Mayan Language Poses Challenge for Outsiders

President Bush's Latin American tour has highlighted the complexity of the Mayan language, which can be difficult for many foreigners not used to the lack of vowels.

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ALEX CHADWICK, host:

President Bush will also be stopping off to visit some Mayan ruins today at eh, eh - Madeleine?

MADELEINE BRAND, host:

Ah, E-X-M. Hmm. Okay, I think we need a little help on this one.

Professor WALTER LITTLE (University of Albany): Ixim che'. I-X-I-M. Ixim. C-H-E with a little apostrophe after the E. Ixim che'.

BRAND: That's Walter Little, an anthropology professor at the University of Albany. He studies Mayan languages and says what trips up travelers to the region are all those X's.

Prof. LITTLE: In Guatemala you have the X being kind of, in Maya areas, universally being pronounced as a shh sound.

CHADWICK: That's because the Spaniards who colonized the region had no letter that could express that shh sound. So they used an X.

BRAND: But, Alex, what about the X in Mexico? Why don't we say Meshico(ph)?

CHADWICK: Well, the indigenous population in the areas did call it Meshico(ph) or Meshicah(ph), actually. And in Spanish it's usually pronounced Mehico(ph).

BRAND: Okay. Alex, with an X. How do you pronounce your name? Alesh(ph)? Alehi(ph)?

CHADWICK: It's just Alex, thank you.

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