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The Mayan Franciscan Vocabularies: A Preliminary Survey

The publication by UNAM of the two most important Yucatec Mayan vocabularies, namely the Bocabulario de Maya Than / Viena (1993) and the Calepino Maya de Motul (1984), 1   has brought renewed attention to this important window into the past of the Yucatec Maya. Because both of these works are more than just mere compilation of words, but rather give numerous examples of usage in sentences to illustrate the meaning of words, we can deduce many things about life in Yucatan at the time these vocabularies were written.

More recently, these and other contemporary vocabularies, grammars, liturgical works, and Mayan texts have become available on the computer. We are thus able to more easily search for and find like or similar passages in these works, and make some comments about these works which formerly would have been difficult to substantiate.

The list of available Franciscan Maya-Spanish and Spanish-Maya vocabularies, given in what seems to be the chronological order of their respective composition, is as follows: 2 

1)   Bocabulario de Maya Than / Viena (Spanish-Maya), c. 1570's; author unknown, original missing, extant copy dated c. 1730's.

2)   Calepino Maya de Motul (Maya-Spanish), c. 1580-1614; Fr. Antonio de Ciudad Real.

3, 4, 5)   Solana / Diccionario de Motul II (Spanish-Maya) / San Francisco Dictionary (Spanish-Maya); attributed to Fr. Alonso de Solana (died in 1600 or 1601); attributed date, 1580.

6)   San Francisco Dictionary (Maya-Spanish) (date and author unknown).

7)   Diccionario de Ticul (Spanish-Maya), 1690; author unknown.

Added to this list, but unfortunately missing, is the lexicographical opus by fray Gabriel de San Buenaventura. This work is said to have been comprised of both a Maya-Spanish and a Spanish-Maya dictionary, each of them very extensive and probably made up of items from the Vienna and the Calepino mentioned above, and perhaps from the Solana. When writing his Arte in the early 1740's, Beltrán had San Buenaventura's material at his disposal and made specific references to it. 3 


  1. A transcription of this work by Ramón Arzápalo Marín as editor was published in 1995.
  1. It is important to point out that the very first vocabularies of any given Indian language were always Spanish-Indian. The reason is that all of the Colonial lexicographers used the Spanish-Latin dictionary by Antonio de Nebrixa (1492) which conveniently provided an alphabetical listing of Spanish words.
  1. See for example Beltrán, 1746:13: 50. Y aunque el R. P. [Fr. Gabriel] fue Autor primero del Arte, y aun de algunos vocablos que faltaban al Idioma; pero el primero que hallò las letras de la lengua Maya, è hizo el computo de los años, meses, y edades, y lo enseño todo à los Indios de esta Provincia, fue un Indio llamado Kinchahau, y por otro nombre Tzamna. Noticia que debemos â dicho R. F[r]. Gabriel, y trae en su Calepino, lit. K, Verb. Kinchahau, fol. 390, vuelt. mas no dice como adquirio este Indio tal Idioma: y de aqui se infiere que el Idioma de esta Provincia era otro, y muy distinto.

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Submitted 12/16/2003 by:

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