Monday, June 29, 2015

Country Profile: The Languages of Guatemala

Somehow we've managed to never have done a country profile on a Central American country before, so we thought we should rectify that problem. Today we'll be looking at the linguistic diversity of Guatemala, the most populous country in Central America!

The Official Language

Guatemala City, the beautiful capital of Guatemala.
As is true of many other countries in the Americas, the sole official language of Guatemala is Spanish. The Spanish language was first brought to the area during the Spanish conquest in the 16th century, and is still spoken by over 90% of Guatemalans.

Before the Spanish took over much of the continent, a large geographical area that extended from Mexico through Guatemala to El Salvador was the home of the Mayan civilization. As a result, Guatemala is also home to 25 indigenous languages, most of which belong to the Mayan language family.

Indigenous Languages

After Spanish, all of the most spoken languages in Guatemala are Mayan languages. The most prominent Mayan language in the country is K'iche', which boasts approximately 1 million native speakers and is used in schools and on the radio. It is followed by Q'eqchi' and Kaqchikel, which are both closely related to K'iche'. Q'eqchi' is spoken by about 800,000 Guatemalans, while Kaqchikel is used by nearly 500,000 people. The Mam language, which is from a different branch of the Mayan language family, has around 500,000 native speakers as well.

There are several other Mayan languages that are spoken by between 50,000 and 100,000 Guatemalans. We certainly don't know how to properly pronounce their names, but they are: Poqomchi', Tz'utujil, Achi, Q'anjob'al, and Ixil. Finally, there's the Garifuna language, which has around 16,000 native speakers. Spoken near the Caribbean coastline, it is the only member of the Arawakan language family that is spoken in Guatemala.