In the years following the arrival of the Spanish in what is now called Mexico, the Yucatán peninsula was populated by a very large group of people who spoke Maya and a significantly smaller number of Spanish speakers, descendants of the conquistadors who had arrived a generation before. The Spanish tried hard to maintain their pure bloodlines, but inevitably succumbed to the charms and the stubborn resilience of the Maya.
The locals were hired by the Spanish to serve them; thus, it was not unusual to hear Maya spoken in their grand houses and haciendas and little by little the clear lines between those who spoke Castilian Spanish and those who expressed themselves in Maya, began to blur.
Soon, the children of the Spanish, cared for by Maya nannies, cooks and gardeners, began to speak Maya and the domestic workers learned Spanish phrases and expressions from their masters. The logical evolution of this process was that the Spanish began to speak with the typical “aporreado” tone of the Maya language and the Maya began speaking Spanish but inserting the Maya grammatical structure. It soon became a “xek” (sheck) or a mixed up jumble.
As the two languages merged, the road was paved for the evolution of a new language. Local poet and writer Fernando Espejo pointed out that the formation of a new language, or ‘tongue’ took about 1000 years and that isolation from outside influences was necessary for that to happen. As Yucatán was cut off from central Mexico due to rough terrain, conditions were ideal for this new language to form.
However, after 400 years, the process was halted halfway through its evolution when trains and other forms of communication made travel to and from central Mexico easier. Had the Yucatán continued to remain in isolation, the inhabitants of the peninsula might be speaking a language as different from Spanish as Catalán is in Spain. However, many influences from the Caribbean and Europe, and the maritime activity that made communication with the rest of the world possible, remain in use today. Words like “redrogear”, “chiffonnier” and “embromado”, are only three examples.
But the most notable influence in the Spanish spoken in Yucatán today, is the Maya language. It is not at all unusual to hear words, expressions and grammatical combinations that have their origins, or are actual words, in the Maya language. Words like “tuch”, “xic”, “mulix”, “samaare” and “uay” are terms used in everyday speech, and while they may be completely baffling to a newcomer, are considered absolutely normal here.
There are hundreds of others, which I am sure you will discover during your stay here in the Yucatán. Strike up a conversation with the man or woman standing next to you and keep your ears open!
Contributed by William Lawson, author of the hugely popular humorous look at Yucatan Spanish: The William Lawson Yucatan Dictionary. More info (and a free sample!) at www.yucatandictionary.com
More on this topic: Yucatecan Spanish
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