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K’iche’, also spelled Quiché, is a member of the Quichean branch of the Mayan language family. It is spoken in the central highlands of Guatemala (Ethnologue). Guatemala mapK’iche’ is believed to have originated over 4,000 years ago from an ancestral Proto-Mayan language that was spoken by the people who inhabited what are today Guatemala, Honduras, and the Yucatán peninsula.  The language underwent a spelling change as a result of the 1987 Guatemalan Government Decree which regularized Mayan orthographies that were previously based on Spanish traditions. K’iche’ has a long literary tradition, e.g., Popol Vuh, the sacred book of the Mayas, representing an account of Maya history and mythology, beginning with the creation of the world and written in Classical K’iche’. The K’iche’ culture reached its pinnacle at the time of the Spanish conquest.


Central K’iche’ is spoken by 2.3 million people, as a first or second language. 300,000 of them are monolingual speakers of the language (Ethnologue). It is the second most widely spoken language in Guatemala after Spanish. It has played animportant role in the Mayan cultural revitalization movement. Although it has no official status in Guatemala, and although the first-language literacy rate is only about 1%, K’iche’ is being increasingly taught in schools and used on the radio.


K’iche’ has substantial dialectal variation. However most speakers use Central K’iche’, the variety most commonly used in the media and education.


Sound system

The sound system of K’iche’ is typical of all Mayan languages. Vowels  K’iche’ has five vowels which can be long or short. Vowel length distinguishes word meaning.

Front Central Back
Close i u
Mid e o
Open a

Consonants K’iche’ has a relatively large inventory of consonants although it lacks voiced stopsfricatives, and affricates. The table below lists the consonant phonemes of K’iche’.

Bilabial Alveolar Postalveolar Palatal Velar Uvular Glottal
Stops plain p t k q ʔ
ejective p’ t’ k’ q’
implosive ɓ
Fricatives s ʃ χ h
Affricates plain ts tʃ
Affricates ejective ts’ tʃ
Nasals m n
Rhotic r
Laterals l
Approximants w j
  • /p’, t’, k’, q’, ts’, tʃ‘/ are ejective stops which are produced with the glottis raised which increases pressure in the mouth, so that there is a noticeable burst of air when the sound is released.
  • /q, q’/ have no equivalents in English
  • /ɓ/ is an implosive stop produced by inhaling the air, rather than expelling it from the lungs
  • /X/ has no equivalent in English
  • /ʃ/ = sh in shop
  • /tʃ/ = ch in chop
  • /j/ = y in yet
  • /ʔ/ = sound between the syllables in uh-oh

Stress Stress in K’iche’ always falls on the last syllable if the vowel is either long or is followed by a consonant. Otherwise, it falls on the penultimate (next to the last) syllable.


Like other Mayan languages, K’iche’ is an ergative language. Nouns, adjectives, transitive and intransitive verbs, and positionals are inflected. Nouns and adjectives

  • To indicate possession, K’iche’ nouns are marked with a prefix which agrees in number and person with the possessor. The possessor is not marked if it is a pronoun. Nouns are divided into two classes depending on whether they require an absolute prefix if they are not possessed.
  • Modification is expressed by adjectives, e.g., utz ‘good’, or intransitive verbs such as kos ‘tired’.
  • Positionals are statives that refer to various physical properties of objects or persons, e.g., shape (e.g., round), position (e.g., standing), or state (e.g., tight). They function like adjectives.

Verbs The verb system of K’iche’ is quite complex. Aspect plays a larger role than tense.

  • K’iche’ has five aspectual categories: incompletive indicates that the action is not completed regardless of time; completive indicates that the action is complete; potential marks possibility or probability of an action in the future; volitive represents the imperativeoptative, and hortative moods; perfective refers to a state resulting from a previous action.
  • There are two sets of person markers:  ergative is used for subject agreement with transitive verbs; absolutive is used for object agreement with transitive verbs and subject agreement with intransitive verbs.
  • K’iche’ has an active voice, and two forms of passive and antipassive voices. Passive voices move the object to the subject position, which is similar to English. Antipassive voices are used to focus on the subject or action. Like passives, antipassives change transitive verbs into intransitive verbs.

Particles Like all Mayan languages, K’iche’ makes extensive use of particles which have many functions, including negative, interrogative and demonstrative. Word order The basic word order in K’iche’ is Verb-Object-Subject, but other word orders are possible, depending on the focus of the sentence.


The bulk of K’iche’ vocabulary is Mayan in origin with some borrowings from Spanish. The language has also borrowed words from other neighboring aboriginal languages. Below are several basic words and phrases in K’iche’.

Good morning Saqarik
Goodbye Ch’abej chik
Thanks Maltiox
Please Malaq’ij
OK Ja’e
No Ja’i’
Man Achi
Woman Nan, ixöq, chichu’
Water Ja’aj, ja’nik
House Ja

Below are K’iche’ numerals 1-10.

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10
hun cab ox cah oo vacac vucub vahxac beleh lahuh


Different orthographies have been used to write K’iche’. The classic orthography based on the Spanish orthography has been replaced by a new standardized orthography defined by the ALMG (Academia de Lenguas Mayas de Guatemala). Take a look at Article 1 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in K’iche’.

Nab’e taqanik (1)  Konojel ri winaq are taq ke’alaxik pa junaman ya’tal chkech kakechab’ej ronojel ri utzil; utz kakib’ano, kakichomaj, kakib’ij jasa je’ ri k’o pa kanima, rumal che ri junam kib’antajik. Rajawaxik xuqe’ kakimulij kib’ che utzukuxuk ri loq’ob’al pa we uwachulew.
Article 1 All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.


Language Difficulty
questionHow difficult is it to learn K’iche’? There is no data on the difficulty of K’iche’ for speakers of English.

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