Quiché is a language
spoken by perhaps 850,000 people
According to Dictionary of Languages, Quiché is one of the languages in the Mayan language family, and was, at the time of Spanish ascendancy, the language of an important people whose center of government was at Utatlàn in modern Guatemala. Quiché speakers now form the second largest linguistic community in Guatemala, but the language has no official status.
The masterpiece of traditional Quiché literature, Popol Vuh or Book of Counsel was written down in the Latin alphabet in the 16th century on the basis of an earlier text in Mayan hieroglyphics. Both versions are now lost, but a 17th century copy of the alphabetic text survives. It tells the mythical and historical story of the Quiché. A second important work is Rabinal Achi, a drama apparently pre-Columbian in origin but written down only in the 19th century. Its lengthy dialogues take place between a vicar and a prisoner of war who is fated to be sacrificed. Quiché poetic literature, like that of Nahuatl, is typified not by meter but by the use of parallel expressions.
Quiché has many loanwords from Nahuatl which clearly come from a dialect similar to one now spoken on the Pacific coast, and just as clearly they result not from Aztec activities (which did not reach this part of Central America) but from earlier Toltec influence. The words concerned are mainly religious or military: examples include altar, incense, demon, axe, palace -- but also cradle and fishnet.
MARC assigns Quiché the language code myn as it does most of the Mayan languages. None of the ISO 639 standards have anything for Quiché.
According to Ethnologue there are six Quiché languages within the Mayan language family. The number in parentheses are is the total number of languages within that sub-section. The three letter language code below is, of course, as defined by Ethnologue.
There is an old saying in Guatemala : "Hombres verdaderos no hablan Quiché", which, like so many things, was borrowed and ruined by modern English speaking Americans.
The Catholic Encyclopedia
has this to say about the Quiché as a people. (It translates Popol Vuh
as National Book
. Can no one agree on anything?)
The Quiché are the principal aboriginal tribe of Guatemala. They belong to the Mayan linguistic stock, as do also their neighbors in the same state, the Cakchiquel, Pokonchi, and Tzutnhil; the four dialects constituting but one language. The Quiché occupied north-central Guatemala, including the present districts of Quiché, Totonicapan, and a part of Quezaltenango. Like those of the other Mayan tribes, their traditions point to a northern or north-eastern origin, and their fairly authentic history went back to about A. D. 700. (Mayan history seems fairly authentic as far back as the second century.) They were subjugated by Pedro de Alvarado in about 1525, with even more than the customary atrocities, and rapidly declined under the system of slavery and heavy tribute imposed, notwithstanding the warnings of the Pope and the humane laws promulgated by the Spanish monarch, at the instance of Las Casas. Even before the conquest was complete the Dominican Fathers Pontaz and de Torres had taken up their residence among the Quiché and begun the work of Christianization. In 1530 Father Francisco Marroquin (d. 1563) arrived from Spain to organize the Church in Guatemala, and in 1533 was confirmed as bishop. He gave special attention to the Indians and their languages, becoming particularly proficient in the Quiché, into which language he translated the catechism. On his appeal Father Las Casas (1536) established at Santiago a convent of Dominicans for the conversion of the natives. They were reinforced two years later by Fathers Zambrano and Dardon, of the Order of Mercy, who established a convent of that order in the same city. Under these two orders, working in harmony together with the Franciscans, who entered the field in 1541, the conversion of the Indians was gradually effected, the new converts being gathered into towns for their better government and instruction. The entire tribe is long since Christian, although many of the ancient rites and beliefs persist in daily life. Their present number is near 150,000.