Blinking snake

The New Orthography

Constellation band

In 1994, the Academia de Lenguas Mayas (the Academy of Mayan Languages) decided that the orthography in use for several hundred years for the transcription of their languages was not good enough. It was seriously flawed, due to the great cultural gap between the Spanish Conquistadores and the native Mayans. The old orthography, while having the weight of tradition behind it, and despite virtually every book about the Mayan calendar or the Mayan languages up till then having been published with it, was sufficiently poor to justify the development of a new, more correct orthography. The following table shows the old, Colonial, transliteration on the left with the new one on the right.

Colonial  New  Pronunciation
in English
Glottal stop

(not specially indicated)
’  Close off the glottis:
as in, “glo’al stop.”
a a a as in father, or all
a a’ glottal stop, like uh-oh,
’a as in awful
a aa held longer (like Japanese
long vowels)
a a’a  glottal stop between, again
like uh-oh, as in
“a upper”
b b b as in boy
c k k as in kill
ch ch  ch as in church
ch ch’ ch with glottal stop
e eh as in wet
e e’  ’e as in echo
e ee long vowel
e e’e glottal stop between,
as in eh-eh
h h h as in hello
i i ee as in seen
i i’ ee with glottal stop,
as in eek
i ii long vowel
i i’i glottal stop between
j j Spanish j as in Juan
(there is no equivalent to the
Spanish g, or soft h)
k k’ k with glottal stop
l l l in land
m m m as in mouse
n n n as in no *
o o o as in oh
o o’ o with glottal stop
o oo long vowel
o o’o glottal stop between
p p p as in pill *
p or pp  p’ p with glottal stop
q, sometimes kh q kh, as in high German ach,
very hard h
q q’ q with glottal stop
s s s as in stop
t t t as in tick *
t t’ t with glottal stop
tz ts ts as in tsar
dz ts’ ts with glottal stop
u u oo as in pool or coo
u u’ u with glottal stop
u uu long vowel
u u’u glottal stop between
u w when used as a consonant, as in
old ‘Uaxactun’, new
‘Waxaktun’; also used to make
‘ow’ sound.  Old ahau,
new ahaw
x x sh as in should
y y y as in yarn
z s s as in stop

* Note that some Mayan languages, such as modern Ch’ol, palatalize consonants such as ‘P’, ‘T’ and ‘N’, like Russian.  Many of them use a sixth vowel, transcribed in dictionaries as the schwa, or ‘ə’, pronounced ‘uh’.

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