The Secret of Mayan Success

Kristal Bivona catches a glimpse of Mayan language preservation in Quintana Roo, Mexico

Around the world, people are looking to the Mayan calendar for keys to the future of the planet and the mysterious changes prophesized for December of this year. According to numerous cable TV shows, the Mayan civilization and its extant structures, such as the famous Chichén Itzá pyramid, have supernatural connections to otherworldly beings. Millions of tourists visit Mayan ruins each year and wonder at the impressive capabilities of pre-Columbian people who pinned astronomy and mathematics before the Europeans. While the mythical qualities of Mayan history and culture continue to captivate and provoke the world, many fail to realize that the Maya were not conquered and that they still live throughout Southern Mexico, the Yucatán peninsula, Belize, Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala. Some Mayan communities enjoy relative seclusion in rural areas where they can communicate entirely in the Mayan language. In other communities, cohabitation with Spanish speakers and international tourists has changed the way Mayan is spoken.

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Today there are five spoken variations of the Mayan language: Quichean-Mamean, Huastecan, Ch’olan, Q’anjobalan, and Yucatecan, which is the variation spoken on the Yucatán peninsula. Classic Mayan was written in hieroglyphics, and then with colonization came a written form of Mayan using Latin script, which is still used today.

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