Mayan Sign Language

Mayan Sign Language is a sign language used in Mexico and Guatemala by Mayan communities with unusually high numbers of deaf inhabitants. In some instances, both hearing and deaf members of a village may use the sign language. It is unrelated to the national sign languages of Mexico (Mexican Sign Language) and Guatemala (Guatemalan Sign Language), as well as to the local spoken Mayan languages and Spanish.

Yucatec Mayan Sign Language

Yucatec Mayan Sign Language, also known as Nohya Sign Language, is used in the Yucatán region by both hearing and deaf rural Maya. It is a natural, complex language which is not related to Mexican Sign Language, but may have similarities with sign languages found in nearby Guatemala.

Highland Mayan Sign Language

In the highlands of Guatemala, the Maya use a sign language that belongs to a “sign language complex” known locally in the K’iche’ language as Meemul Ch’aab’al and Meemul Tziij, “mute language.” Researcher Erich Fox Tree reports that it is used by deaf rural Maya throughout the region, as well as some traders and traditional storytellers. These communities and Fox Tree believe that Meemul Ch’aab’al belongs to an ancient family of Maya sign languages. Fox Tree claims that Yutactec Maya Sign Language is also “closely-related and substantially mutually-intelligible”.

In at least one highland community, the sign language is used by “an impoverished class of deaf and hearing servants who are often forbidden to speak aloud in the presence of their masters: a hidden class of rural peons who call themselves ‘slaves.’