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The Richness of Languages in Guatemala

The Richness of Languages in Guatemala

As you might know – or not -, there are approximately 7000 languages spoken around the world. And this number doesn’t include all the local dialects! However, as Guatemala demonstrates, these dialects can be very numerous.

Indeed, the official language of this country is Spanish, but a great part of the population speaks both Spanish and its local dialect, or only this dialect. The number of dialects in Guatemala is estimated at 55, 23 of them are officially recognized languages. Some of them are Mayan languages, a heritage of the Mayan culture, still very present in Guatemala.

These diverse languages are distributed by regions, but also by villages and communities. The four most spoken languages in Guatemala are the K’iche, which is spoken in several regions in the South-West of the country, the Mam, which is spoken in the departments of Quetzaltenango, San Marcos, and Huehuetango, the Cakchiquel, which is spoken in the West of the country, especially in Chimaltenango, and the Kekchi, which is spoken mainly in Alta Verapaz and Baja Verapaz.

During our visits to our dear weavers, we have been able to hear some of these languages and we can attest: they have nothing to do with Spanish! The languages we heard were Ixil and K'iche. Those two languages belong to two different regions: the region of Quiche, more precisely the so-called "triangle of Ixil" that includes the village of San Juan Cotzal we visited. And the region of Solola where the population speaks the language “K’iche”, a Mayan language spoken by a large part of the Guatemalan population.

Most of the women we work with don’t speak Spanish. You may wonder how we do to talk with them then. And the answer is: thanks to our representatives in each village. Indeed, in each of the 17 villages, a representative is elected by the weavers to ensure communication between us and the weavers.

Nowadays, access to school is easier than before and the young generation learns Spanish at school. Most of the children of the families we visited speak Spanish. But their parents were not so lucky and that’s why a part of the population doesn’t speak Spanish and only their local dialect. Hopefully, the current compulsory education until 6th grade for the children will remain in the future and even expand to a higher level.

Anyway, as you can see, the richness of languages in Guatemala is large and we hope that these languages and traditions will continue to be transmitted.

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