Guatemala – Spanish Language and Culture
Population: 14 million (2009)
Capital: Guatemala City
Area: 108,890 km² (42,043 sq mi)
Currency: Quetzal (GTQ)
National Holiday: 15th of September
Calling Code: + 502
Time Zone: GMT – 6
GDP: Total – US$ 39.760 billion
Per Capita – US$ 2,769
The Spanish Language in Guatemala
Guatemala has a large indigenous population as well as a variety of inhabitants from different ethnic backgrounds. Thus, Mayan and indigenous languages have directly affected the Spanish in Guatemala, along with English and African languages on the Caribbean coast. It bears a resemblance with the Spanish spoken in southern parts of Mexico except for the use of ‘voseo,’ which is very common in Guatemala and almost nonexistent in Mexico.
Special words and expressions
- un patojo/ ishto – a kid, a child
- pisto – Money (term borrowed from the Maya peoples in Guatemala)
- canche – a light-skinned person, but not usually for a foreigner
- bagre – uncool
- me soltó casacas – he gave excuses (to make-up excuses)
- tengo un clavo – I have a problem (literally: I have a nail)
- ¡qué arrecho que es! – how brave / bold he is!
- él es buena nota – he is a cool person
- ¡qué chulo! – how pretty!
- eres muy codo – you are very cheap
- ¡se colgó / cantineó! – he fell in love!
- quiubo – (que hubo? – what was there?) a form of greeting, like ‘what’s up ?’
- se encachimbó – he/She got mad
- está bolo – he is drunk
- bombear – to rob / steal
- ponte los caballos – put on your pants/jeans
- vamos al chonguengue? – shall we go to the party?
- ñola – head
Articles about Guatemala
- El misterio de los muñecos quitapenas
- Los secretos de un curandero
- El guatemalteco que sueña en grande
- La sabiduría ancestral de una abuela maya
- Isabella Springmühl: rompiendo esquemas y estigmas
- La magia de los “chicken buses”
Other languages spoken
- There are over 50 living languages listed for Guatemala of which 23 are recognized as National Languages. Out of the national languages only Garifuna (over 16,000 speakers) and Xinca (nearly extinct) are not Mayan languages.
- The most spoken Maya languages are – K’iche’ (1,000,000 speakers) Kaqchiquel (very close to K’iche’) and Mam, which are both spoken by close to 500,000 speakers.
- English is spoken in all main tourist centers
Spanish dialects and variations
- Even though Spanish is the official language, it is generally spoken as a second language after another native tongue (generally a Mayan language). Therefore it is not surprising that Spanish in Guatemala has borrowed many words and expressions from Mayan languages.
- Guatemalan Spanish has also been affected by the waves of Nicaraguan and Salvadoran immigrants and refugees as a result of wars in the region.
- Spanish spoken in the capital is more neutral and similar to other Latin American countries, whereas in rural areas the influences of indigenous languages are stronger (especially in the western mountains that have remained more isolated).
Geography and Climate
Guatemala is mostly mountainous, except for the southern coastal area and the vast lowlands of the Petén in the north. The country has a hot tropical climate, more temperate in the highlands and drier in the easternmost areas.
History & Politics
Although evidence of humans in Guatemala dates back to at least 12,000 BC, perhaps the most impressive Pre-Colombian civilization was that of the Maya, which reached its height between 250-900 AD. Guatemala was subsequently conquered by Spain beginning in 1519 and became a major Spanish Colony. Following independence in 1839, Guatemala fell under a conservative dictatorship and was then ruled by a liberal president who developed the coffee industry in the country. Following a coup in 1944, several governments were installed in the country, eventually giving way to a socialist government that intended to implement agrarian reforms but this movement was promptly halted by a U.S. backed coup in 1954. The 1970’s marks the beginning of the civil war of violence and human rights violations committed by the right-wing government in its frenzy to eradicate left-wingers. In 1996 a peace agreement was signed ending the civil war.
¿Sabías qué….? The first mass-produced instant coffee was invented by an Englishman while he was living in Guatemala.
Freedom of the press is enshrined in Guatemala’s constitution, and newspapers freely criticize the government. Nonetheless, many journalists face intimidation often in the form of anonymous threats. Reporters who expose corruption are particularly prone to harassment. Private operators dominate the media scene.