How to Write “It’s Hot Out” in Tzeltal

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The Tzeltal phrase meaning ‘it’s hot out’  TzeltalHot   is often written c'ux c'ajc'al.

What do the letters mean?

The vowels are easy. Tzeltal has the same five vowels as Spanish, so the same letters are used.

The c, as in Spanish, represents the sound that English writes as k. The phrase could as easily have been written k'ux k'ajkal, and some speakers of Tzeltal may prefer this way of writing it now.

The apostrophes mean that the k-like sounds in this phrase are pronounced in a special way. The vocal cords are closed and used to compress air behind the tongue while pronouncing the k. That’s what produces the extra ‘pop’ afterward. Neither English or Spanish have this sound, but it occurs in many Indian languages in Mexico. (These languages also have the ordinary k sound, which is written without an apostrophe.)

The x represents the same sound as English sh. This sound does not occur in most varieties of Spanish but it is common in Mexican Indian languages. In Mexico, it is usually written as x, both in the Indian languages and in words (such as place names) borrowed from them into Spanish.

In Spanish, j represents a sound that is similar to English h—the same sound as the ch in Scottish loch, German buch, or Hebrew pesach. Tzeltal does not have this sound, but it does have the English h sound. The h sounds enough like the Spanish j sound that Tzeltal uses j to write it. It would not work as well to write this sound with h, because in Spanish the letter h is silent.