Lesson 9: Pronunciation



  • So far we have discussed and practiced the intonational terminal contours, the vowels and their accents, and the more troublesome glottalized consonants, the b, sometimes glottalized, sometimes not, and the j. Though we must return later to the further study of some of there, it is time now to consider some of the other consonants. Although these consonants are more nearly like corresponding consonants of English, one must not suppose they can be satisfactorily pronounced exactly as in English. In fact, each of them is somewhat different from its nearest equivalent in English. Consider first the plain (that is, non-glottalized) stops p t k. Compare them with their nearest equivalents in English, p t k, and you will observe one very important distinction: in English when these consonants occur at the beginning of a word and when followed by a stressed vowel, they are pronounced with a puff of breath as the lips part for the vowel. We says that p t k are, in this position, aspirated. Note that this aspiration, which is never present in our pronunciation of b d g, serves, in fact, as one of the features which enables us to distinguish p from b, t form d, and k from g, in such pairs of words as: pin:bin, tint:dint, kin:Gwyn. Note, further, that if a consonant such as s occurs before p, t, or k, the aspiration is not present. Compare the following triplets: pin:spin:bin, tint:stint:dint, kin:skin:Gwyn. Now listen to some Maya words which begin in p, t, or k, and note the differences: they may be lightly aspirated (less than is usual in English) or not aspirated at all, that is, more like the p in spin, the t in stint, and the k in skin. Note, also, that the t in Maya is articulated differently from the English t. In pronouncing the Maya t, the tip of the tongue should be farther forward than for English, pressing against the back of the teeth with some force. In the following exercise, each Maya word will be preceded by a similar sounding English word to provide a contrast. Listen carefully to the differences and then repeat the Maya word, imitating carefully the Maya pronunciation:

More on Consonants - Word-Initial stops and affricates

Pronunciation exercise number 2

  • (peace)
  • píix
  • (pet)
  • pèet
  • (pall)
  • pàal
  • (pole)
  • pòol
  • (pool)
  • pùul
  • (teasing)
  • tíisimìin
  • (ten)
  • téet
  • (tall)
  • tàal
  • (tone)
  • tòon
  • (tool)
  • tùul
  • (keys)
  • kisin
  • (kept)
  • kèet
  • (call)
  • kàal
  • (coal)
  • kòol
  • (cool)
  • kùul


  • Two other consonants, ch and ts, can be included in a discussion of the plain stops. These two are technically called affricates, that is, they consist of a stop released into a fricative sound. The affricate ch is very similar to the initial sound in chalk. It is made up a tight sequence of sounds, the initial fraction of which is like t and the rest of which is like the first sound in sure. The affricate ts, except that, like t, it is more "dental" than in English, is very similar to the tight sequence ts at the beginning of the word tsetse fly or the "clipped" pronunciation of the ts in (i)tʾs over in a which the initial vowel is missing. In the following exercise, again, each Maya word will follow a similar English word to provide a contrast. Pay attention to the slight difference (less than with the "pure" stops p t k) in the degree of aspiration between the Maya forms and the English form

More on Consonants - Word-Initial stops and affricates

Pronunciation exercise number 3

  • (cheap)
  • chíim
  • (chair)
  • chéel
  • (char)
  • chàal
  • (chore)
  • chòol
  • (chew)
  • chùup
  • ((i)tʾs easy)
  • tsìik
  • tsetse
  • tsèel
  • ((i)tʾs all)
  • tsàap
  • ((i)tʾs over)
  • tsòol
  • ((i)tʾs okay)
  • tsùuk


  • Now listen to the plain stops and affricates in word-medial position. Note that in this position - except for the slight (but important) modifications in tongue position you must make for the dental t and ts - these sounds are even more similar to their nearest English equivalents.

More on Consonants - Word-Medial stops and affricates

Pronunciation exercise number 4

  • íipil
  • tsèepel
  • jàapal
  • jóopol
  • xúʾupij
  • híitil
  • y éetel
  • kʾàatal
  • ʾotoch
  • júutul
  • ʾìitseʾl
  • nèetseʾ
  • jáʾatsij
  • ʾóotsil
  • ʾutsil
  • ʾichil
  • techeʾ
  • kàachal
  • y òochel
  • kʾuchul
  • ʾikil
  • ʾèekóʾob
  • nàakal
  • ʾòokol
  • mukul


  • Note that these at the end of a Maya utterance, are all clearly released, and that the voiceless vowel which follows them is an echo of the voiced which precedes.

More on Consonants - Utterance final stops and affricates

Pronunciation exercise number 5

  • (seep)
  • sìip
  • (hep)
  • chèep
  • (lop)
  • làap
  • (rope)
  • jóop
  • (soup)
  • xùup
  • (eat)
  • ʾìit
  • (pet)
  • kèet
  • (sought)
  • sàat
  • (boat)
  • xòot
  • (suit)
  • sùut
  • (each)
  • ʾich
  • (nets)
  • nèets
  • ((i)tʾs Ottʾs)
  • tsàats
  • (coats)
  • kòots
  • (boots)
  • ʾuts
  • (peach)
  • pìich
  • (etch)
  • tèech
  • (botch)
  • jach
  • (coach)
  • ʾòoch
  • (Gootch)
  • ʾuch
  • (eke)
  • ʾìik
  • (wreck)
  • ʾek
  • (talk)
  • ʾáak
  • (coke)
  • tóok
  • (cuke)
  • sùuk