Q'eqchi' Language: Comparison
Please note this is a comparison between Version 2 by Vivi Li and Version 1 by Vivi Li.

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.

  • q'eqchi'
  • k'ekchi'
  • kekchi

1. Distribution

Map of Mayan languages. By No machine-readable author provided. Madman2001 assumed (based on copyright claims). - No machine-readable source provided. Own work assumed (based on copyright claims)., CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=1483259

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[1] (about 9,522 square miles). The departments and specific municipalities where Q'eqchi' is regularly spoken in Guatemala include:[1]

  • . http://www.sil.org/resources/publications/entry/26290
  • . Retrieved 18 May 2016
  • .  This is a pedagogical grammar, rather than a descriptive grammar like the majority in this section.
  • Stewart, Steven (1980) (in Spanish). Gramática kekchí. Editorial Academica Centro America: Guatemala. OCLC 318333627.  This grammar does not include syntax. The area of study for the book was Cobán and the surrounding towns of San Pedro Carchá, San Juan Chamelco, and Chamil.
  • Stoll, Otto (1896) (in German). Die Sprache der K'e'kchí-Indianer. 
  • Tzoc Choc, Juan; Álvarez Cabnal, Alfredo; Carlos Federico, Hun Macz; Sacul Caal, Hugo; the Q'eqchi' language community (2003) (in Spanish). Gramática descriptiva del idioma maya q'eqchi' = Xtz'ilb'al rix xna'leb'il li aatinob'aal q'eqchi'. Cobán, Alta Verapaz, Guatemala: Academia de las Lenguas Mayas de Guatemala. pp. 114–115. OCLC 654408920. https://www.scribd.com/doc/28580391/Gramatica-Descriptiva-Q-eqchi-Juan-Tzoc. Retrieved May 4, 2016. 
  • Tzoc Choc, Juan; Álvarez Cabnal, Alfredo; the Q'eqchi' language community (2004) (in Spanish). Gramática normativa q'eqchi'
  • American Anthropologist
  • 4 (3): 441–63. doi:10.1525/aa.1902.4.3.02a00060. 
  • Campbell, Lyle (1973). "The Philological Documentation of a Variable Rule in the History of Pokom and Kekchi" (in English). International Journal of American Linguistics International Journal of American Linguistics 39 (3): 133–134. ISSN 0020-7071. 
  • Campbell, Lyle (1974). "Theoretical Implications of Kekchi Phonology" (in English). International Journal of American Linguistics International Journal of American Linguistics 40 (4, Part 1): 269–278. ISSN 0020-7071. 
  • DeChicchis, Joseph (2011-06-03). Revisiting an imperfection in Mayan orthography. Archived from the original on 2014-11-03. https://web.archive.org/web/20141103001201/http://kgur.kwansei.ac.jp/dspace/bitstream/10236/7801/1/37-2.pdf. 
  • Kockelman, Paul (2003-08-01). "The Meanings of Interjections in Q’eqchi’ Maya: From Emotive Reaction to Social and Discursive Action". Current Anthropology 44 (4): 467–490. doi:10.1086/375871. ISSN 0011-3204. http://www.journals.uchicago.edu/doi/10.1086/375871. 
  • Wichmann, Soeren. Loanwords in Q'eqchi', a Mayan language of Guatemala. Archived from the original on 2009-05-19. https://web.archive.org/web/20090519200948/http://email.eva.mpg.de/~wichmann/Qeqchi.pdf. 
Department Municipalities where Q'eqchi' is spoken
Alta Verapaz Chahal, Chisec, Cobán, Fray Bartolomé de las Casas, Lanquín, Panzós, Chamelco, Carchá, Cahabón, Senahú, Tucurú
Baja Verapaz Purulhá
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.[1] 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.[2]

2. Phonology

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.

2.1. Consonants

Q'eqchi' has 29 consonants, 3 of which were loaned from Spanish.

Dictionaries of Q'eqchi'

  • Frazier, Jeffrey (2015) (in Q'eqchi' and English). Q'eqchi' Mayan Thematic Dictionary: Tusb'il Molob'aal Aatin Q'eqchi' ~ Inkles. Mayaglot; 1 edition (June 21, 2015). https://www.amazon.com/Qeqchi-Mayan-Thematic-Dictionary-Molobaal/dp/1514812282/ref=pd_sim_14_1?_encoding=UTF8&psc=1&refRID=Q2J1CRQ4TS6Q71J8BQGM.
Q'eqchi consonant phonemes[3][4][5]
  Bilabial Alveolar Alveo-palatal
  1. Book of Mormon
  1. also is available in Q'eqchi' as are also other LDS religious texts.
  1. [
  1. 36
  1. ]
  1. Non-instructive secular texts have also begun to appear in the last ten years or so, although they are still few in number. The most ambitious of these works have been a free translation of the K'iche' text
  1. Popol Wuj
  1. ("Popol Vuh") by the Q'eqchi' language teacher and translator Rigoberto Baq Qaal (or Ba'q Q'aal), and a collection of Q'eqchi' folk tales. A number of government documents have also been translated into Q'eqchi', including the Guatemalan Constitution.

7. External Links

  • K'EQCHÎ 2012-2014 Maya Atinaɓāl re li Poyanam K'eqchî sâ eɓ li Tenamit Guatemala ut Belize / Mayan language for the K'eqchî people in Guatemala and Belize
  • Q'eqchi' Vocabulary List (from the World Loanword Database)
  • Comparative Q'eqchi' Swadesh vocabulary list (from Wiktionary)
  • Web page of the Spanish language Q'eqchi' learning book
  • Aprendamos kekchí
  • at the SIL. On this site, there is a link to download the book as a PDF. Retrieved May 8, 2016.

8. Bibliography

Grammars of Q'eqchi'

  • Caz Cho, Sergio (2007) (in Spanish). Xtz'ilb'al rix li aatinak sa' Q'eqchi' = Informe de variación dialectal en Q'eqchi' =. Antigua, Guatemala; Guatemala, Guatemala: Oxlajuuj Keej Maya' Ajtz'iib' (OKMA); Cholsamaj. ISBN 9789992253526. OCLC 202514532. 
  • Eachus, Francis; Carlson, Ruth (1980). Aprendamos kekchí: Gramática pedagógica popular de kekchí. Guatemala: Instituto Lingüístico del Verano (Summer Institute of Linguistics)
  • . Guatemala: Academia de las Lenguas Mayas de Guatemala
  • . https://www.scribd.com/doc/28581198/Gramatica-Normativa-Q-eqchi-Juan-Tzoc. Retrieved 5 May 2016.  This is a normative grammar, rather than a descriptive grammar like the majority in this section.

Articles on Q'eqchi'

  • Burkitt, Robert (1902). "Notes on the Kekchí".  
  • Frazier, Jeffrey (2015) (in Q'eqchi' and English). Q'eqchi' Mayan Dictionary: Molob'aal Aatin Q'eqchi' ~ Inkles. Mayaglot; 1 edition (December 11, 2015). https://www.amazon.com/Qeqchi-Mayan-Dictionary-Molobaal-Inkles/dp/0692602097/ref=asap_bc?ie=UTF8. 
  • Haeserijn, Esteban (1979) (in Spanish). Diccionario kʼekchiʼ español. 
  • Sedat, William (1955) (in Spanish). Nuevo diccionario de las lenguas K'ekchi' y española. Guatemala: Alianza para el Progreso. 
  • Tuyuc Sucuc, Cecilio (2001) (in Q'eqchi' and Spanish). Xtusulal aatin sa' q'eqchi' = Vocabulario q'eqchi'. Academia de Lenguas Mayas de Guatemala, Comunidad Lingüística Q'eqchi'. https://aztli.files.wordpress.com/2013/10/vocabulario20qeqchi.pdf. 
Velar Uvular Glottal
Nasal m n        
Plosive voiceless p t   k q ʔ
glottalized 1    
voiced b 2 d 2   ɡ 2    
Affricate voiceless   ts      
glottalized   tsʼ tʃʼ      
Fricative   s ʃ   χ h
Tap   ɾ        
Lateral   l        
Semivowel w   j      
  • 1 In their respective descriptive grammars of Q'eqchi', both Juan Tzoc Choc[6] and Stephen Stewart[7] have the bilabial implosive as a voiced /ɓ/. The report on Q'eqchi' dialect variation by Sergio Caz Cho, however, only discusses this consonant as a voiceless /ɓ̥/.[8]
  • 2 The non-glottalized voiced plosives /b d ɡ/ have appeared as a result of influence from Spanish.[3]

2.2. Vowels

Q'eqchi' has 10 vowels, which differ in quality and also in length.

Q'eqchi vowel phonemes[3][9][10]
  Front Central Back
Close i   u
Mid e   o
Open   a  

2.3. Prosody

With a few exceptions—interjections, such as uyaluy,[11] and adjectives which have an unstressed clitic on the end[12]—stress always falls on the final syllable.[12]

3. Grammar

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.[13][14] 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.

3.1. Morphology

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.[15][16] 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.

Pronominal Affixes[17]
  Set A Set B
person prevocalic preconsonantal
1st w in in
2nd aːw at
3rd ɾ ʃ
1st q qa -, -o
2nd eːr
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.

Transitive Verbs[18]
Prevocalic Preconsonantal
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.

Intransitive Verbs[19]
translation full word morpheme breakdown
Tense/aspect Set B base
I slept xinwar ʃ in waɾ
you slept xatwar ʃ at waɾ
s/he slept xwar ʃ waɾ
we slept xoowar ʃ oo waɾ
you (pl.) slept xexwar ʃ waɾ
they slept xe'war ʃ 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.[20] The following chart contrasts these two situations.

Possession of nouns[21]
Body part and kinship terms Loan words
English correct incorrect English Spanish correct incorrect
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.

Inflected statives[22]
translation Q'eqchi'
full word morphemes
he/she/it is big nim nim - ∅
we are big nimo nim - o
you (pl.) are three oxib'ex oʃiɓ -
they are three oxib'eb' oʃiɓ -
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.

Noun as stative[23]
translation Q'eqchi'
full words morphemes
man winq winq
you are a man winqat winq - at
he is a man winq winq - ∅

3.2. Syntax

The basic word order of Q'eqchi' sentences is verb - object - subject, or VOS.[24][25] SVO, VSO, SOV, OVS, and OSV word orders are all possible in Q'eqchi', but each have a specific use and set of restrictions.[26] The definiteness and animacy of the subject and object can both have effects on the word order.[27][28] Like many languages, the exact rules for word order in different situations vary from town to town in the Q'eqchi' speaking area.[28]

Examples of basic word order[29]
  Q'eqchi' translation
verb object subject subject verb object
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

4. Orthographies

Several writing systems have been developed for Q'eqchi', but only two are in widespread use: SIL and ALMG.

4.1. Early Transcriptions

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.[30]

4.2. SIL/IIN

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.[31] This alphabet was officialized by the Guatemalan Ministry of Education through the Instituto Indigenista Nacional de Guatemala, or the IIN.[32] 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".

4.3. ALMG

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.[33] The following table matches each of the official ALMG graphemes with their IPA equivalents.

Comparison of the ALMG Q'eqchi' orthography to the IPA[34]
ALMG a aa b' ch ch' e ee h i ii j k k' l m n o oo p q q' r s t t' tz tz' u uu w x y '
IPA a ɓ tʃʼ e h i χ k l m n o p q r s t ts tsʼ u w ʃ j ʔ

4.4. Comparison of the Two Major Orthographies

Comparative examples of the ALMG and SIL orthographies
ALMG SIL English translation
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.

5. History

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.[35]

Q'eqchi is taught in public schools through Guatemala's intercultural bilingual education programs.

6. Texts

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.

  1. Educational texts meant to teach people how to speak, read or write Q'eqchi'. This category includes materials such as dictionaries and grammars, as well as workbooks designed to be used in rural Guatemala schools in communities where the majority of the people are native speakers of Q'eqchi'.
  2. Religious texts. The Protestant version of the Bible (published by the SIL based on the work of William Sedat, and Eachus and Carlson) mentioned above is probably the most widely available text in Q'eqchi'. In the last twenty years or so, the Roman Catholic Church has been one of the primary proponents of written Q'eqchi'. Various Catholic organizations are responsible for producing a number of texts, including the New Testament, Genesis and Exodus, and various instructional pamphlets. A songbook entitled Qanimaaq Xloq'al li Qaawa' 'We praise the Lord' is very popular among Catholics, has been in print for many years, and is updated with new songs regularly. The


  1. Richards, Michael (2003). Atlas Lingüístico de Guatemala. Guatemala: Instituto de Lingüística y Educación. pp. 76–77. http://www.liceosiglo21.com/IDIOMA%20MAYA/atlas/Atlas%20Ling%FC%EDstico.pdf. 
  2. Stewart 1980, p. xiii.
  3. Stewart 1980, p. 2.
  4. Tzoc Choc et al. 2003, p. 12.
  5. Caz Cho 2007, p. 19.
  6. Tzoc Choc et al. 2003, pp. 8, 17.
  7. Stewart 1980, pp. 2, 4-5.
  8. Caz Cho 2007, pp. 19, 21-22.
  9. Tzoc Choc et al. 2003, p. 24.
  10. Caz Cho 2007, p. 20.
  11. Kockelman 2003.
  12. Stewart 1980, p. 21.
  13. Stewart 1980, p. 76.
  14. Tzoc Choc et al. 2003, pp. 114-115.
  15. Stewart 1980, pp. 23-37.
  16. Tzoc Choc et al. 2003, pp. 36-40.
  17. Caz Cho 2007, pp. 47, 53. See also Stewart 1980, p. 24, and Tzoc Choc et al. 2003, pp. 38-40
  18. Stewart 1980, pp. 33-36.
  19. Caz Cho 2007, p. 54.
  20. Stewart 1980, pp. 25-28.
  21. Stewart 1980, pp. 27-28.
  22. Caz Cho 2007, p. 58.
  23. Stewart 1980, p. 90.
  24. Tzoc Choc et al. 2003, p. 102.
  25. Caz Cho 2007, pp. 187-188.
  26. Caz Cho 2007, p. 187.
  27. Tzoc Choc et al. 2003, p. 103.
  28. Caz Cho 2007, pp. 187-198.
  29. Caz Cho 2007, p. 188.
  30. Burkitt 1902.
  31. Entry for Alfabeto kekchí in the SIL database http://www.sil.org/resources/archives/26317
  32. Eachus & Carlson 1980, p. xiv.
  33. DeChicchis 2011.
  34. Tzoc Choc, Álvarez Cabnal & the Q'eqchi' language community 2004, pp. 14-54.
  35. Wichmann.
  36. Kai A. Andersen, "‘In His Own Language'", Liahona, June 1997, 29; see available list of Q'eqchi' LDS publications at ldscatalog.com. http://www.lds.org/liahona/1997/06/in-his-own-language