Uspantek language

Native to Guatemala
Region Quiché (department)
Ethnicity Uspantek
Native speakers
2,000 (2013)[1]
Language codes
ISO 639-3 usp
Glottolog uspa1245[2]

The Uspanteko (Uspanteco, Uspanteko, Uspantec) is a Mayan language of Guatemala, closely related to K'iche'. It is spoken in the Uspantán and Playa Grande Ixcán municipios, in the Department El Quiché.[3][4][5] It is also one of only three Mayan languages to have developed contrastive tone (the others being Yukatek and one dialect of Tzotzil). It distinguishes between vowels with high tone and vowels with low tone.



Uspantek has two phonemic tones: high and falling (Can Pixabaj 2007:39). In writing, the high tone is represented by an acute accent mark on the vowel (ráqan 'my foot'), and the falling tone is represented by an acute accent mark on the first vowel followed by an unmarked vowel (júun 'one').

The high tone occurs in penultimate syllables when the final syllable contains a short vowel. Additionally, it occurs the following contexts (Can Pixabaj 2007).

  • Most possessive forms of inalienable nouns
  • Bisyllabic single morphemes, especially those with short /a/ or /i/ in the final syllable
  • Intransitive verbs with the suffix -ik
  • Most words with three syllables
  • Loanwords

The following types of words do not have tone.

  • Words with CV'C structure do not add tone to penultimate syllables when affixes are added.
  • Monosyllabic words with long vowels that have no tone do not add tone to penultimate syllables when affixes are added.

The falling tone occurs in long vowels, and in the following contexts (Can Pixabaj 2007).

  • Monosyllabic words
  • Final syllable of a polysyllabic word


The main types of syllable structures in Uspantek are CVC, CV, and CCVC (Can Pixabaj 2007:50).


  1. Uspantek at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015)
  2. Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds. (2017). "Uspanteco". Glottolog 3.0. Jena, Germany: Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History.
  3. Gordon, Raymond G., ed. (2005). "Uspantek". Ethnologue: Languages of the World (on line version). Barbara F. Grimes (15 ed.). Dallas, TX: SIL International. ISBN 1-55671-159-X. OCLC 60338097.
  4. "XI Censo Nacional de Población y VI de Habitación (Censo 2002) - Pertenencia de grupo étnico". Instituto Nacional de Estadísticas. 2002. Retrieved 2008-05-27.
  5. "Comunidad Lingüística Uspanteka". ALMG. Retrieved 2009-06-28.
  • Can Pixabaj, Telma Angelina, et al. 2007. Gramática uspanteka [Jkemiik yoloj li uspanteko]. Guatemala: Cholsamaj.
  • Tuyuc Sucuc, Cecilio. 2001. Vocabulario uspanteko [Cholyool Tz'unun Kaab']. Guatemala: Academia de Lenguas Mayas de Guatemala, Comunidad Lingüística Uspanteka.
  • Vicente Méndez, Miguel Angel. 2007. Diccionario bilingüe uspanteko-español [Cholaj tzijb'al li Uspanteko]. Guatemala: Cholsamaj.

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