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


This unit introduces the sounds of K’iche’. The goal is to become familiar, first, with the pronunciation of consonants and vowels and, second, with the spelling conventions that are used to write K’iche’. Do not worry if your pronunciation is not perfect. You will improve with practice throughout the course.


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

Most of the sounds of K’iche’ 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 patience and practice they can be mastered too. It should be noted that vowel length is important as several words are distinguished only by the length of their vocalic articulation. For example, the ä in chäj “pine tree” is short, while the a in chaj “ashes” is long. Short vowels will be spelt with a dieresis diacritic (¨) as in the previous example chäj. We encourage the reader not to feel discouraged if her or his pronunciation is not exactly 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 with native speakers. Begin by reading the words below and then click on the examples and listen carefully. Repeat the words 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 most Indo-European languages. The most striking are a glottalized series of consonants (ejectives) as well as the presence of both short and long vowels. 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


Next we will see the letters and their pronunciation. Listen to the examples carefully and repeat them out loud. The previous tables will be useful for your reference in the future.



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’                 finely ground (adj.)

tuktuk            woodpecker

tukur             tecolote, owl

pëk                  cave

këj                   horse

kem                 weaving

keb’                 two


qulaj                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; talon (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, aguardiente (liquor)


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

möx                 fool, stupid, crazy, left


na’oj                thought, idea, wisdom

wanke’t         table

ne’                   baby

nö’s                 turkey

nan                  mother, lady


lol                    cricket

tulül                sapote

web’al            plate

al                     heavy

ul                     landslide


räx                   green, blue

rajil                  money

poro’n             fire


winäq              person, people

iwir                  yesterday

waral               here

utiw                 coyote

ulew                land

ajaw                lord, owner, God

wakax            cow


yak                  mountain lion

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                   drinking glass

bin                   wine

botax                   boots

doctor              doctor

dyos                God (the Christian deity)

parmas             pharmacy, drug store

grad                 staircase, steps


K’iche’ has a ten-vowel vocalic inventory, as seen in Figure 2. Vowel length is phonemic, in other words, it indicates different words. As we have seen, short vowels are distinguished from long vowels by a two dot diacritic. Note that vowel length is only important on stressed syllables (in other words, the accented syllable of each word). Most K’iche’ dialects stress word-final syllables only, including the Nahuala dialect.


ïs                     body hair

pïx                   tomato

tzï                    hominy, 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’                   decorative plant, “pie de gallo”

mem                mute

jech’                uneven


kö                   hard

chö                 lake


xot                  shingle, griddle, comal

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