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Tïjonïk 1 Jas kab’an che ub’ixik le K’iche’ ch’ab’al? (The sounds of K’iche’)


This lesson will introduce us to pronunciation details in K’iche. We will take a look at the alphabet and listen to sample words.


Jas  kab’an che ub’ixik le K’iche’ ch’ab’al (The sounds of K’iche)

This lesson will introduce the vowels and consonants of K’iche’. Most will not be challenging for a speaker of English or Spanish, as the reader will soon discover. The series of ejective consonants (b’, t’, k’, q’) will be a bit harder to articulate but with practice they can be mastered too. It should be noted that vowel length is important as several words as distinguished only by the length of their vocalic articulation (Ex. chäj “pine tree” and chaj “ashes”. Short vowels will be spelt with a dieresis diacritic as in chäj “pine tree”. We encourage the reader not to feel discouraged if her or his pronunciation is not like a native speaker’s. In this course we strive to develop communicational competence, not perfect articulation! Your pronunciation will improve as you continue to practice and engage native speakers. Read the text below, click on the examples, listen carefully and repeat them aloud until you feel comfortable with your pronunciation.

The sounds of K’iche’
Some features of K’iche’ consonants and vowels are quite different from those of Standard Indo-European languages. The most striking are a glottalized series of consonants as well as the presence of both short and long vowels. However, with practice and attention to native speakers’ pronunciation, none of these are difficult to master. Vowels are sometimes followed by a closure of the glottis (glottal stop) in which case they are followed by an apostrophe (‘).



l (final word position)

Figure 1. K’iche’ Consonants



Figure 2. K’iche’ Vowels



pïx                   tomato

pim                  thick

xpëq               toad

pop                 mat

inup               ceiba tree


tiko’n              harvest

patän               tumpline (mecapal)

patan               cargo (religious office); (religious) obligation; role, function


ka’                   grinding stone; metate

mukün          baby squash, ayote

kok’                 fine

tuktuk            woodpecker

tukur             tecolote, owl

pëk                  cave

këj                   horse

kem                 weaving

keb’                 two


qülaj                throat, neck

eqä’n               load

uq                    corte (traditional skirt)

aq                    pig

säqsöj            whitish


b’aq                 bone

ab’äj                rock, stone, testicle

kab’                 raw sugar, honey, bee


t’ü’y                     pot

at’ïxnab’           to sneeze

t’ot’                      snail


k’ak’                new

ak’al                child

k’äq                 flea

ixk’äq              (finger) nail; claws (bird)

k’ïm                 grass, fodder

k’ël                  perikeet


q’oq’               chilacayote (a kind of big, oblong squash/pumpkin)

q’e’l                 old (for things)

q’ëq                 black

q’aq’                fire

aq’ab’              night


tza                   salty

pä’tz               hairy, bushy


chak                 work

k’üch               vulture, zopilote

chom               fat(adj)

chomal             meeting


tz’i’                 dog

tz’äläm          wooden plank, cutting board

kotz’i’j            flower, candle, Maya ceremony, placenta

sutz’                cloud


ch’at                bed

ch’ab’äl           language

ch’ö                 mouse


sutz’                cloud

t’isö’m            sewn (fabric)

mes                  garbage


xik                   hawk (gavilán)

ixöq                 woman

ab’ix                cornfield

Küx                 Mark


jö’q                  corn husk

ajij                   sugar cane

ja’                    water


më’s                cat

mes                  trash

pamaj              stomach, belly, excrement

mem                mute

mam                grandfather

meb’a’             poor, orphan

moy                 blind

mox                 fool, stupid, crazy


na’oj                thought, wisdom

wanke’t         table

ne’                   baby

nö’s                 turkey

nan                  mother, lady


lol                    cricket

tulül                sapote

web’al            plate

äl                     heavy

ul                     landslide


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räx                   green, blue

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rajil                  money

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poro’n             fire


winäq              person, people

iwïr                  yesterday

waral               here

utiw                 coyote

ulew                land

ajaw                lord, owner

wakax            cow


yak                  wild cat

yab’il               sickness, state of pregnancy

k’ayb’al          market

t’o’y                 hat

k’oy                spider monkey

poy                 scarecrow

Consonants borrowed from Spanish

In addition to the phonemes shown above, K’iche’ has borrowed some Spanish phonemes (b, f, d, g), which are restricted to Spanish loanwords such as the following:

bas                   glass

bin                   wine

botax                   boots

doctor              doctor

dyos                God (The Christian Deity)

parmas             drug store

grad                 staircase, steps


K’iche’ has a ten-vowel vocalic inventory, as seen in Fig. 2. Vowel length is phonemic. Short vowels are distinguished from long vowels by a two dot diacritic. Note that vowel length is important on stressed syllables only. Most K’iche’ dialects stress word-final syllables only, including the Nahuala dialect.


ïs                     body hair

pïx                   tomato

tzï                    nixtamal


k’ix                  thistle

ik’                    moon, month

tzij                   word


üs                    mosquito

jül                    hole

tzü                   gourd


kuk                  squirrel

juyub’             mountain

k’um                squash


k’ël                  parrot

tzë’                  laughter

Të’k                Diego


ek’                   plant used for adornment, “pie de gallo”

mem                mute

jech’                uneven


kö                   hard

cho                 lake


xot                  shingle

oj                     avocado

k’oj                  mask

pom                 incense


äm                   spider

äj                     corn-on-the-cob

q’än                 yellow


mam                grandfather

k’a’am               string

q’ä’am             bridge, staircase