Writing Standards for the Maya Language


To ask questions in the Maya language1, question marks are not used as in English. Instead, specific words or combinations indicating a question are used. There are four ways:

First form:

Words that, by themselves, formulate questions:

Ba’axWhat?Ba’ax ka beetikWhat are you doing?
MáaxWho?Máax le máako’Who is that person?
Tu’uxWhere? (Regarding location)Tu’ux kaja’anechWhere do you live?
BixHow?Bix a wanilHow are you?
BajuxHow much? (Cost)Bajux ta manaj a páawo’How much did your backpack cost?
KuxAnd?Kux teechAnd you?
MáakalmáakWhat?Máakalmáak a wotochWhat is your home?
Buka’ajHow much? (Dimension, size, intensity)Buka’aj síis ta wuk’aj How many sodas did you have?
BajunHow many? (Quantity)Bajun a waalak’ yaanHow many pets do you have?
Ke’ex Where? (Regarding location)Ke’ex túun a náajalo’Where is your salary?

Second form:

One of the words that combines with others to generate new interrogative forms is: “Ba’ax

Ba’ax K’iinBa’axk’iin When?
Ba’ax TenBa’axtenWhy?
Ba’ax Óok’lalBa’ax óok’lalFor what reason?
Ba’ax YéetelBa’ax yéetelWith what?

Similarly, some words combine with pronouns or verbs to make new questions.

Báax + (-en, -ech, Ø, -o’on, -e’ex, -o’ob)

Ba’ax-enBa’axenWhat am I?
Ba’ax-echBa’axechWhat are you?
Ba’ax(leti’)Ba’ax (leti’)What is he/she?
Ba’ax-o’onBa’axo’onWhat are we?
Ba’axe’exBa’axe’exWhat are you all?
Ba’axo’obBa’axo’obWhat are they?

Máax + (-en, -ech, Ø, -o’on, -e’ex, -o’ob)

Máax-enMáaxenWho am I?
Máax-echMáaxechWho are you?
Máax(leti’)Máax ( leti’)Who is he/she?
Máax-o’onMáaxo’onWho are we?
Máaxe’exMáaxe’exWho are you all?
Máaxo’obMáaxo’obWho are they?

To know where a person is from, the demonym “-il” is used along with a word that indicates who performs the action.

Tu’ux + -il + (-en, -ech, Ø, -o’on, -e’ex, -o’ob)

Tu’uxilenWhere am I from?
Tu’uxilechWhere are you from?
Tu’uxil (leti’)Where is he/she from?
Tu’uxilo’onWhere are we from?
Tu’uxile’exWhere are you all from?
Tu’uxilo’obWhere are they from?

But if this same word is written within a sentence and its position is neither the first nor the last, it does not indicate a question, such as:

Il a wil ba’ax tu beetaj le paalo’Look at what the child did
Ma’ in woojel bajux juntúul tsíimini’I don’t know how much a horse costs

However, if you place this word at the beginning of two dependent clauses instead of asking a question, what you do is emphasize the main message.

Ba’ax k’a’abet a beetike’, a chital wenelWhat you should do is lie down and sleep
Tu’ux kan meyaj sáamale’, te’ aktáanila’Where you are going to work tomorrow is right here, across the street
Máax ma’ táan u bine’, a wíits’inWho is not going to go is your little brother

Third form:

Expressions that begin with ‘jay-‘ and combine with other particles describing who performs the action create another way of forming questions.

JaykúulJaykúul p’aak ts’úukijHow many tomato plants rotted?
Jayp’éelJayp’éel a báaxalHow many toys do you have?
JaytúulJaytúul a paalalHow many children do you have?
Jayts’íitJayts’íit kib ta manajHow many candles did you buy?
JaytéenJaytéen ta xokaj a áanalte’How many times did you read your book?
Jaymúuch’Jaymúuch’ paalal kun bin k’aayHow many groups of children will go to sing?
Jayts’áakJayts’áak ta kolajHow many ropes did you knock down?
JaymáalJaymáal ta p’o’aj le nook’o’How many times did you wash the clothes?
JaywáalJaywáal ju’un k’a’abet ti’ techHow many sheets of paper do you need?
JaykúuchJaykúuch si’ ta ch’akajHow many thirds of firewood did you cut?
JaywóolJaywóol sakan ta manajHow many dough balls did you buy?

However, when it appears written within the expression, it doesn’t function as a question.

Chéen wáa jaytúul kéej tu ts’onajHe only hunted a few deer.
Tin wilaj wa jaytúul baachI saw a few chachalacas (birds).
Il a wil jaykúul paak’áal tu ch’akajLook at how many fields he harvested
Ma’ in woojel jayts’áak kin in páakti’I don’t know how many acres I’m going to weed

Fourth form:

They are formulated with the particle wáaj, which is always placed within or at the end of the expression, but never appears at the beginning.

Yaan wáaj a bin ichkoolAre you going to the cornfield?
Yaan a bin wáaj ichkoolAre you going to the cornfield?
Yaan a bin ichkool wáajAre you going to the cornfield?
Ma’ wáaj ta wilaj a kiik te’elo’Didn’t you see your sister over there?
Wi’ijech wáaj paalAre you hungry, child?
In jáal wáaj a wo’ochShall I serve you some food?
Ts’oya’an a walak’ peek’ wáajIs your dog skinny?
Ichkool wáaj ku binIs he/she going to the cornfield?
Túumben wáaj a nook’Is your clothing new?

It’s necessary to include exclamation marks (¡!) because there are no additional words indicating where the expression is emphasized: surprise, joy, fear, enthusiasm, encouragement, anger, among others.

Wáay¡Wáay! Ts’o’ok a ja’asik in wóolOh no! You scared me already
Xeen¡Xeen!Go away!
Lep’ a wóoli’¡Lep’ a wóoli’!Hurry up!

In addition, there are special words that help others to express something as the best of its kind compared to others. For example: Jach, seten, kalan, máan, píit, seenkech, táaj, wéek’, jeta’an, jéet, patan, báaj, seen, utsil, jolon, and others.

These can denote the emotional state of the subject of the action such as: joy, fear, sadness, elegance, decline, encouragement, disappointment, anger.

Sáansamal jach ki’imak in wóolEvery day I am very happy
¡Sáansamal jach ki’imak in wóol!Every day I am very happy!
Le xanaba’ jach jats’utsThis shoe looks very nice
¡Le xanaba’ jach jats’uts!This shoe looks very nice!
Jach táaj seten píitmáanja’an u ta’abil le janala’The salt in this meal is way too much
¡Jach táaj seten píitmáanja’an u ta’abil le janala’!The salt in this meal is way too much!

Excerpt from the Book Rules of Writing for the Maya Language.

  1. The denomination of the language found in the “Catalog of National Indigenous Languages: Linguistic Variants of Mexico with their self-denominations and geo-statistical references,” published in the Official Gazette of the Federation on January 14, 2008. ↩︎