|Native to||Guatemala, Mexico|
|Region||Quetzaltenango, Huehuetenango, San Marcos, and Retalhuleu, Guatemala; |
Mam is a Mayan language spoken by about half a million Mam people in the Guatemalan departments of Quetzaltenango, Huehuetenango, San Marcos, and Retalhuleu, and the Mexican state of Chiapas. Thousands more make up a Mam diaspora throughout the United States and Mexico, with notable populations living in Oakland, California and Washington, D.C.
Mam is closely related to the Tektitek language, and the two languages together form the Mamean sub-branch of the Mayan language family. Along with the Ixilan languages, Awakatek and Ixil, these make up the Greater Mamean sub-branch, one of the two branches of the Eastern Mayan languages (the other being the Greater Quichean sub-branch, which consists of 10 Mayan languages, including K'iche').
Because contact between members of different Mam communities is somewhat limited, the language varies considerably even from village to village. Nevertheless, mutual intelligibility, though difficult, is possible through practice.
Mam varieties within Guatemala are divided into four dialect groups:
Mam is spoken in 64 communities in four Guatemalan departments and 18 communities in Chiapas, Mexico. Neighboring languages include Jakaltek and Q'anjob'al to the north, Tektitek to the west, and Ixil, Awakatek, Sipacapense, and K'iche' to the east.
|Close||ii /i:/||u /?/||uu /u?:/|
|Mid||ee /e:/||oo /o?:/|
|Mid-low||e /?/||o /?/|
|Open||a /ä/||aa /:/|
Like in many other Mayan languages, vowel length is contrastive, and short and long vowels have different phonemic values and are treated as separate vowels. The long versions of the back vowels, /o/, /u/, /?/ vowels, transcribed as [oo], [uu], and [aa] are slightly compressed and pronounced as /o?:/, /u?:/, and /:/ respectively, being partially rounded.
In the Todos Santos dialect the vowel structure is somewhat different. While /o/, /a/, and /u/ remain the same as in other varieties, short /e/ has become the diphthong /?i/, an audio example of this can be heard here:
In the Todos Santos dialect, the long vowels (distinguished by the doubling of the letter) have evolved into separate sounds altogether. Long /a:/ has become /?/, long /o:/ has become /ø:/ and long /u:/ has become /y:/.
In some dialects vowels interrupted by stop have evolved into individual phonemes themselves, for example in Todos Santos dialect /o?/ (spelled o') has evolved into // and /o?o/ (spelled o'o) has evolved into /?'?/.
|Plosive||Plain||p /p~/||t /t?/||k /k?/||ky /k?~k/||q /q?/||' //|
|Ejective||t' /t'~?/||k' /k'/||ky'/k?'~k?'/|
|Implosive||b' /?/||q' /?/^|
|Nasal||m /m/||n /n/||ny/?/||n /?/|
|Fricative||w /v/||s /s/||xh /?/||x /?~?/||j /?/|
|Affricate||Plain||b /?/||tz /t?s?/||ch /t/||tx /?/|
|Ejective||tz' /t?s'~dt?s'/||ch' /t'~dt'/||tx' /'~?'/|
|Approximant||w /?/||l /l~?/||y /j/||w /w/|
/?/ is realized as [?'] word-finally and when part of a consonant cluster in many dialects. In the Todos Santos dialect it is pronounced as [v] as part of a consonant cluster and as [?v?] word finally.
/p/ is realized as [p?] word-finally and word initially, [p] elsewhere, [?] in a consonant cluster and before short i, o, and u. It is pronounced as  word finally in certain dialects. [f] is an interchangeable pronunciation of [?].
/ch/ has evolved from /t?/ to /s?/ in most Mexican dialects and some northern Guatemalan dialects. Sometimes the /t/ sound is still lightly pronounced before the stressed /s?/ sound.
/t/ is realized as [t?] word-finally and before another consonant, [t] elsewhere.
/k/ is realized as [k?] word-finally and before another consonant, [k] elsewhere.
/w/ can be pronounced [?], [v], [v?] or [?] word initially, [w], [?] [?] following a consonant, and [?], [v], [v] or [f?] word finally. It is freely variable between [w] [v] [?] [v?] in all other positions with [?] being the most common pronunciation. In the Todos Santos dialect, /w/ is realized as either [v] or [?] word-initially or between vowels and before another consonant, as [?] following a consonant and as [v?] word finally.
/q/ is realized as [q?] word-finally and before another consonant, [q] elsewhere.
/t'/ is realized interchangeably as [t'] and [?] word-initially and -finally, after a vowel or before [l].
/l/ is realized as [l?] word-finally, [?] before short vowels and after plosives, bilabial, aveolar and retroflex consonants and [l] elsewhere.
/ky/ is realized as [k] in front of another consonant and k word finally. It is pronounced as k? in all other instances.
/ ' / is realized as  following /a/, /aa/, /e/, /ee/, /i/, /u/, /uu/ and /oo/. The standard pronunciation is simply [?] after all vowels however in spoken speech  is the common pronunciation. A similar trend can be seen in other Eastern Mayan languages. After /o/ it is pronounced as  and after /ii/ it is pronounced simply as [?]. Following consonants / ' / modifies each individual consonant differently as explained in the section above. In the Mam language every word must start with a consonant. In the current orthography initial / ' / is not written but if a word ever begins with a vowel, the word is treated as if it begin with a / ' /. The initial / ' / may be pronounced as either [?] or [?] in free variation.
The basic word order of Mam is VSO (Verb-Subject-Object, Verb-Ergative-Absolutive, or Verb-Agent-Patient). Most roots take the morphological shape CVC (England 1983:93). The only possible root final consonant cluster is -nC.
Mam has no independent pronouns (England 1983:155). Rather, pronouns in Mam always exist as bound morphemes.
Below is a table of Set A (ergative) and Set B (absolutive) prefixes from England (1983:56). (Note: The terms "Set A" and "Set B" are frequently used by Mayanists to describe the ergative systems typical of Mayan languages.)
|Person||Set A||Set B||Enclitics|
|1s||n- ~ w-||chin-||-a ~ -ya|
|2s||t-||Ø ~ tz- ~ tz'- ~ k-||-a ~ -ya|
|3s||t-||Ø ~ tz- ~ tz'- ~ k-||-|
|1p (excl.)||q-||qo-||-a ~ -ya|
|2p||ky-||chi-||-a ~ -ya|
Phonologically conditioned allomorphs are as follows.
When Set A prefixes can also be used with nouns. In this context, the Set A prefixes become possessives.
Some paradigmatic examples from England (1983) are given below. Note that "Ø-" designates a null prefix. Additionally, ma is an aspectual word meaning 'recent past'.
|Set A markers + NOUN|
|q-jaa-ya||'our (not your) house'|
|q-jaa||'our (everyone's) house'|
|ky-jaa-ya||'you (pl)'s house'|
|Set B markers + VERB|
|ma chin b'eet-a||'I walked.'|
|ma Ø-b'eet-a||'You walked.'|
|ma Ø-b'eet||'He/she walked.'|
|ma qo b'eet-a||'We (not you) walked.'|
|ma qo b'eet||'We all walked'|
|ma chi b'eet-a||'You all walked.'|
|ma chi b'eet||'They walked.'|
The following Set B person markers are used for non-verbal predicates (i.e., nouns, adjectives). Also, in statives, aa can be omitted when the rest of the stative is a non-enclitic (in other words, a separate, independent word).
|Person||Stative||Locative / Existental|
|1p (excl.)||(aa) qo'-ya||(a)t-o'-ya|
|1p (incl.)||(aa) qo'||(a)t-o'|
Paradigmatic examples from England (1983:76) are given below.
|NOUN + Set B markers|
|xjaal qiin-a||'I am a person.'|
|xjaal-a||'You are a person.'|
|xjaal||'He/she is a person.'|
|xjaal qo'-ya||'We (excl.) are persons.'|
|xjaal qo-||'We (incl.) are persons.'|
|xjaal qa-ya||'You all are persons.'|
|xjaal qa||'They are persons.'|
|ADJECTIVE + Set B markers|
|sikynaj qiin-a||'I am tired.'|
|sikynaj-a||'You are tired.'|
|sikynaj||'He/she is tired.'|
|sikynaj qo'-ya||'We (excl.) are tired.'|
|sikynaj qo'||'We (incl.) are tired.'|
|sikynaj qa-ya||'You all are tired.'|
|sikynaj qa||'They are tired.'|
The Mam language displays inalienable possession. Certain Mam nouns cannot be possessed, such as kya7j 'sky' and che7w 'star' (England 1983:69). On the other hand, some Mam nouns are always possessed, such as t-lok' 'its root' and t-b'aq' 'its seed'.
Noun phrase structure can be summarized into the following template (England 1983:140).
The plural clitic is qa.
Relational noun affixes
San Ildefonso Ixtahuacán Mam numbers are as follows (England 1983:84). Numbers above twenty are rarely used in Ixtahuacán and are usually only known by elderly speakers. Although the number system would have originally been vigesimal (i.e., base 20), the present-day number system of Ixtahuacán is now decimal.
Transitive verbal affixes
Intransitive verbal affixes
Other verbal affixes