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Other names

Apay, chan, chorti, chortí, makchan

Spoken in ...

Guatemala: in the municipalities of Jocotán, Camotán, Olopa and Quezaltepeque in the Chiquimula department, and in the municipality of La Unión in the Zacapa department.

Honduras: in the Copán department, along the border with Guatemala.

Number of speakers

Guatemala: approximately 55,250.

Honduras: approximately 10 (virtually extinct).

Legal status

Legally recognised.

Guatemala's constitution identifies Spanish as the country's official language and states that its 'vernaculars' are part of its cultural heritage. A number of initiatives have been carried out in recent years (such as the introduction of the Ley de Idiomas Nacionales or National Language Law in 2003) to protect and promote the use of the languages of the Maya, Garifuna and Xinca peoples.

Spanish is the official language of Honduras. The country's language policy is basically geared to ensuring that Spanish is predominant in all areas. In terms of education, only a small number of Amerindian and Creole children are taught to read and write in their own language, and they progressively go on to take up Spanish.


Guatemalan Academy of Mayan Languages (Academia de Lenguas Mayas de Guatemala).

CAMPBELL, L. (1997) American Indian Languages. The Historical Linguistics of Native America, Oxford University Press, New York-Oxford.

GRINEVALD, C. (2007) 'Endangered Languages of Mexico and Central America'. In BRENZINGER, M. (ed.), Language Diversity Endangered, Trends in Linguistics, Mouton de Gruyter, Berlin-New York.

LECLERC, J. (2007) L'aménagement linguistique dans le monde. Quebec: TLFQ, Université Laval.

Guatemala's Ley de Idiomas Nacionales (2003), Alertanet - Portal on Law and Society.

Produced by the Endangered Language Study Group (Grup d'Estudi de Llengües Amenaçades or GELA) of the General Linguistics Department of the University of Barcelona.


The name Ch'orti' means 'language of the corn farmers', a reference to Ch'orti' families' traditional agricultural activity. Other names have also been used for the Ch'orti', including the Apay, derived from the kingdom of Payaquí, and the Chan, which may have been the original name of the area's Maya people.

The Ch'orti' established the kingdom of Payaquí midway through the 11th century, at which time they lived in territories in present-day Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador. The Pipil or Nawat culture began to have a great influence on Payaquí in the 13th century, so much so that Alajuilak (a variant combining elements of both Ch'orti' and Pipil) was spoken there when the Spaniards arrived.

Much of eastern Guatemala was Ch'orti' territory prior to colonisation. That territory began to gradually shrink as of the 16th century and the Ch'orti' had to move to remote, dry areas. Eastern Guatemala is now mainly inhabited by Ladinos (non-indigenous Spanish speakers) and is home to very few Amerindians, who chiefly live in the centre and west of the country.

At most, there are only 10 remaining speakers of Ch'orti' in Honduras, where the language is virtually extinct.

Ch'orti' should not be confused with Choltí, an extinct language from the same subgroup of the Mayan family.

Guatemala's government recognises 22 Mayan languages, namely Achi', Akateko, Awakateko, Chalchiteko, Ch'orti', Chuj, Itza', Ixil, Jakalteko, Kaqchikel, K'iche', Mam, Mopan, Poqomam, Poqomchi', Q'anjob'al, Q'eqchi', Sakapulteko, Sipakapense, Tektiteko, Tz'utujil and Uspanteko.

Approximately 40% (or even up to 50%, according to certain sources) of Guatemala's population are Maya. Nonetheless, the country's Maya peoples have historically suffered repression and marginalisation. It was not until recent decades that Guatemala's government began to take measures to protect the Mayan languages. One such measure was the creation, in 1990, of the Guatemalan Academy of Mayan Languages, the state's highest-ranking authority where the promotion and development of its Mayan languages are concerned. The academy has since instigated many projects, both in terms of research and social promotion (translations, dialect studies, production of teaching material, dictionaries and grammars, etc.).

One of the Americas' most important pre-Columbian civilisations, the Maya developed their own writing system. The oldest known sample still in existence dates back to 250 BC. It seems that the system remained in use until the 16th century. The most significant progress in deciphering the script was made in the 1980s, although there are certain symbols whose meaning is still unknown at the time of writing. Made up of around 550 logograms (symbols that represent words or morphemes) and approximately 150 syllabograms (symbols that represent syllables), the script has undergone something of a revival among the Maya population in recent years.


  • Family:
  • Branch:
    Yucatecan-Mayan, Main
  • Group:
    Mayan, Main, Cholan-Tzeltalan, Cholan, Ch'orti'-Choltí


  • Continents:
  • Countries:
    Guatemala, Honduras
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