Lacandon language

The Lacandones speak the Lacandon-Maya language. This language is closely related to the Yucatec-Maya, which is spoken on the Yucatán peninsula. Because Yucatec-Maya is the most spoken of all Maya-dialects, it is often called Maya. The Lacandones call their language the Hach T’an, or ‘Real Language’.

The Lacandon alphabet consists of 26 letters, however it is different then the alphabet that we know. The Lacandon alphabet is made up of the following letters:

‘ a ä b ch ch’ e h I k k’ l m n o p p’ s t t’ tz tz’ u V w x y

The pronunciation of letters in the Lacandon-Maya also differ of that what we are used in English. In particular one should take the following letters into account:

a is pronounced as the ‘a’ in father

ä is pronounced as the ‘u’ in cup

e is pronounced as the ‘e’ in set

i is pronounced as the ‘ee’ in see

o is pronounced as the ‘o’ in hold

u is pronounced as the ‘oo’ in zoo

The u is pronounced lika a w when the letter is placed before a vowel or when it is the last letter of a word. If the u is placed at the beginning of a word it is pronounced like a plain u.

x is pronounced as sh

c is pronounced as k

ch is pronounced as tsj

tz is pronounced as z

k is pronounced as a k with the glottis closed

In the old spelling you can find the use of the letter j. This letter was pronounced like a h, as in Lacanjá. This spelling was a heritage of the Spanish culture that surrounds the Lacandones. A Spanish-speaking writer wrote the first Lacandon words. The modern Lacandon alphabet does no longer contains the letter j.

The modern Lacandon alphabet has no r; when the southern Lacandones were thought to read and write by the American missionary Phillip Baer, however, he did used the letter r in the system he developed. In the present system the r is replaced by a l. In some names you can still find the r, like in Bor (Bol).

Consonants with the glottis closed are pronounced without closing the glottis. In the text this is given by an apostrophe. The meaning of a word can change because of a closed glottis and thus makes a correct pronunciation very important. For example, kan means ‘snake’ while k’an is the word for ‘hammock’.

Sometimes words are written in plural. Lacandon words in plural end with o’, like ton (male) and tono’ (males).

It is also interesting to mention that the pronunciation by women is different compared to the pronunciation by men. For an outsider this so-called ‘Kitchen-Lacandon’ is almost completely unintelligible.


Lacandon Glossary

Vocabulaire Lacandon (Nahá dialect) - Spanish (FAMSI, by E. Boot, based on R. D. Bruce, 1968)

Lacandon Corlour Terms (by Suzanne Cook, University of Victoria)