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Chʼortiʼ language

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The Chʼortiʼ language (sometimes also Chorti) is a Mayan language, spoken by the indigenous Maya people who are also known as the Chʼortiʼ or Chʼortiʼ Maya. Chʼortiʼ is a direct descendant of the Classic Maya language in which many of the pre-Columbian inscriptions using the Maya script were written[3]. This Classic Maya language is also attested in a number of inscriptions made in regions whose inhabitants most likely spoke a different Mayan language variant, including the ancestor of Yucatec Maya.[citation needed] Chʼortiʼ is the modern version of the ancient Mayan language Chʼolan (which was actively used and most popular between the years of A.D 250 and 850).[3]

Native toGuatemala, Honduras, El Salvador
Native speakers
30,000 (2000)[1]
Early form
Language codes
ISO 639-3caa
This article contains IPA phonetic symbols. Without proper rendering support, you may see question marks, boxes, or other symbols instead of Unicode characters. For an introductory guide on IPA symbols, see Help:IPA.

Relationship to other Mayan languagesEdit

Chʼortiʼ can be called a living "Rosetta Stone" of Mayan languages[by whom?]. Chʼortiʼ language is an important factor to comprehend the contents of Maya hieroglyphic writings, some of which are not yet fully understood.[citation needed] Over several years, many linguists and anthropologists expected to realize the Chʼortiʼ culture and language by studying its words and expressions.[4][clarification needed] Chʼortiʼ is spoken mainly in and around Jocotán and Camotán, Chiquimula department, Guatemala, as well as adjacent areas of parts of western Honduras near the Copán Ruins.[5] Because the classic Mayan language was ancestral to the modern Chʼorti, Chʼorti can be used to decipher the ancient language.[citation needed] For example, it was discovered that the Mayan language had distinct grammatical patterns, such as a consonant/vowel syllable aspect.[clarification needed] Researchers realized that the ancient language was based more on phonetics than previously thought.[3]

A map showing the present-day locations of the Mayan Languages. The colours of the language names shows closely related groups. The size of the name shows the relative number of speakers.

The name Chortiʼ (with unglottalized <ch>) means 'language of the corn farmers', which references to the traditional agricultural activity of the Chʼortiʼ families. The politicized spelling Chʼortiʼ was introduced later in an attempt to lessen associations between Chʼortiʼ speakers and stereotypical professions.[citation needed]

Chʼortiʼ language is one of the three modern descendants of Chʼolan language which is a sub-group of Mayan languages. Other two modern descendants are Chontal and Chʼol.[6] These three descendants are still spoken by people. Chʼortiʼ language and Chʼolti language are two sub-branches belong to the Eastern Chʼolan. And Chʼolti language is already extinct today.


Actually there are some debates among the scholars how the Chʼolan language should be classified. John Robertson considered the direct ancestor of colonial Chʼoltiʼ is the language of the hieroglyphs. The language of the hieroglyphs is realized as 'Classic Chʼoltiʼan' by John Robertson, David Stuart, and Stephen Houston. And then the language of the hieroglyphs in turn becomes the ancestor of Chʼortiʼ. The relationship shows as the chart below.[5]

Phonology and orthographyEdit

The Chʼortiʼ have their own standard way of writing their language. However, the inaccurate ways to represent phoneme led to some variations among all of the publications recently.[7][8]


Bilabial Alveolar Post-
Velar Glottal
Plosive voiceless p [p] t [t] k [k] ʼ [ʔ]
ejective [tʼ] [kʼ]
voiced b [b] d [d] g [ɡ]
implosive [ɓ]
Fricative s [s] x [ʃ] j [x]
Affricate voiceless tz [ts] ch [tʃ]
ejective tzʼ [tsʼ] chʼ [tʃʼ]
Nasal m [m] n [n]
Trill r [r]
Approximant l [l] y [j] w [w]

The consonants of Chʼortiʼ include glottal stop ʼ, b, bʼ, ch, chʼ, d, g, j, k, kʼ, l, m, n, p, r, s, t, tʼ, tz, tzʼ, w, x, y.

Both /b/ and /d/ rarely occur in native vocabulary. Instead, they usually appear in Spanish words. The <j> is a voiceless velar fricative. The <x> is a voiceless palatal fricative. The <w> and <y> are semivowels.

The ordering of terms would be that the consonants follows after the non glottal versions. Besides, words with rearticulated root vowels follow after their corresponding short vowels.

Therefore, the order of presentation will be as follows: a, aʼ, b, bʼ, ch, chʼ, d, e, eʼ, g, i, iʼ, j, k, kʼ, l, m, n, o, oʼ, p, r, s, t, tʼ, tz, tzʼ, u, uʼ, w, x, y.


Front Back
Close i u
Mid e o
Open a

The vowels consist of a, e, i, o, and u.[8]

Word orderEdit

The aspectual system of Chʼortiʼ language changed to a tripartite pronominal system which comes with different morphemes used for the subject of transitive verbs, the object of transitive verbs and the subject of intransitive completive verbs, and a third set of pronouns only used for the subject of incompletive intransitive verbs.[9]

Chʼortiʼ tripartite pronominal system (data from Hull 2005)


e sitzʼ u-buyi-Ø e siʼ
def boy A3-chop-B3 def wood

'The boy chops the wood (into tiny pieces)'

Intransitive completive

intzaj lokʼoy-Ø e peʼych
sweet go.out-B3 def tomato

'The tomato turned out delicious'

Intransitive incompletive

e kʼin a-lokʼoy ta ixner kʼin
def sun C1-go.out prep going sun

'The sun sets in the west'

Common wordsEdit

The following list contains examples of common words in the Chʼortiʼ language:

all: tuno\r ashes: tan
bark: pat big: nohta
bite: ac\uhxop bird: mut
black: negru u\t blood: ch\ich\
blow: uyuhta bone: b\ac
breast: uchu\ burn: pur
child: sitz/ihch\oc cloud: tocar
cold: insis come: yo\p
cut: xur day: ahq\uin
die: cham dig: impahni
dog: tz\i\ drink: ch\I
dry: taquin dust: pococ
ear: chiquin earth: rum
eat: we\ egg: cu\m
eye: naq\uiu\t fall: c\ax
far: naht fat (n.): ch\ichmar
fear: ap\a\cta feather: tzutz
fingernail: or uyoc fire: c\ahc
fish: chay five: inmohy
fly (v.): top fog: mayuhy
foot: oc four: chan
full: b\ut\ur give: ahc\
good: imb\utzop green: yaxax
hair: tzutz hand: c\ap \
head: hor hear: oyp\ica
heart: alma heavy: mb\ar
here: tara hit: tz\ohy
horn: cachu how?: tuc\a
husband: noxip I: en
kill: chamse knee: pix
know: na\t lake: eha\
laugh: tze\n leaf: uyopor
left: utz\ehc\ap lie: ch\a
liver: xemem long: innaht
louse: u\ch man: winic
meat: we\r moon: uh
mountain: wίtzir mouth: ti\
name: uc\ab\a near: nuťur
neck: nuc new: tapop
night: acb\are nose: ni\
one: in other: inmohr
person: winicop pull: nquerehb\a
rain: haha\r red: chacchacop
right: wach\ c\ab\ river: xucur
road: b\i\r root: wi\r
rope: ch\a\n rope: succhih
rotten: oq\uem round: gororoh
sand: hi\ say: a\r
seed: hinah see: wira
sing: c\aywi sit: turu
skin: pat sleep: way
smell: chuchu\ co\c smoke: b\utz
stab: inxeq\ue stand: wa\r
star: e\c stone: cha\
stone: tun suck: catz\upi
sun: q\uin swell: asampa
swim: nuhx tail: neh
that: yaja\ there: yaha\
thick: pim thin: jay
this: ira thou: et
tongue: a\c tooth: cha\m
tooth: eh tree: te\
two: cha\ walk: axanop
warm: inq\uin wash: poc
wash: pohch\ water: ha\
we: oŋ wet: cuxur
what: tuc\a when?: tuc\a dia
where?: tia\ white: sacsac
who: chi wife: wixca\r
woman: ihch\oc woman: \ixic
year: hap yellow: c\an
ye: no\x


Extinction of the language and cultureEdit

The Chʼortiʼ people are descendants of the people who lived in and around Copán, one of the cultural capitals of the ancient Maya area. This covers parts of modern-day Honduras and Guatemala. Chʼorti is considered an endangered language as well as an endangered culture.

Geographic location of Chʼortiʼ speakersEdit

This region is the only region in the world that Chʼorti speakers can be found. Although the area is completely shaded in, the majority of speakers reside in Guatemala, while the rest are sparsely distributed throughout the rest of the area.[11]


The government of Honduras has been trying to promote a uniform national language of Spanish, and therefore discourages the use and teaching of native languages such as Chʼorti. The Chʼortiʼ people in Honduras face homogenization and have to assimilate to their surroundings. The government has been clashing with the Chʼorti people over land disputes from the 1800s, which puts the people (and thus the language) at risk. In 1997, 2 prominent Chʼorti leaders were assassinated. This assassination is just one example of many cases where Chʼorti advocates have been harmed or killed. Every one of these killings reduces the number of Chʼorti speakers. As of right now, there are only 10 remaining native speakers in Honduras.[12]


The government of Guatemala has been more supportive of Chʼorti speakers and has promoted programs that encourage the learning and teaching of Chʼorti. The Chʼorti's in Guatemala wear traditional clothing, unlike their counterparts in Honduras, who wear modern-day clothing.[12] Currently there are about 55,250 Chʼorti speakers in Guatemala. Even though Guatemala has established Spanish as its official language, it supports the teaching of these native languages.

Ethnonyms: Cholotí, Chorté, ChortíEdit

The majority of Chʼortiʼ live in the Chiquimula Department of Guatemala, approximately 52,000. The remaining 4,000 live in Copán, Honduras. Traditionally, the highland Maya Indian people were dependent on maize and beans. The Kʼicheʼ Maya however, dominated the Chʼortiʼ dating back to the early fifteenth century. Warfare as well as disease devastated much of the Chʼortiʼ during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Much of their land was lost to the Guatemalan government in the nineteenth century as well. More recently, 25 percent of the Guatemalan Chʼortiʼ went to the United States during the 1980s to escape political persecution.[13]

Chʼortiʼ rosary prayersEdit

Catata Dios / Our Father

9b Catata Dios xeʼ turet tichan, catattzʼi acʼabʼa xeʼ erach.

Lar tuaʼ icʼotori tara tor e rum wacchetaca. Y chen lo que acʼani tara tor e rum bʼan cocha war ache tichan tut e qʼuin.

Ajcʼunon lo que ucʼani tuaʼ cacʼuxi tama inteʼ inteʼ día.

Cʼumpen tacaron tamar camabʼambʼanir lo que cay cache toit net, bʼan cocha war cacʼumpa taca tin e cay uchiobʼ e mabʼambʼanir

capater ubʼan.

Ira awacton tuaʼ capijchna sino que corpeson tama tunor ucʼotorer e diablo. Porque net jax Careyet, y net ayan meyra acʼotorer, y net ayan meyra atawarer xeʼ machi tuaʼ acʼapa. Amén.[14]


The communities of Copan are populated by "farmers with indigenous tradition", essentially, agricultural laborers known as the Chʼortiʼ. Illiteracy rates in these communities fall between 92 and 100 percent, infant mortality rates of 60 percent, and life expectancy being 49 years for men and 55 years for women. A conflict that has effected the Copan area immensely is land tenure. Originally, Chʼortiʼs used communal land and owned individual plots. Shortly after the Spanish conquest, the land and people became Spanish property. The land was then used in the aparceria system (farmers rent land in return for payment of a proportion of the harvest obtained). This system was stable for hundreds of years, until the Honduran government signed Convention 169 of the International Labour Organization (ILO) in 1991. This organization was established to protect and benefit indigenous communities such as the Chʼortiʼ by improving access to land, health, and housing as well as other basic necessities. The murder of Chʼortiʼ leader Candido Amador in April 1997 sparked another conflict, resulting in the government signing an agreement with the Chʼortiʼ organization (CONICHH) offering 2,000 ha of land in Copan.[15]


  1. ^ Chʼortiʼ at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015)
  2. ^ Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds. (2017). "Chorti". Glottolog 3.0. Jena, Germany: Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History.
  3. ^ a b c Houston, S, J Robertson, and D Stuart. "The language of Classic Maya inscriptions." Current Anthropology 41.3 (2000): 321-356. Print.
  4. ^ Keys, David. "'Lost' Sacred Language of the Maya Is Rediscovered." N.p., 07 Dec. 2003. Web page:[permanent dead link]
  5. ^ a b Hull, Kerry M. (2003). Verbal art and performance in Chʼortiʼ and Maya hieroglyphic writing [electronic resource]. Doctoral dissertation, The University of Texas at Austin. Available electronically from
  6. ^ Mathews,Peter and Bíró,Péter Maya Hieroglyphs and Mayan Languages.[electronic resource] Available electronically from [1]
  7. ^ Hull, Kerry. (2005) "A Dictionary of Chʼortiʼ Maya, Guatemala." Web. Available online:
  8. ^ a b Pérez Martínez, Vitalino(1994) Gramática del idioma chʼortíʼ. Antigua, Guatemala: Proyecto Lingüístico Francisco Marroquín.
  9. ^ Law, Danny, John Robertson, and Stephen Houston. "Split Ergativity In The History Of The Chʼolan Branch Of The Mayan Language Family." International Journal of American Linguistics 72.4 (2006): 415-450..
  10. ^
  11. ^ • McAnany, Patricia, and Shoshaunna Parks. "Casualties of Heritage Distancing Children, Chʼortiʼ Indigeneity, and the Copan Archaeoscape." Current Anthropology 53.1 (2012): 80-107. Print.
  12. ^ a b • "World Directory of Minorities and Indigenous Peoples." Minority Rights Group International : Honduras : Lenca, Miskitu, Tawahka, Pech, Maya, Chortis and Xicaque. N.p., n.d. Web. 25 Oct. 2013. <"Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2013-10-29. Retrieved 2013-10-25.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)>.
  13. ^ Chenier, Jacqueline, and Steve Sherwood. "Copan: Collaboration for Identity, Equity and Sustainability (Honduras)." Ciesin.Columbia. Community-Based Natural Resource Management (CBNRM), n.d. Web. 27 Oct. 2013. <>."[permanent dead link]
  14. ^ "Chʼorti Rosary Prayer." Mary's Rosaries. Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License., n.d. Web. 27 Oct. 2013. <>.[permanent dead link]
  15. ^ Copan: Collaboration for Identity, Equity and Sustainability (Honduras) Archived 2013-10-29 at the Wayback Machine

External linksEdit