Mayan proposed to join Spanish as an official language in Yucatán

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Carlos Rosado van der Gracht
Carlos Rosado van der Gracht
Born in Mérida, Carlos Rosado van der Gracht is a Mexican/Canadian blogger, photographer and adventure expedition leader. He holds degrees in multimedia, philosophy and translation from universities in Mexico, Canada and Norway. Sign up for the Yucatán Roundup, a free newsletter, which delivers the week's top headlines every Monday.
Mayan languages are spoken by nearly 2.5 million people in Mexico and over 560,000 in Yucatán alone. Photo: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht / Yucatán Magazine

An initiative presented this week in Yucatán’s Congress seeks official recognition of the Mayan language in the state. 

Advocates of the move argue that such legislation would help to guarantee the linguistic and cultural rights of Maya communities here. 

Such a move would not be merely symbolic. If approved, it would require all state services to be offered in the Yucatec-Maya language alongside Spanish. 

This would mean that a massive amount of Yucatec-Maya speakers would need to be hired to accommodate the state’s large bureaucracy. This would include everything from driver’s licenses to the payment of property taxes. 

“Nobody is saying that this would be easy, but it’s a move certainly worth seriously considering from a social justice perspective,” said state representative Gasparl Quintal Parra.

The move comes on the heels of a 2022 decision by the state Congress, which recognizes the Yucatec-Maya language as an intrinsic part of the state’s cultural heritage. 

Earlier: The most beautiful Mayan words in the Spanish language

Though the Yucatec-Maya language has now used the Latin script for hundreds of years, interest in reviving its more ancient hieroglyphic form is on the rise.

An extremely early example of proto-Maya script is found at the archaeological site of Yaxchilán. Photo: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht / Yucatán Magazine

Despite the widely held belief that the Mayan language is in decline, speakers of this Prehispanic family of languages exceed 6.5 million.  

Recent census data show that approximately 560,000 people in Yucatán speak Yucatec-Maya, mostly as their first language. 

The Yucatec-Maya language is also spoken widely in the neighboring states of Campeche and Quintana Roo. 

Mayan language and culture vary enormously across Mesoamerica. Photo: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht / Yucatán Magazine

Other Mayan languages and dialects are also spoken widely in Chiapas, parts of Tabasco, and the Central American nations of Guatemala and Belize — as well as large diasporas in the United States and Canada. 

It is also not uncommon, especially in villages in the interior of the state, to meet people who do not speak Spanish, which makes access to government services a hassle.

Despite heavily promoting the Maya culture as a draw for tourism, racism towards Maya people remains a persistent problem in Yucatán, with many individuals feeling uncomfortable speaking it outside of their homes and communities.