃiɓ - eʃ|
|they are three||oxib'eb'||oʃiɓ - eɓ|
|I am far||najtin||naχt - in|
|you are far||najtat||naχt - at|
Statives can be derived from nouns. The process simply involves suffixing the set B pronominal affix to the end of the root.
|you are a man||winqat||winq - at|
|he is a man||winq||winq - ∅|
The basic word order of Q'eqchi' sentences is verb - object - subject, or VOS. SVO, VSO, SOV, OVS, and OSV word orders are all possible in Q'eqchi', but each have a specific use and set of restrictions. The definiteness and animacy of the subject and object can both have effects on the word order. Like many languages, the exact rules for word order in different situations vary from town to town in the Q'eqchi' speaking area.
|transitive||full words||Xril||li wakax||li ch'ajom||The young man||saw||the cattle|
|morphemes||ʃ - ∅ - ɾ - il||li wakaʃ||li tʃʼaχom|
|intransitive||full words||Xkam||li tz'i'||The dog||died|
|morphemes||ʃ - ∅ - kam||li tsʼiʔ|
Several writing systems have been developed for Q'eqchi', but only two are in widespread use: SIL and ALMG.
The first transcriptions of Q'eqchi' in the Latin alphabet were made by Roman Catholic friars in the 16th century. Francisco de la Parra devised additional letters to represent the unfamiliar consonants of Mayan languages, and these were used to write Q'eqchi'. Examples of Q'eqchi' written with the de la Parra transcription can be seen in the 18th century writing of the Berendt-Brinton Linguistic Collection (Rare Book & Manuscript Library, University of Pennsylvania, Ms. Coll. 700). In the 20th century, before Sedat and Eachus & Carlson developed their SIL orthography, field researchers devised alternate Latin transcriptions. For example, Robert Burkitt (an anthropologist fluent in spoken Q'eqchi' and familiar with a range of Q'eqchi' communities and language variation), in his 1902 paper "Notes on the Kekchí Language", uses a transcription based on then-current Americanist standards.
A Spanish-style orthography was developed by Summer Institute of Linguistics (SIL) field researchers, principally William Sedat in the 1950s and Francis Eachus and Ruth Carlson in the 1960s. This alphabet was officialized by the Guatemalan Ministry of Education through the Instituto Indigenista Nacional de Guatemala, or the IIN. Although no longer considered standard, this orthography remains in circulation in large part due to the popularity of a few texts including the Protestant Bible produced by the SIL/Wycliffe Bible Translation Project, and a widely used language learning workbook "Aprendamos Kekchí".
The Proyecto Lingüístico Francisco Marroquín (PLFM) developed an alternative orthography in the late 1970s, which was influenced by the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA). Of note, the PLFM orthography used the number "7" to write the glottal plosive, whereas the apostrophe was used in digraphs and trigraphs to write ejective stops and affricates. This system was later modified by the Academia de Lenguas Mayas de Guatemala (ALMG), which replaced the "7" with the apostrophe. The result, the ALMG orthography, has been the standard, official way to write Q'eqchi', at least in Guatemala, since 1990. In the ALMG orthography, each grapheme (or "letter", including digraphs and trigraphs) is meant to correspond to a particular phoneme. These include separate vowels for long and short sounds, as well as the use of apostrophes (saltillos) for writing ejectives and the glottal stop. The following table matches each of the official ALMG graphemes with their IPA equivalents.
|maak'a ta chink'ul sa' laa muheb'al aaki'chebal||maac'a ta chinc'ul sa' laa muhebal aaqui'chebaal||May nothing happen to me in your shady places and your forests.|
|yo chi amaq'ink laj Kachil Petén||yo chi amak'inc laj Cachil Petén||Carlos lives (is living) in Petén.|
At the time of the Spanish conquest of the Americas, Q'eqchi' was probably spoken by fewer people than neighboring languages such as Itza', Mopan, and Cholti', all of which are now moribund or extinct. The main evidence for this fact is not colonial documents, but the prevalence of loan words apparently stemming from these languages in Q'eqchi'. However, a number of factors made Q'eqchi' do better than the just-mentioned languages. One is the difficult mountainous terrain which is its home. Another is that, rather than simply being conquered, as the Cholti', or resisting conquest for an extended period, as the Itza' did for over 200 years, the Q'eqchi' came to a particular arrangement with the Spaniards, by which Dominican priests, led initially by Fray Bartolome de las Casas, were allowed to enter their territory and proselytize undisturbed, whereas no lay Spaniards were admitted. This led to their territory being renamed "Verapaz" (true peace) by the Spaniards, a name which continues today in the Guatemalan departments Alta Verapaz and Baja Verapaz. This relatively favorable early development allowed the people to spread, and even make war on neighboring Mayan groups. Although it was later followed by the brutal policies of the late-19th-century liberals and the late-20th century military governments, it largely explains the status of Q'eqchi' as the 3rd largest Mayan language in Guatemala and the 4th across the Mayan region. The relatively recent, postcolonial expansion is also the reason that Q'eqchi' is perhaps the most homogeneous of the larger Mayan languages.
Q'eqchi is taught in public schools through Guatemala's intercultural bilingual education programs.
Like most other Mayan languages, Q'eqchi' is still in the process of becoming a written and literary language. Existing texts can roughly be divided into the following categories.