Communicating Accountability Concepts in Mayan Languages of Guatemala

Author(s): Benilda Batzin
Date: June 15, 2021
Country: Guatemala
Language(s): English


Versión en español: Conceptos de rendición de cuentas en idiomas Mayas de Guatemala

Mayan languages in Guatemala have multiple ways of communicating ideas about community oversight and public accountability. Linguistically, the different cultures have codified their experiences over time and the words they use are an expression of their culture, which expresses our cosmovision and philosophy as a people. This makes it especially complex, and points to why we cannot simply invent new words. Our goal in working with Mayan groups was to carry out a process of interpretation. In this case, expressing ‘rendición de cuentas,’ the often-used Spanish translation of accountability, in Mayan languages required carrying out a process of interpretation based on expressions that already exist that were either equivalent to accountability or whose meaning is close to it.

Linguistically, the different cultures have codified their experiences over time and the words they use are an expression of their culture, which expresses our cosmovision and philosophy as a people.

In Mayan languageTz’utujil

Ruq’alisaxiik Popol Saamaj.

Interpretation: Popol is a generic term that is used in community politics, organization, participation, government; we say that it’s a socio-political term. This means that for the Tz’utujil people, accountability (la rendición de cuentas) is where the state, through the government, should inform its inhabitants of the actions that it carries out in the different social, cultural, political, and environmental areas, and the resources, inputs, and personnel who work to achieve the results contemplated in the public policies in place. Yet Popol also encompasses the notion of the full participation of the peoples in these processes, as well as processes for making demands if those actions are not carried out.


In Mayan language Q’anjob’al

Alwalil Q’anjob’al tumin konob’.

Interpretation: Information on the use and handling of the people’s money.


In Mayan Language Kaqchikel

Rajwäxkik, ni qatzu’, ri kisamaj ri kamb’äl taq b’ey chere ütz ru kusaxik ri pwäq nikib’ën.

Interpretation: It is important to verify the work of the authorities for the good use of money.

K’o cheré ni qak’utüj chike ri taq kamb’äl b’ëy achike ri kisamäj nikib’än pa ruwi’ ri qatinamit.

Interpretation: One must ask the authorities about the work they do in favor of the communities. (Social oversight).

Rajwäxkik ri molöj ri’ïl chupan ri taq ruq’a tinamit, chere nuqakutuj achike ri kisamaj ni kib’ën ri taq k’amb’äl taq bëy.

Interpretation: Community organization is needed to find out about the work done by the authorities.


In Mayan language Ixil

Qetz b’a’nilchite’ b’aj uv’a techanal la qootzi kat ni sotzsakat unq’a kib’ooq’ole’ u puaaje’.

Interpretation: We have the right to ask the authorities about how they invest the money.

A’chit ni tale´b’aj uva’ la qaqje’ kuvi’ ti’ uva’ kam ni tulb’e’ unq’a kub’ooq’ole’ taq’omve’ ti’ u kutename’.

Interpretation: It is important to be aware of how the authorities work for the benefit of the population.


In Mayan language Mam

K´a tocx k´an tu´j Juan Chembil i´lx tij tun txi´ nk´on ta´jlan ke´ juntl k´aloj.

Interpretation: Accountability (rendición de cuentas) is rendering accounts for a job done.


In Mayan language Q’eqchi’

Yeb’aal jo’nimal na’ sachman.

Interpretation: Explaining what has been spent.

Xsumenkil naq chi xjunil poyanam wan xk’ulub’ chi maani naru xtz’eqtanankil chi moko risinkil chi ru li xtz’aqonik malaj xk’ulb’al resilal xk’anjel li Awa’b’ejilal li wankeb’ sa’ ruq’ eb’ li nake’jolomink malaj eb’ li teneb’anb’il sa’ xb’eeneb’ jo’ naxye li chaq’rab’ a’in.

Interpretation: Ensuring that every person, with no discrimination whatsoever, has the right to request and have access to public information in the hands of the authorities and agencies mandated under this law.

Xtuqub’ankil naq saqenaq ru xb’eeresinkil xjolominkil xk’anjel li Awa’b’ejilal jo’ wi eb’ li nake’b’eeresink re, ut naq chi xjunil poyanam wan xk’ulub’ re naq t-okenq sa’ resilal xk’anjel li Awa’b’ejilal.

Interpretation: Guaranteeing transparency of the public administration, its agencies and the right of every person to have free access to public information.

Tento naq li Awa’b’ejilal xk’eeb’al chi xjunil li esilal reheb’ li ruuchil Awa’b’ejilal wankatqeb’ re naq chi jo’ka’in te’ruhanq xtz’ilb’al rix li xb’eeresinkil li k’anjel yo chi uxmank sa’ li Awa’b’ejilal.

Interpretation: It is an obligation of the state to render accounts to the governed so that they can audit the performance of the public administration.

Xsumenkil re chi xjunil poyanam naq wan xk’ulub’ re xnawb’al chi xjunil li k’a’ ru nab’aanuman sa’ xjolominkil li tenamit.

Interpretation: Ensure that every person has effective access to their right to see government documents.

Chi xjunil poyanam naq wan xk’ulub’ re okenk’ sa k’omonil.

Interpretation: Every person has the right to engage in citizen participation.


In Mayan language K’iche’

Uq’lajsaxik jawi kakojwi le mer kortil.

Interpretation: How funds are managed, the government budget is distributed, and where the money is used. How the purchases needed for the population are prioritized.

Uk’otik uchii’ jas wach chak kub’anoo ri q’atal’.  Jawi kachokonwi ri e winaq chupan ri komoon arech kaq’alajinik ri utz, richukuje’ rima utztajj chu pan ri komoon, chupan ri jaa rech utz wachil’, ka b´anri tzijoneem kuk’ rij ajchaquib’ runojel wa jawaxik.

Interpretation: Requesting information on the work that is being done by the authority or the work of providing services with the aim of auditing. Also, the participation of the population in the proposals to improve living conditions with dialogue, discussion, and decision-making.


Key terms in the accountability field often have different meanings, to different actors, in different contexts – and in different languages. This project addresses “what counts” as accountability, analyzing the meanings and usage of both widely used and proposed “accountability keywords” – drawing on dialogue with dozens of scholars and practitioners around the world. The project includes both an extensive Accountability Working Paper and more than 30 invited posts that reflect on meanings and usage of relevant keywords in their own contexts and languages. To share a post about a keyword that interests you, send us a proposal at


Benilda Batzin

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Executive Director, CEGSS

Benilda is a licensed social worker and a graduate of the Mariano Gálvez University in Guatemala. In 2020 Benilda was named Executive Director of the Center for the Study of Equity and Governance in Health Systems (CEGSS). She is the first indigenous woman elected to this position. Benilda has over 10 years’ experience working with rural communities in Guatemala, running and implementing development programs and projects. This includes promoting citizen participation for the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, Rights to Health and the Environment, Human Rights of Women, and Gender Equity for an equitable and non-discriminatory citizen participation.