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Language and Cultural Contacts Among Yukatekan Mayans

Croatian Anthropological Society; [email protected]
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  • Maya
  • Yukatek
  • Mopan
  • Lakantun
  • Itzaj
  • Spanish


The Yukatekan branch of the Maya language family, spread across the Yucatán Peninsula of Mexico, northern Guatemala, and Belize, began to diversify approximately 1,000 years ago. Today it has four branches: Mopan Maya, Itzaj Maya, Lakantun Maya and Yukatek Maya proper, which have widely varying language statuses. Lakantun and Itzaj Maya are seriously threatened, while Mopan appears to have a stable or growing population of approximately 10,000 speakers and Yukatek has a very large number of speakers, perhaps 750,000. However, even many Yukateks believe that their language is threatened and that shift to Spanish is underway. During the past millennia there has been a series of contacts involving migration, trade, warfare, and flight among the different branches, as well as with other Mayan languages and with the Spanish. This paper examines a variety of different kinds of contact, and how the different language varieties were involved and affected. One goal of the paper is to better understand how the dynamics of inter-cultural contacts affects language practices resulting in very different language statuses and ideologies.

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