Forget Spanish, I'm Learning Maya

My time in Santa Maria Poniente has become a sort of Mayan language immersion program. Surrounded all day by people for whom "Mexico" is a distant land in the North, its impossible not to become imersed.

It helps a little that, as one Mr. Canul put it, "we don't speak the Maya right." As I'm listening, I hear little pings of Spanish: place names, machinery parts, curse words, every number except three. It makes listening to conversations an amusing experience. At one point, the only phrase I understood for 5 minutes was "A hueevo," a kind of negative, resigned "Duh." The first friday before coming to the Ejido, I attended a two hour Maya class where I learned a fun children's game called Tim bom ba and also how to transcribe Mayan pronounciation into writing. Although being beaten by two preteen girls was certainly entertaining, the second part of the class has been very useful. Now when I hear a new word, I can "see" the pronouciation.

And let me tell you, pronounciation matters. The difference between the word for wilderness ("k'a'ax") and chicken ("kaax") is a click and a properly rolled double a. Maya has several clicks and pops, which are are written by adding an apostrophe to the consonant to be clicked. K is a regular k sound, while k' is a shortened, clicky k, a sound I normally reserve for imitations of people getting choked.

There's also a lot of double vowels, which are kind of difficult to describe but involve distinctly pronouncing the vowel twice without stopping. These come in two types- the normal type just described and another one in which the first vowel has an accent to increase its emphasis.

The last thing to note is that "x" is pronounced like the sound we know as "sh." And with that I now present to you my entire current Mayan vocabulary*:

Ko'ox - Lets go (you and me)
Koonex - Lets all go
Tin bin - I'm going
Nai, Na - Home, house
Jana - Food, to eat
Tun bin - You're going, you go (not a command)
Ja' - Water, rain, lake, river, ocean, any kind of water.
Ik' - Wind, air
Ma'ao' - Ok, good, used kind of like the street slang "word"
Tux ka bin - Where are you going?
Che' - Tree
Bix a K'a'aba' - What is your name?
K'a'ax - forest, jungle, wilderness, any land thats not a farm or a town
Kaax - chicken
Bax, Bix - What
In K'a'aba' e' Andon - My name is Andon
Mulix - Curly haired (not sure if this is Maya or Spanish, but I certainly heard it a lot)
Choko - Hot (temperature)
Kiin - Sun, day
Chu'upa' - Young woman, girl
Tsis - Sex (Its hard not to learn curse words ok?)

With these few words and phrases I can form simple sentences like "Choko Kin" (the sun is hot, its a hot day) or "Ko'ox Jana" (lets go eat). I even had my first (extremely short) conversation with a man passing by on his bike:

Andon: Tux ka bin (Where are you going? Where do you go?)
Man: Tin bin nai (I'm going to my house.)
Andon: Ma'alo' (Word.)


*Note that the words here are written the way they sound to me, using the simple rules I describe above. There is still debate as to the official spellings of many words.