Mopán language

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Mopan (or Mopan Maya) is a language that belongs to the Yucatecan branch of the Mayan languages. It is spoken by the Mopan people who live in the Petén Department of Guatemala and in the Maya Mountains region of Belize. There are between three and four thousand Mopan speakers in Guatemala and six to eight thousand in Belize.[2]

Native toBelize, Guatemala
Native speakers
13,000 (2014–2019)[1]
Language codes
ISO 639-3mop

The other Yucatecan languages are Yucatec, Lacandon, and Itzaʼ. Mopan began to diverge from the other Yucatecan languages at least one thousand years ago.[2][3]


Towns where Mopan is prominently spoken include San Luis, Poptún, Melchor de Mencos, and Dolores in Guatemala,[4] as well as San Antonio in the Toledo District of Belize.[5]


Word orderEdit

The word order in Mopan is verb-object-subject (VOS),[6] although subject-verb-object (SVO) is also common.[7]

Noun classifiersEdit

Mopan has two noun classifiers that are used to indicate gender. However, use of these classifiers is not typical of grammatical gender. The two classifiers are ix (feminine) and aj (masculine), for example, aj much, meaning "toad (masculine)". Use of these gender markers is atypical in several respects:[8]

  • They are not used for most nouns.
  • Gender is marked only in the noun and does not require agreement elsewhere in the sentence.
  • Gender marking can sometimes be omitted.

Although the gender markers normally match the natural gender of the referent when denoting people, this is not always the case for non-human referents. For example, "parrot" (ix tʼutʼ) is typically feminine regardless of the sex of the animal.[8]

Numerals and numeral classifiersEdit

Numerals in Mopan always include a numeral classifier which is added as a suffix. These classifiers indicate qualities about the referent. For example, round objects are indicated by the suffix -kuul, while long, thin objects are indicated by the suffix -tzʼiit. The most commonly used numeral classifiers are -pʼeel, for inanimate objects, and -tuul, for people and animals. In all, there are over 70 numeral classifiers used in Mopan Maya.[9]



The following are the consonant sounds used by the Mopan Maya language (written with the International Phonetic Alphabet):[10]

Labial Coronal Palatal Velar Glottal
Nasal m n
Plosive voiceless p t k ʔ
voiced ɓ ɗ g[a]
Affricate plain ts
ejective tsʼ tʃʼ
Fricative f[a] s ʃ h
Approximant l j w
Flap ɾ
  1. ^ a b The sounds [g] and [f] are used for Spanish loan words and do not correspond to sounds native to Mopan Maya.

In addition, some sources list [ŋ] (the velar nasal) as a consonant sound in Mopan Maya.[11]


The following are the vowel sounds of the Mopan Maya language:[10]

Front Central Back
Close i~ɪ   ~ɪː u  
Mid ɛ~e   ɛː~ ɘ   ɘː o  
Open a~ɑ   ~ɑː


Since the colonial period, Mopan Maya has been written with the Latin script.[6] Historically, a wide range of orthographies have been used to represent the language,[11] although recently, the orthography has been standardized by the Guatemalan Academy of Mayan Languages (ALMG).[10] The following table shows some of the orthographies that have been used to represent Mopan Maya:

IPA Colonial[10] Kaufman[11] Dienhart[11] ALMG[10]
a~ɑ a a a a
ɘ a ä ʌ ä
aː~ɑː a, aa aa aa aa
ɘː ää
ɓ b b
t͡ʃ ch ch č ch
t͡ʃʼ chʼ čʼ chʼ
ɗ d
ɛ~e e e e e
ɛː~eː e, ee ee ee ee
f f
g g
i~ɪ i i i i
iː~ɪː i, ii ii ii ii
h h, j j j j
k c k c k
l l l l l
m m m m m
n n n n n
o o o o o
o, oo oo oo oo
p p p p p
pp, ꝑ
ɾ r r r r
s z, ç, s s s s
t t t t t
th, tħ
t͡s tz tz ¢ tz
t͡sʼ ɔ, dz tzʼ ¢ʼ tzʼ
u u, v u u u
u, uu uu uu uu
w u, v w w w
ʃ x x š x
j y y y y
ʔ 7 ʼ ʼ


  1. ^ Mopan at Ethnologue (24th ed., 2021)  
  2. ^ a b Hofling, Mopan Maya–Spanish–English Dictionary, 1.
  3. ^ Kaufman, Terrence (1976). "Archaeological and Linguistic Correlations in Mayaland and Associated Areas of Mesoamerica". World Archaeology. 8 (1): 101–118. doi:10.1080/00438243.1976.9979655.
  4. ^ Kaufman, Proyecto de Alfabetos y Ortografías, 65.
  5. ^ Mwakikagile, Belize and Its People, 114.
  6. ^ a b Mopan Maya at Ethnologue (17th ed., 2013).
  7. ^ Hofling, Mopan Maya-Spanish-English Dictionary, 20.
  8. ^ a b Audring, Jenny; Corbett, Greville G.; Fedden, Sebastian, eds. (2018). Non-Canonical Gender Systems. Oxford University Press. pp. 129–146. ISBN 978-0198795438.
  9. ^ Hofling, Mopan Maya-Spanish-English Dictionary, 25.
  10. ^ a b c d e Hofling, Mopan Maya-Spanish-English Dictionary, 3–5.
  11. ^ a b c d Dienhart, The Mayan Languages, 171.


  • Dienhart, John M. (1989). The Mayan Languages: A Comparative Vocabulary. Odense, Denmark: Odense University Press. ISBN 8774927221.
  • Hofling, Charles Andrew (2011). Mopan Maya–Spanish–English Dictionary. Salt Lake City, Utah: University of Utah Press. ISBN 978-1607810292.
  • Kaufman, Terrence (1976). Proyecto de Alfabetos y Ortografías para Escribir las Lenguas Mayances (in Spanish). Antigua Guatemala: Proyecto lingüístico Francisco Marroquín.
  • Mwakikagile, Godfrey (2010). Belize and Its People: Life in A Multicultural Society. Continental Press. ISBN 978-9987932214.

External linksEdit