Maya v. Mayan

Tikal Central Complex Temple II‘Maya’ and ‘Mayan’ are not preferential use cases and have very different contexts. To most English speakers, “Mayan” sounds correct (perhaps because it sounds similar to other identifiers of nationality and ethnicity like American, African, Mexican, Guatemalan, Honduran, etc.), but it is almost always used incorrectly. “Maya” is both a singular and plural noun as well as an adjective that identifies the people and their culture. Examples include, Maya artifacts, Maya civilization, Maya descendants. “Mayan,” on the other hand, is an adjective only that refers exclusively to linguistics. Examples of proper usage include Mayan speakers, Mayan languages, Mayan phonetics. One way to remember this is to think of their Aztec neighbors. English speakers do not typically append “-an” to “Aztec” so neither should it be appended to “Maya.”

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