Guatemala is a country with a highly diverse linguistic landscape, with dozens of languages being spoken within its borders. Spanish is the official language of Guatemala, however there are also 21 Mayan languages, one Arawakan language, and one indigenous language spoken in the country aside from Spanish.

Spanish is spoken by nearly 93% of the population, making it the most spoken language in the country. The Spanish language was brought to Guatemala by the Spanish colonists and was taught to the country’s indigenous inhabitants by missionaries and early Guatemalan schools. Spanish is the primary medium of instruction in schools all over the country today, and is also widely used in both formal and informal settings.

The Mayan languages spoken in Guatemala include K’iche’ or Quiché as the most notable one. K’iche’ is spoken by the K’iche’ people who inhabit Guatemala’s central highlands, an estimated 1 million or 11.31% of them. After Spanish, K’iche’ is the second most popular language in Guatemala. Many speakers of K’iche’ also possess knowledge of Spanish to varying degrees. Several dialects of K’iche’ exists, of which the most widely used on is the Central Dialect. This dialect is used in education and media.

Other Mayan languages spoken in Guatemala include Q’eqchi’, Kaqchikel, Mam, Poqomchi’ and Tz’utujil.

Q’eqchi’ is the third most widely spoken language in Guatemala, spoken by about 7.58% of the population. Kaqchikel is a Mayan language spoken by the Kaqchikel people living in the central highlands of Guatemala. This language is taught in public schools and its usage is promoted by the intercultural bilingual education programs in the country. Mam is spoken by the Mam people living in Huehuetenango, Retalhuleu, San Marcos, and Quetzaltenango. This language is also spoken in Mexico’s Chiapas state, as well as in parts of California and Washington D.C. in the US. Poqomchi’ is spoken by the Poqomchi’ Maya people, while the Tz’utujil people of Guatemala speak the Tz’utujil language. Many of the native speakers of this language also possess working knowledge of Spanish.

Others include Achi, Q’anjob’al, Ixil, Akatek, Jakaltek, Chuj, Poqomam, Ch’orti’, Awakatek, Sakapultek, Sipakapense, Uspanteko, Tektitek, Mopan, and Itza as the other Mayan languages heard across Guatemala.

Xinca is the indigenous language of Guatemala. The Xinca languages comprise a group of Mesoamerican languages spoken by the indigenous Xinca people of Guatemala’s southeastern regions. These languages are spoken in El Salvador and Honduras, however, the total number of the Xinca language speakers in on a rapid downward trajectory as most of the languages are nearly extinct. The Spanish conquest led to the cultural extinction of the Xincas and the death of their languages, which used to be far more widespread in the past. The Xinca languages derive many loanwords from Mayan languages, given that the Xinca people shared close contact with the Mayan civilization.

The Arawakan language spoken in Guatemala is the Garifuna language, which is one of the three non-Mayan languages spoken in Guatemala, along with Spanish and Xinca. Black African slaves who were brought to work in Guatemala introduced the language in the country, which is now spoken by the residents of the Izabal Department of Guatemala.


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