Re: NATLANG: Maya pronunciation guide
|From:||Patrick Littell <puchitao@...>|
|Date:||Wednesday, June 15, 2005, 1:16|
On 6/14/05, Tim May <butsuri@...> wrote:
> Andreas Johansson wrote at 2005-06-14 21:15:49 (+0200)
> > I'm reading David Webster's _The Fall of the Ancient Maya_, and
> > wondering how to pronounce the various Mayan names occuring in
> > it. Does anyone have a handy pronunciation guide, or the
> > willingness to summarize the essentials?
> > (In case there's multiple orthographies around, they spell the name
> > of the last king of Copan as K'uhul Ajaw Yax Pasaj Chan Yoaat.)
> > Andreas
linguistics than be, but I'll have a go. There have been a number of
> different orthographies - that's a modern one, which uses <w> instead
> of <u>, and <'> for the glottalised series instead of different
> letters (e.g. <k> rather than <c> for /k/ and <k'> rather than <k> for
Note also that sometimes apostrophes indicate the glottal stop, which is
quite frequent in all the Mayan languages. (Well, except for ones where it
has since disappeared; I think it's going or gone in Oxchuc Tseltal.)
There's no ambiguity, though; the two can't occur in the same positions.
After a stop or affricate, ejective, after a vowel, glottal stop. I can't
think of any post-fricative or post-nasal examples off the top of my head.
You don't get many consonant clusters in the Mayan languages. There is a
strong preference for CVC, CV'C, CVVC, CV'VC, and CVCVC roots. Words that
begin with vowels really have an initial glottal stop, so Ajaw => /?ahau/.
Same with word-final vowels, so ma => /ma?/. But these often disappear,
depending on the language. It's a word-by-word thing; some initial glottal
stops always disappear, some never, and others disappear optionally.
You'll find clusters in Spanish loans, like kompaadrej (godfather) --
clearly a loan because of the "d", which only occurs in loans, and "r",
which occurs extremely rarely in native roots. Very old loans -- names like
Pedro or Catarina -- have lost both. (So Pedro comes out as "aj-pel" or
You'll get clusters between morphemes, though. Tseltal, Tzotzil, and Chol
have lots of strange initial clusters due to single-consonant Set A
(ergative/possessive) prefixes. Like Tseltal "jts'i" (my dog) or Chol
"kpapa" (my dad). I think Jakaltek, too -- "xtxumniloj" (he thought) and Mam
"tb'ajsa'n" (it killed).
Isn't "w" a wonderful invention? Much nicer than the "hu" convention.
Especially because syllable-finally it was "uh". I don't know if any modern
orthographies for Mayan languages use "hu" anymore. Huastec, maybe? I think
it's just the force of tradition that keep us spelling "Wastek" as
"Huastec"; I think the orthography has since shifted to the use of "w".
Vowels are pretty much as you might guess, <x> is /S/ or thereabouts,
> <ch> is /tS/. If we're talking about the classic language, I think
> <j> is /x/ and <h> is /h/, but the distinction collapsed later. Some
> epigraphers don't distinguish them - I don't know enough about this
> issue, but it doesn't matter too much if you just want to get a rough
> pronunciation. Stress is mostly final. Vowel length is phonemic.
Yup, you seem to be pretty much correct on all counts, at least sfaik. The j
and h have collapsed, at least phonetically, in many of the Mayan languages
-- at least, most of those with which I am familiar, and probably the rest,
too. I think there are still a few contrasts in some of the daughter
languages; for example, in which word-final <j> is /h/ and word-final <h> is
In Oxchuc Tseltal, the "K'uhul" would come out "K'uul", with a long vowel,
since the h disappears in many contexts. Before a stop/affricate, it
disappears but makes the following sound ejective. K'uhul himself wouldn't
have pronounced it like this, though; Oxchuc Tseltal is the most radically
changed dialect of a descendant language that is itself fairly progressive.
Some funny things happened to one of them in Tzotzil, I think; before front
vowels it became [j] (as in "y"), before /a/ it became [h], and before back
vowels it became [v]! I think it was "h" to which this happened.
It's pretty much a language-by-language thing, whether or not they're
distinguished in the orthography. I think they're all written as "j" in
Itzaj and Chol, but still distinguished in Tseltal. (Lowlands Maya texts
appear to be written in an old dialect of Chol... or, rather, the language
we now call Chol is the most conservative daughter of Lowlands Maya.)
I've seen "tx" for "ch" in Jakaltek and Mam (like "xtxumniloj" above), which
I like better, but I suppose it's easier to switch between Mayan and Spanish
if you keep the orthographies as close as possible.
See pages 4 & 5 of this document for a better description of what
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