Author: David Mora Marín (Page 2 of 9)


Note 25

Drawings of Three Olmec Celts / Dibujos de tres hachas olmecas

David F. Mora-Marín
University of North Carolina
Chapel Hill



This note serves to introduce three drawings of Olmec celts prepared by the author around 2008 and 2016. I have included details from these drawings in several publications and presentations (Mora-Marín 2009, 2016, 2019, 2020), but have not published them in their entirety. All three were prepared with ink pens and then scanned.

Esta nota sirve para presentar tres dibujos de hachas olmecas preparados por el autor alrededor de los años 2008 y 2016. Los tres fueron preparados con bolígrafos de tinta y luego escaneados. Sólo he incluido detalles de estos dibujos en varias de mis publicaciones y ponencias (Mora-Marín 2009, 2016, 2019, 2020).


The first is the so-called Humboldt Celt. My drawing, seen in Figure 1, is based on a photograph that shows the piece in its entirety that appeared in Benson (1996:134, Fig. 2). (Most photographs of the piece are lacking a fragment at the bottom of the piece.)

El primero muestra la denominada Hacha de Humboldt. Mi dibujo, visto en la Figura 1, se basa en una fotografía en Benson (1996: 134, Fig. 2) que muestra la pieza en su totalidad . (La mayoría de las fotografías de esta pieza la muestran sin un fragmento en la base.)


Figure 1


Figure 2 shows only the incised content of the celt.

La Figura 2 muestra solamente el contenido inciso del hacha.


Figure 2

The second drawing, in Figure 3, shows the first of two Olmec celts reportedly from the site of Arroyo Pesquero. The drawing was prepared from a photograph in Coe and Taube (1995:104).

El segundo dibujo, en la Figura 3, muestra la primera de dos hachas olmecas supuestamente provenientes del sitio Arroyo Pesquero. Se basa en la fotografía que aparece en Coe y Taube (1995:104).


Figure 3

Figure 4 shows the incised imagery only.

La Figura 4 muestra solamente la figura incisa.

Finally, Figure 5 shows my drawing of another Olmec celt reportedly from Arroyo Pesquero. My drawing is based on the only photograph of the entire piece that I have seen, which appeared in Taube (2007:43).

Finalmente, la Figura 5 muestra mi dibujo de otra hacha olmeca supuestamente del sitio de Arroyo Pesquero. Mi dibujo se basa en la única fotografía de la pieza entera que conozco, incluida en Taube (2007:43).


Figura 5

Figure 6 shows the incised imagery only.

La Figura 6 muestra el contenido inciso solamente.


Figura 6

Of course, any drawing of an artifact can be improved by means of a detailed examination of the artifact itself. But for the time being, the reader should feel free to use these drawings for the study of Olmec art and writing.

Por supuesto, cualquier dibujo de un artefacto se puede mejorar mediante una examinación detallada del artefacto mismo. Pero por el momento, sírvase el lector de emplear estos dibujos para el estudio del arte y la escritura olmeca.


Benson, Elizabeth P. 1996. Collections of Olmec Objects Outside Mexico. In Olmec Art of Ancient Mexico, edited by Elizabeth P. Benson and Beatriz de la Fuente, pp. 133-139. Washington: National Gallery of Art.
Coe, Michael, and Karl Taube (editors). 1995. The Olmec World, Ritual and Rulership. The Art Museum, Princeton University, Princeton.
Mora-Marín, David F. 2009. Early Olmec Writing: Reading Format and Reading Order. Latin American Antiquity 20(3):395–418.
Mora-Marín, David F. 2016. Orígenes de la escritura en Mesoamérica: Una revaluación de los rasgos formales, conexiones interregionales y filiaciones lingüísticas entre 1200–400 a.C. Ponencia presentada el 26 de octubre del 2016, en el XXXVIII Coloquio de Antropología e Historia Regionales, Colegio de Michoacán A.C.
Mora-Marín, David F. 2019. Problems and Patterns in the Study of Olmec Hieroglyphic Writing. In The Chinese Writing System and Its Dialogue with Sumerian, Egyptian, and Mesoamerican Writing Systems, edited by Kuang Yu Chen and Dietrich Tschanz, pp. 239-269. Rutgers University Press.
Mora-Marín, David F. 2020. The Cascajal Block: New Line Drawing, Distributional Analysis, Orthographic Patterns. Ancient Mesoamerica 31:210–229. doi:10.1017/S0956536119000270.
Taube, Karl. 2007. La jadeíta y la cosmovisión de los olmecas. Arqueología Mexicana 15(87):43-48.

Student Glyphic Autobiographies

These are a few of the autobiographies composed in Mayan hieroglyphs by my Spring 2022 Mayan Hieroglyphic Writing students.

Éstos son ejemplos de las autobiografías compuestas en escritura jeroglífica maya por los estudiantes de mi clase de la Primavera 2022.


Note 24

Some Notes on the Paleography of T617 and T24, and Evidence for Their Graphic Convergence


David F. Mora-Marín
University of North Carolina
Chapel Hill

2/4/2022 (4 de febrero del 2022)

Resumen: En esta nota se provee evidencia del origen distinto de los grafemas T617 y T24 (Figura 1). Se demuestra que sus formas gráficas fueron distintas durante el preclásico tardío y la mayor parte del clásico temprano, con T617 mostrando forma de óvalo (Figura 2) y T24 forma de gancho (Figura 3). No fue sino hasta finales del clásico temprano cuando T24 empezó a cambiar de forma y a converger gráficamente, poco a poco, con T617, al perder el elemento gráfico en forma de gancho (Figuras 3 y 4). Esto también comprueba que T24, a diferencia de T617, no representa, iconográficamente, un hacha pulida, sino que más bien algún tipo de herramienta en forma de gancho.


There is a general sense among epigraphers that T617/1M3 (Figure 1), the so-called MIRROR or CELT sign that is used in the Initial Sign collocation of the PSS, is formally identical to (i.e. the same sign as) T24/1M4 (Figure 2), the syllabogram li. The two are indeed similar: they are elongated signs, with a partial cartouche, and a double-banded line, usually oriented diagonally, across the middle. It is even likely that T24/1M4 also depicts, iconographically, a polished stone object. Nevertheless, as I show in this note, the two signs were originally graphically and graphemically distinct, and T24/1M4 may have depicted a different type of stone object originally, not a celt-shaped object. That said, I also show here that over the course of the Early Classic period they gradually converged graphically: specifically, T24 became somewhat more like T617.




Years ago, Grube (1990:88, 110) suggested that T617 corresponds to the main sign version of T24, and thus, that they constitute the same sign; he even utilized this possible graphic and graphemic correspondence to suggest a Vl value for the T617 grapheme in the context of the Initial Sign Collocation of the Primary Standard Sequence (Grube 1991:224). The fact that Macri and Looper (2003:274–275) refer to the pictorial motivation of both signs as “celt, reflective stone” also is evidence of the equivalence that is often assumed, at least in iconographic terms. As I show next, the early evolution of these signs suggests that there was no graphemic or iconographic equivalence, at least not during the Late Preclassic and most of the Early Classic period.


The earliest examples of T617 are consistent in two traits (Figure 1A, Figure 2): the outline of the sign is always oval in shape, and they show a diagonal band. The diagonal band can be a single band (Figure 2A), a doubled-band that is otherwise plain (Figure 1A), two single parallel bands with horizontal lines across them (Figure 2B), two single parallel bands with cross-hatching (Figure 2C), or two doubled, parallel bands with horizontal lines across them (Figure 2D), among other design variations. But what no example or significant set of examples shows, to my knowledge, is cross-hatching on either side of the diagonal band.



It is time to describe the early designs of T24 li. A very important comparison is provided by the cases of T617 and T24 on the Late Preclassic Dumbarton Oaks quartzite pectoral. The example of T617 (Figure 3A) shows a simple oval outline with a single, plain diagonal band. In contrast, the example of T24 (Figure 3B) on the same text shows a very different, hook-shaped outline; although there is a small internal, rectangular space where a diagonal band may have been intended, it was not visible to me when I examined this artifact in person with magnification. By ca. 120 ce, T24 had developed a diagonal band (or dual diagonal bands), and possibly cross-hatching, as suggested by an instance on the Dumbarton Oaks fragmented jadeite belt plaque (Figure 3C), while retaining the hook-shaped outline. Although many examples exhibit a diagonal band, or a pair of diagonal bands, sometimes with horizontal lines between them, just like different designs of T617 do, this design element is known to occur across many distinct graphemes in Mayan writing, and it is believed to be an iconographic device to indicate that the depicted object is “shinny” as a result of polishing (e.g. Hopkins 1994; Hopkins and Josserand 1999; Mora-Marín 2008). Internal cross-hatching, besides the diagonal band or bands, occurs in some designs of T24 (Figures 3D, 3I, 3J–M), but not others (Figures 3E-F, 3H, 3N with Figure 3G).[1] Eventually, the hook of the hook-shaped outline dissolved (Figures 3L–M), as noted in Mora-Marín (2003:206–207), resulting in a generalized graphic convergence with some designs of T617, especially when the design of T24 lacked cross-hatching (Figure 3N), a design element typically absent from T617, as already noted. Based on this evidence, there is no reason to suspect that T617 and T24 were originally related graphically or graphemically.



The hook-shaped design of T24 li declined gradually, with the hook-shaped element becoming less and less visible, during the Early Classic period. Its latest-dated occurrence may appear on Caracol Stela 16 (A16) (Figure 4A), dated to, 535 ce. A few years later most texts exhibit the design lacking the hook element, though a trace of it persists in at least one of the instances of T24 on La Corona Altar 5 (A8) (Figure 4B), dated to, 544 ce. It is only after this point that T24 begins to resemble T617 more and more. In fact, a design of T24 emerged in which the diagonal band was replaced for an internal loop element that is also seen in some designs of T617. I have yet to investigate whether the internal loop was innovated by T617, and copied into T24, or vice versa. This is a matter left for future research.



To conclude, T617 and T24 started out with very different outlines: an oval outline for the former, and a hook-shaped outline for the latter. The internal components also differed, even though they depicted a generalized iconographic marker of polished surfaces (on various type of stone, turtle shells, and possibly other materials). T24 almost certainly did not originally depict a celt or mirror, but some sort of hook-shaped implement made out of stone or another polishable material. It is only after ca. that T24 loses completely its hook-shaped element, and begins to resemble T617 more and more. Given this, there is no reason to suspect any original graphemic connection between these two signs, which otherwise behave very differently, and consequently, there is no reason to implicate the value of T24 li in discussions of the logographic value of T617 in the context of the Initial Sign Collocation (or elsewhere).


[1] Only one case of T617 shows cross-hatching, but within the band element rather than outside of it: the example from Balakbal Stela 5 (Figure 2C). This cross-hatching was perhaps a result of graphic assimilation to the design of T126 ya that is present within the same collocation.



Beetz, Carl P., and Linton Satterthwaite. 1981.  The Monuments and Inscriptions of Caracol, Belize. Philadelphia: University Museum, University of Pennsylvania.

Berjonneau, Gerald, Emile Deletaille, and Jean-Louis Sonnery. 1985. Rediscovered Masterpieces of Mesoamerica: Mexico-Guatemala-Honduras. Boulogne: Editions Arts.

Grube, Nikolai. 1990. Die Entwicklung der Mayaschift: Grundlagen zur Erforschung des Wandels der Mayaschrift von der Protoklassik bis zur spanischen Eroberung. Ph.D. dissertation, Universität Hamburg.

Grube, Nikolai. 1991. An Investigation of the Primary Standard Sequence on Classic Maya Ceramics. In Sixth Palenque Round Table, 1986, edited by Merle Greene Robertson, pp. 223-232. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press.

Hopkins, Nicholas A. 1994. Days, kings, and other semantic classes marked in Maya hieroglyphic writing. Paper presented at the 93rd Annual Meeting of the American Anthropological Association, Atlanta.

Hopkins, Nicholas A., and J. Kathryn Josserand. 1999. Issues of Glyphic Decipherment. Paper presented at the 17th Annual University Museum Maya Weekend, “Maya Epigraphy— Progress and Prospects”, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia.

Houston, Stephen D., John Robertson, and David S. Stuart. 2001. Quality and Quantity in Glyphic Nouns and Adjectives.  Research Reports on Ancient Maya Writing 47:1–56.

Justeson, John S., and Peter Mathews. 1990. Evolutionary Trends in Mesoamerican Hieroglyphic Writing. Visible Language 24:88–132.

Macri, Martha J., and Matthew Looper. 2003. The New Catalog of Maya Hieroglyphs. Volume One: The Classic Period Inscriptions. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press.

Mora-Marín, David F. 2003. The Origin of Mayan Syllabograms and Orthographic Conventions. Written Language and Literacy 6(2): 193–237.

Mora-Marín, David F. 2008. Full Phonetic Complementation, Semantic Classifiers, and Semantic Determinatives in Ancient Mayan Hieroglyphic Writing. Ancient Mesoamerica 19:195–213.

Stuart, David, Marcello A. Canuto, Tomás Barrientos, and Alejandro González. 2018. A Preliminary Analysis of Altar 5 from La Corona. The PARI Journal 19(2):1–13.

Tokovinine, Alexandre, and Francisco Estrada-Belli. 2015. La Sufricaya: A Place in Classic Maya Politics. In Classic Maya Polities of the Southern Lowlands: Integration, Interaction, Dissolution, edited by Damien B. Marken and James L. Fitzsimmons, pp. 195–223. Boulder: University Press of Colorado.


Note 23

La omisión de grafías para sufijos verbales en la escritura jeroglífica maya: Algunos ejemplos de la Secuencia Estándar Primaria


David F. Mora-Marín
University of North Carolina
Chapel Hill

06/01/2022 (6 de enero)


Esta nota ilustra varios ejemplos de grafías de expresiones verbales en las cuales los escribas mayas prescindieron de la necesidad de representar los sufijos requeridos gramaticalmente (Mora-Marín 2010:157–163). Tal omisión fue opcional y común cuando se utilizaban logogramas para representación de expresiones verbales. También, se describe una convención de abreviación originalmente propuesta en la Nota 1 de este serie (Mora-Marín 2020), en la cual se aplica la abreviación de expresiones verbales, prescindiendo de sufijos obligatorios, y además, se voltea la orientación del signo T713 CH’AL/K’AL ‘envolver/cerrar/adornar’.


En la escritura maya, los lexemas podían representarse mediante un logograma, sin silabogramas explícitos para representar los sufijos derivacionales y flexionales gramaticalmente requeridos. En tales casos, el contexto sintáctico fue suficiente para que el lector pudiera completar la información faltante (cf. Mora-Marín 2010:157–163). En algunos casos, esto fue claramente el resultado de limitaciones de espacio. En muchos casos, las restricciones sintácticas fueron suficientes para que cualquier lector reconociera los afijos gramaticales ortográficamente no especificados.


Un caso, de entre muchos, que sirve como ejemplo, fue ilustrado por Stuart (1987:27–28, Fig. 38). El ejemplo consiste de tres grafías del nombre de un probable soberano de Seibal/Ceibal, quien fue capturado por un rey de Dos Pilas. Las grafías varían en estrategia ortográfica. El primero caso (Figura 1A) muestra una grafía logográfica GARRA-JAGUAR. El segundo (Figura 1B) muestra una grafía logosilábica GARRA-ki-JAGUAR-ma. El tercero (Figura 1C) muestra una grafía netamente silábica para la primera palabra, yi-ch’a-ki, y una grafía logográfica para la segunda palabra, B’ALAM. (Todos los dibujos han sido preparados por su servidor en base a la Figura 38 de Stuart (1987).) Esta última grafía, yi-ch’a-ki-B’ALAM, representa la frase posesiva y-ihch’äk b’ahläm (su-garra + jaguar), ‘garra de jaguar (o la garra del jaguar)’, con la raíz ʔihch’äk ‘uña/garra’, poseída por la raíz ‘jaguar’ mediante un prefijo ergativo/posesivo y-, el cual es gramaticalmente obligatorio no solo por ser éste un caso de una construcción nominal posesiva, sino también por ser un caso de un sustantivo inalienable, ‘uña/garra’, el cual requiere ya sea de un prefijo posesivo o de un sufijo de marca ‘absoluta’ de forma -Vl. Ninguna de las dos grafías que muestran el logograma GARRA (Figuras 1A–B) representan el marcador posesivo obligatorio ortográficamente; es el contexto sintáctico, sustantivo poseído + sustantivo poseedor, el que sirve de pista para el lector de que tal marcador debe de “leerse” en esta expresión. Es solamente la tercera grafía, yi-ch’a-ki-B’ALAM, la que representa el marcador posesivo de manera explícita a través del silabograma yi. Varios autores han señalado este fenómeno, aunque queda mucho por investigar. Mora-Marín (2010: 157-163) ha acuñado el término logografía polimorfémica para referirse a este fenómeno ilustrado por los primeros dos ejemplos.


Figura 1

A continuación, ilustraré algunos casos similares de textos representativos de la Secuencia Estándar Primaria (SEP). Parto desde un marco analítico elaborado en mi trabajo previo concerniente a la estructura de la SEP (Mora-Marín 1999, 2001, 2004). Éste propone que los textos de la SEP pueden consistir de más de una cláusula (unidad sintáctica consistiendo de un predicado y un sujeto), y que existen ejemplos en los que más de una cláusula se puede combinar en una sola oración (frase compleja consistiendo de dos o más cláusulas). Más generalmente, se considera que los escribas empleaban una variedad de criterios para escoger la forma más apta para la representación de una expresión dada, entre ellos los siguientes: el espacio disponible; la opción de representar una expresión en forma completa o parcial (es decir, abreviada o no); y la frecuencia con la que ciertas expresiones eran representadas, criterio que influye en la familiaridad de grafías variantes a las que tendrá acceso un lector cualquiera.


El primer par de ejemplos se muestra en la Figura 2. (Las imágenes de Justin se encuentran archivadas en Kerr (n.d.).) Ambos exhiben un estructura sintáctica equivalente, comenzando con la Colocación del Signo Inicial (CSI) (1), seguida por un verbo (2), después una frase nominal consistiendo de un sustantivo poseído refiriéndose al objeto inscrito mismo (3), y finalmente una frase nominal refiriéndose al poseedor humano del objeto inscrito (4). En estas construcciones, el sujeto del verbo es el sustantivo poseído; la CSI, será tratada como una forma gramaticalizada de la partícula existencial *ʔay(-an) ‘existe’. Lo importante, por el momento, es el verbo. En el caso del texto del artefacto K6631, el verbo consiste del glifo denominado “Dios N.” Este glifo consituye un logograma verbal representando una expresión incoativa derivada mediante el sufijo -V1y ‘incoativo’ (Mora-Marín 2007a). La raíz representada por el glifo DIOS.N ha otorgada varias lecturas (ver reseña y propuesta en Mora-Marín 2007b), pero su valor exacto no es de relevancia; lo que vale resaltar aquí es que verbos incoativos basados en este sufijo suelen representarse de forma parcial con el silabograma yi después del logograma, y de forma explícita con un silabograma cuya vocal armonice con la vocal de la raíz léxica (p.ej. pu-lu-yi para pul-uy(-i)-Ø ’empezó a quemarse’). En el caso del texto de K6631, el sufijo no se representó ni de forma parcial; en el caso del texto de K5764, el sufijo se representó de forma parcial con yi.


Figura 2

Los ejemplos en la Figura 3, ilustrando los textos de las vasijas K2295 y K5241, respectivamente, son parecidos. El primer caso muestra el verbo, el glifo DIOS.N, con el silabograma yi para expresar el sufijo -V1y ‘incoativo’  de forma parcial, mientras que el segundo caso muestra el mismo logograma verbal pero esta vez sin el silabograma yi. En ambos casos, el sujeto del verbo es el verbo nominalizado u tz’ihb’-naj-al ‘lo pintado/inscrito’, el cual está poseído por el sustantivo y-uk’-ib’ ‘su taza’ (‘para cacao tipo teʔel); éste último está, a su vez, poseído por el nombre de una persona, quien recibirá el vaso inscrito eventualmente. El DIOS.N no es una nominalización; como lo demuestra la palabra u tz’ihb’-naj-al, las nominalizaciones verbales, en particular cuando se yuxtaponen a su argumento (p.ej. el objeto o el sujeto del verbo en el sentido semántico), deben de ser poseídos por un proclítico ergativo/posesivo (del juego A), típicamente u en estos casos. Más bien, el logograma DIOS.N debe de analizarse como un logograma polimorfémico, incorporando el sufijo -V1y, de la misma manera en la que el primer logograma de la grafías GARRA(-ki)-JAGUAR(-ma) (Figuras 1A–B) incorpora el prefijo y- ‘tercera persona singular ergativa/posesiva’.


Figura 3

En la Figura 4 se puede apreciar el texto de la vasija K6418 es muy interesante. En éste se pueden observar dos frases del tipo SEP, una a la izquierda del personaje sedente, y la otra a su derecha.


Figura 4

La primera frase se puede considerar como una cláusula, específicamente la Cláusula 1 de la Figura 5. Ésta consiste de la CSI, el verbo (CIELO-la-ja), y una frase nominal compleja que incluye tres frases nominales (el sustantivo refiriéndose al texto pintado sobre la vasija misma, poseído a su vez por el sustantivo refiriéndose a la vasija, poseído a su vez por un personaje cuyo título chäk ch’ok ‘gran joven/príncipe’ concluye la frase). La Cláusula 2 es más simple: consiste de la CSI, el verbo (DIOS.N-yi), y una frase nominal simple (u tz’ihb’ ‘su escritura’). Lo que cabe resaltar aquí es el hecho de que esta vasija contiene dos cláusulas de tipo SEP, cada una con un verbo distinto: la primera con el verbo CIELO-la-ja, la segunda con el verbo DIOS.N-yi.


Figura 5

Lo interesante ahora es comparar el caso anterior con el texto de la vasija K1775 en la Figura 6. Su texto consiste de dos frases, la primera (Cláusula 1, en realidad una oración) consistiendo una CSI seguida por dos verbos (CIELO-ja, DIOS.N-yi) y un sujeto complejo (‘el texto pintado de la vasija para cacao teʔel del gran joven fuerte’), y la segunda (Cláusula 2) consistiendo de una partícula reportativa cheʔen ‘dice’ seguida por su sujeto u tz’ihb’ ‘su escritura/texto’. Los verbos (Verbo1, Verbo2) concuerdan con los verbos de las frases separadas del texto en K6418.


Figura 6


En otras palabras, en el caso del texto de K1775, se han combinado dos cláusulas distintas en una sola oración, como se puede ver en la Figura 7. Esta combinación de dos cláusulas en una sola oración constituye un tipo de abreviación: le permite al escriba proveer la misma cantidad de información en menos espacio.


Figura 7


Los escribas eran capaces de abreviar tales oraciones aún más. En la Figura 8 se pueden apreciar dos textos. El primero, en K1377, muestra dos verbos: el Verbo1 consiste de K’AL-ja mientras que el Verbo2 corresponde a DIOS.N-yi, cada uno ocupando su propio bloque glífico. En K1383, el escriba ha combinado y compactado dos verbos en un solo bloque glífico; en tales casos de compactación extrema, ambos verbos carecen de las representaciones fonéticas parciales de sus sufijos, siendo más bien representados de acuerdo a la lógica de la logografía polimorfémica.


Figure 8

Nótese que el escriba ha realizado dos cambios en el caso de la expresión verbal basada en el logograma T713 CH’AL/K’AL, el cual representa, iconográficamente, una mano (Figura 9): en la versión de K1383, la mano ha sido volteada hacia la izquierda, en vez de hacia la derecha, como se observa en la versión de K1377; y también, el signo T548 ha reemplazado al signo T617.


Figura 9

Este volteo del signo T713 no fue idiosincrásico, sino que más bien, una convención sistemática. En los textos de la SEP, cada vez que el glifo T173 CH’AL/K’AL se compacta dentro de un mismo bloque glífico con otra expresión verbal, se voltea hacia la izquierda y, generalmente, muestra una versión simplificada del signo T548 como determinante/diacrítico semántico/léxico, en vez de T617, el signo ESPEJO/HACHA, que más comúnmente se combina con T713 para indicar el valor CH’AL/K’AL. Este volteo se puede observar cuando se combina con la expresión verbal (aún sin descifrar) consistiendo de un glifo que generalmente se asemeja al glifo DIOS.DEL.MAíZ, la cual se aprecia en  textos como K1256 y K5450 (Figuras 10A–B), tal y como se ve en el ejemplo de K4997 (Figura 10C).


Figura 10

Finalmente, esta misma abreviación y giro gráfico se puede observar cuando se combina el glifo T713 CH’AL/K’AL con el glifo T1016/1017, el cual sirve para representar una expresión verbal, posiblemente basada en k’uhul-uy-i ‘se consagró’ (Mora-Marín 2020), presente en los textos K3996 (Figura 11A) y K1743 (Figura 11B). De hecho, en el texto de K5456 (Figura 11C), entro otros, se puede también apreciar un ejemplo volteado de T713 seguido del signo T1016/1017.


Figura 11

Para concluir, los escribas mayas tenían varias opciones para abreviar expresiones logográficas. Una de ellas requería de un principio de logografía polimorfémica (Mora-Marín 2010). Otra, hasta el momento restringida a casos de textos portátiles (vasijas), y de hecho casos del signo T713, consistía en el volteo del signo hacia la izquierda (y un cambio en el uso de determinantes/diacríticos semánticos/léxicos).



Kerr, Justin. n.d. Maya Vase Database.

Mora-Marín, David F. 1999a. Notes on the Structure of the PSS Dedicatory Formula. Unpublished manuscript available through Kinko’s in Austin, Texas.

—–. 1999b. The Structure of the Dedicatory Formula in Classic Mayan Texts. Unpublished Manuscript.

—–. 2001. The Grammar, Orthography, and Social Context of Late Preclassic Mayan Texts.  Unpublished Ph.D. Thesis.  University at Albany, Albany, New York.

—–. 2004. Final FAMSI Grant Report: The Primary Standard Sequence: Database Compilation, Grammatical Analysis, and Primary Documentation. URL:

—–. 2005. The Initial Sign Glyph of the Primary Standard Sequence. Part I: Spelling Patterns. 18 pp. Unpublished note distributed among epigraphers in attendance at the 2005 Texas Maya Meetings. Available at

—–. 2007a. The Identification of an Ingressive Suffix in Classic Lowland Mayan Texts. In Proceedings of the CILLA III Conference, October 2007, Austin, Texas, edited by Nora England, pp 1-14. Austin: Archive of the Indigenous Languages of Latin America, Linguistics Department, University of Texas.

—–. 2007b. A Logographic Value HUʔ (~ʔUʔ) ‘to blow’ or ‘sacred, moral, power’ for the GOD.N Verbal Glyph of the Primary Standard Sequence. Wayeb Notes No. 27:1-22.

—–. 2010. Consonant Deletion, Obligatory Synharmony, Typical Suffixing: An Explanation of Spelling Practices in Mayan Writing. Written Language and Literacy 13:118–179.

—–. 2020. The T(1016/)1017 Verbal Glyph of the PSS as k’uh(ul)/ch’uh(ul)-uy(-i) ‘It Became Holy’. Notes on Mesoamerican Linguistics and Epigraphy 1:

Stuart, David. 1987. Ten Phonetic Syllables. Research Reports on Ancient Maya Writing 14.  Washington, D.C.: Center for Maya Research.


Note 22

On the Initial Sign Collocations from Tikal Stela 31


David F. Mora-Marín
University of North Carolina
Chapel Hill



This note pertains to one particular spelling of the Initial Sign Collocation (ISC) originally defined for the Primary Standard Sequence (PSS), specifically one of three cases that appear on Tikal Stela 31.


In her dissertation on the PSS, Barbara MacLeod (1990:53) argued that the ISC, examples of which are seen in Figure 1, represents an inflected form of the existential particle *ʔay, inflected with an inchoative suffix -a(n) as *ay-a in the completive, or *ʔay-an in the incompletive, while acknowledging the daunting task of accounting for all the apparent allograms used to spell the expression, not to mention the logosyllabic spelling patterns involving the syllabograms ʔa, la, ya. She also proposed the optional ʔa and ya syllabograms as phonetic cues for a reading ʔAY for the IS logogram, most typically a form of T617/1M2, and the occasional la as evidence for the presence of a different inchoative suffix of the form -l-ah (i.e. -l-aj), resulting in a form *ʔay-l-ah-Ø ‘it came into being’. She argued that the use of inchoative suffixes with the existential particle would derive a verb with the meaning ‘to come into being’.


Figure 1

MacLeod (1990:49–50) further proposed that at least one of the spellings on Tikal Stela 31 could be transcribed as T617-ya-na, providing explicit support for the proto-Ch’olan reconstruction *ʔay-an for the existential particle by Kaufman and Norman (1984:116), and thus pointing to the -an inchoative suffix. Such suffix was argued by Justeson et al. (1988:125) to be present in both Ch’olan *ʔayan and Yucatecan *yàan, in the latter case as a result of diffusion of a pre-Ch’olan form *ʔay-aan into Yucatecan in the context of the Lowland Mayan contact region. This suffix would be implicated in the Postclassic codical spellings of the existential particle as ʔa-T667-ya-na (Fox and Justeson 1984:1984:56-57, note 34; Justeson et al. 1988:125). Such an identification, of a spelling with na at Tikal during the Early Classic period, would support MacLeod’s proposed readings *ʔay-an (incompletive) and *ʔay-a (completive), given the corresponding incompletive/completive forms of the Ch’olan inchoative -ʔan (incompletive) and -ʔa (completive), as illustrated with Ch’ol lujb’-ʔan ‘to get tired’ vs. lujb’-(ʔ)a ‘got tired’ (cf. Kaufman and Norman 1984:102). In this way, spellings like (ʔa-)T617-ya-na and (ʔa-)T617-ya would be contrastive, for ʔay-an ‘it comes into existence’ and ʔay-a ‘it came into existence’, respectively.


In my previous work, I have supported MacLeod’s proposed decipherment of the ISC as connected to the existential particle (Mora-Marín 2001:111-112, 521, Fig. 4.5; 2005:9-11, 12-16, Table 3, Fig. 4). Nevertheless, the difficulty of explaining its function in preverbal contexts has also led me to opt for the deictic function (alay ‘this (here)’) favored during the early 2000s by MacLeod and Polyukhovych (2005); consequently, I have also adopted such approach in some of my work (Mora-Marín 2004, 2007, 2010). More recently, I have uncovered linguistic and epigraphic evidence that strongly supports and clarifies the original existential particle identification by MacLeod, in the various contexts in which it occurs (Mora-Marín n.d.). The purpose of this note, though, is limited to discussing the spellings of the ISC on Tikal Stela 31, and more specifically, the case argued by MacLeod (1990) to represent proto-Ch’olan *ʔay-an.


A careful examination of the graphic elements of the signs in the ISC examples from Tikal Stela 31, based on the 3D scanning renderings by Alexandre Tokovinine (2020), allows for clarification: based on such evidence, it can be shown that the scribe responsible for composing the inscription on Tikal Stela 31 was consistent in rendering T178 la in a way that in some cases resembles T23 na, both in the context of the ISC and other collocations where it is unambiguously meant to be read as la; at the same time, it can also be shown that the scribe was consistent in rendering T23 na by means of a very different design that precluded ambiguity with T178 la. Given this, the Tikal examples in question can be definitively read as T617-ya-la.


First, a close look at the three spellings of the IS collocation on Tikal Stela 31 will prove instructive. Figure 2Ashows the spelling ʔa-IS-ya-la, at A12, already mentioned. Figure 2B shows IS-ya-?la/?na, at C19, discussed by MacLeod (1990). And Figure 2C shows IS-ya-?li/la, at G15. In the second spelling, Figure 2B, the final syllabogram is not consistent with the graphic design of T23 na used by the scribe(s) responsible for the carving of this monument. An examination of the instances of T23 na, as well as clear cases of T178 la, will clarify the case of the collocation at C19.


Figure 2

Figures 3A–C show clear examples of T23 na used on this monument. All cases of T23 na on Stela 31 show the same design, one characterized by 3-5 dots arranged diagonally, as well as two large drill-holes on the bottom outline. The sign resembling T23 na in the ISC collocation at C19 bears neither the diagonal line of dots, nor the two large drill-holes at the bottom. It does resemble more standard designs of T23 na, though. The question is whether there exist unambiguous designs of T178 la that might resemble the sign of interest at C19c.


Figure 3

Figures 4A–E show samples of the more common graphic designs of T178 la employed by the scribe responsible for Stela 31. This design consists of an elongated, T-shaped sign, with an internal elliptical or rectangular component (Figures 4A–D); within that internal component, two diagonal bands are usually present (Figures 4A–D), and occasionally, on both sides of the diagonal bands, it is possible to see cross-hatching (Figure 4C). The T-shaped sign is usually doubled (Figures 4A–C), but it need not be (Figure 4D). This last example, appearing at the bottom of the collocation K’AN-TEʔ-la, strongly resembles the sign at the bottom of the ISC on glyph block C19, and they both resemble an instance of a more standard T23 na. However, a comparison with a similar expression on Yaxchilan Lintel 23 (cf. Graham 1982:135), seen in Figure 4E, where it appears as K’AN-TEʔ2-la, employing a more obvious design of T178 la, corroborates its identity as T178.


Figure 4

It is this last design of T178 la, the one seen in Figure 4D, reproduced below as Figure 5A, that resembles the version seen in the ISC at C19c on Tikal Stela 31. It is the design that most closely resembles the more typical versions of T23 na, rather than the more idiosyncratic version with the diagonal dotted line that is the norm on Stela 31.


Figure 5

To conclude, the similarity between certain designs of T178 la and the more standard design of T23 na led MacLeod (and others, including myself) to transcribe one of the ISC spellings on the monument as IS-ya-na, but the detailed imaging of the monument by Tokovinine, together with the paleographic evidence, shows that this was an erroneous transcription. The spellings of the ISC on Tikal Stela 31 point to two patterns only: ʔa-IS-ya-la and IS-ya-la.


In future notes and papers I will present new evidence in support of MacLeod’s identification of the ISC with the existential particle *ʔay(-an). However, contra MacLeod’s (1990) original proposal, it is shown not to be a derived inchoative verb, but instead, in its preverbal contexts at least, a grammaticalized use of the existential particle with an aspectual/evidential function. More on this soon.



Graham, Ian. 1982. Corpus of Maya Hieroglyphic Inscriptions, Volume 3, Part 3: Yaxchilan. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology, Harvard University.

Justeson, John S., and Peter Mathews. 1990. Evolutionary Trends in Mesoamerican Hieroglyphic Writing. Visible Language 24:88–132.

Justeson, John S., William M. Norman, and Norman Hammond. 1988. The Pomona Flare: A Preclassic Maya Hieroglyphic Text.  In Maya Iconography, edited by Elizabeth P. Benson and Gillet G. Griffin, pp. 94-151. Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press.

Kaufman, Terrence, and William Norman. 1984. An outline of Proto-Cholan phonology, morphology, and vocabulary. In Phoneticism in Maya Hieroglyphic Writing, edited by John S. Justeson and Lyle Campbell, pp. 77-166. Institute for Mesoamerican Studies Publication No. 9. Albany: State University of New York.

MacLeod, Barbara. 1990. Deciphering the Primary Standard Sequence. Unpublished Ph.D. dissertation. University of Texas at Austin.

Macri, Martha J., and Matthew Looper. 2003. The New Catalog of Maya Hieroglyphs. Volume One: The Classic Period Inscriptions. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press.

MacLeod, Barbara, and Yuriy Polyukhovych. 2005. Deciphering the Initial Sign. In Sourcebook for the 29th Maya Hieroglyph Forum, March 11-16, pp. 166-174. Department of Art and Art History, University of Texas, Austin.

Mora-Marín, David F. 2001. The Grammar, Orthography, and Social Context of Late Preclassic Mayan Texts. Unpublished Ph.D. Thesis.  University at Albany, Albany, New York.

—–. 2004. Final FAMSI Grant Report: The Primary Standard Sequence: Database Compilation, Grammatical Analysis, and Primary Documentation. URL:

—–. 2005. The Initial Sign Glyph of the Primary Standard Sequence. Part I: Spelling Patterns. 18 pp. Unpublished note distributed among epigraphers in attendance at the 2005 Texas Maya Meetings. Available at

—–. 2007. Two Incised Shell Silhouette Plaques at Dumbarton Oaks. FAMSI Journal of the Ancient Americas, pp. 1-16.

—–. 2010. Consonant Deletion, Obligatory Synharmony, Typical Suffixing: An Explanation of Spelling Practices in Mayan Writing. Written Language and Literacy 13:118–179.

Tokovinine, Alexandre. 2020. Stela 31, Tikal (Version I). Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution. URL:

Tokovinine, Alexandre, and Francisco Estrada-Belli. 2015. La Sufricaya: A Place in Classic Maya Politics. In Classic Maya Polities of the Southern Lowlands: Integration, Interaction, Dissolution, edited by Damien B. Marken and James L. Fitzsimmons, pp. 195–223. Boulder: University Press of Colorado.


Note 21

Graphic Incorporation of T1/HE6 ʔu Within T128/32P TIʔ ‘Mouth’ and Other Paleographic Details

David F. Mora-Marín
University of North Carolina
Chapel Hill



This note proposes that T128/32P TIʔ for tiʔ ‘mouth’, as normally defined graphically, actually incorporates an infixed or conflated, Early Classic version of T1/HE6 ʔu. More specifically, the dots present on the leftmost component of T128 are shown to characterize early designs of T1/HE6 ʔu. This graphic incorporation was reinforced linguistically, as I argue here, by the inalienable nature of the noun tiʔ ‘mouth’, requiring that it be typically possessed with a person marker, most frequently u- ‘his/her/its’, or that it take a suffix to indicate that it was unpossessed, either -il(based on contemporary languages) or -Vs (in Classic texts). Whether through infixation or conflation, the presence of T1/HE6 ʔu remained transparent to scribes throughout most of the Early Classic period (ca. 200-600). Nevertheless, by the Late Classic period (ca. 600-900), some scribes at some sites appear to have reanalyzed the incorporated T1/HE6 ʔu as part of the graphic design of T128/32P, and began to spell the possessive marker u- by means of a separate, and thus, from a historical perspective, redundant, syllabogram ʔu. During the Late Classic, in fact, a redesign of T128/32P, involving a horizontal flipping of the conflated T1/HE6, further supports the proposition that some scribes at least were no longer recognizing its presence, but simply considering it part of T128/32P itself. The analysis presented here, which remains preliminary, has consequences for the linguistic analysis of several expressions, reviewed here, but especially for the study of Mayan paleography.


First, the signs in question must be introduced. Thompson’s (1962) catalog exemplars for T128 are seen in Figure 1A; Macri and Looper’s (2003) counterpart, 32P, is seen in Figure 1B. Some of Thompson’s examples are conflations of T128 with other signs (at least the last example is for sure); I take his first and third examples (blue arrows) to be the relevant ones. Macri and Looper’s examples can be characterized as follows: the first is the T128-like version, which may referred to as the non-MOUTH version; the third is the MOUTH version, which is often human- or human-like, but in some examples, especially late ones, may appear more zoomorphic than anthropomorphic; and the second is the combination of the non-MOUTH and MOUTH versions.[1] Next is T1: I use “T1” to refer to a variety of signs that have the same value, ʔu, which I consider to be stylistic variants of the same sign, namely, T1, T2, T3, T10, T11, T13, among others. Figures 1C-D illustrate only the examples of relevance here. These and others are classified by single code, HE6, in Macri and Looper (2003); Figure 1E illustrates only the HE6 variants of relevance here.


Figure 1


A detailed description of the traits of T128, both its non-MOUTH and MOUTH versions (allograms), is provided in an unpublished manuscript (Mora-Marín n.d.a) still in progress. Readers may request my most recent version by email. For now, to simplify the discussion, I will move on with a description of Early Classic designs of T1 that will prove relevant. Figure 2 presents a classification of Early Classic designs of T1 advanced in a different manuscript still in progress dealing with the paleography of that sign (Mora-Marín n.d.b). Design 1 is attested already in the painted stone block from San Bartolo Sub-V (Girón-Ábrego 2015; Mora-Marín 2020, 2021a), and is therefore very early; it persists through at least the first half of the fifth century CE. Design 2 is derived from Design 1 through the addition of additional dots; it is attested as early as ca. 120 CE, based on the possible date of on the fragmented jade celt from Dumbarton Oaks, and it persists through most of the Classic period. These two designs were innovated during the Late Preclassic period. Design 3 postdates these; it involves the addition of a central, triangular element, and can be argued to be an early Early Classic innovation. Design 4 is also an early Classic innovation, based on Design 2 plus the addition of banding to the bracket element of T1; Design 6 shows a parallel development but this time based on Design 3. Indeed, it would appear that both Designs 4 and 6 appear during the second half of the fourth century CE, as I argue in Mora-Marín (n.d.b).


Figure 2

It is now time to state the hypothesis of this note with support from the data: T1/HE6 ʔu is graphically infixed into or conflated with the leftmost, oval-shaped element of T128/32P TIʔ ‘mouth’. This possibility had already been considered by Matthew Looper and Yuriy Polyukhovych (Looper, personal communication, 2020) during the process of cataloging texts for the MHD, but those authors ultimately rejected the idea, for reasons briefly described below. Figure 3 presents a variety of Early Classic examples of the Glyph F collocation. In these examples, the arrows point to a version of T1, either Design 4 (Figures 3A-B) or Design 2 (Figure 3C), conflated within the oval-shaped left element of T128 TIʔ, yielding [ʔu]TIʔ (if infixation is assumed) or {ʔu}TIʔ (if conflation is assumed). Figure 3A depicts an example from the mural on Rio Azul Tomb 1, drawn by Mary Jane Acuña, with Design 4 of T1, exhibiting a bracket element with a double outline, which contains banding. This collocation thus represents [ʔu]TIʔ-HUN-na. This same design is represented elsewhere on the same mural, as seen in Figure 3D, in a collocation where T1 is employed in graphically autonomous configuration, corroborating that the scribe who painted the mural was in fact utilizing this design productively as the syllabogram ʔu. Figures 3E-F show examples of Design 4 of T1 in other Early Classic texts for comparison. This same design was utilized in the collocation in Figure 3B, from Tikal Stela 31, whereas the collocation in Figure 3C, from Copan Stela 63, employs Design 2 of T1, seen in its autonomous configuration in Figure 3G, which expresses the collocation ʔu-CH’AM-wa. Both collocations, the one from Tikal Stela 31 and Copan Stela 63, can now be transcribed more accurately as [ʔu]TIʔ-HUN-na.


Figure 3

There is evidence from other contexts for the graphic incorporation (through infixation or conflation) of T1 ʔu within other glyphs. Previously, Dmitri Beliaev (personal communication, 2020), in his investigation of texts from Rio Azul and Tikal, has argued for the graphic incorporation of T1 within the “Old Man” or “Old God” (also “Dios Mechudo” and “Dios Barbudo”) logogram MAM, for Proto-Ch’olan *mäm ‘grandfather, grandson, nephew’, originally deciphered by Stuart (2007). More specifically, Mora-Marín (2021b:6–8) has argued that the design of T1 incorporated within the MAM logogram —conflated with the Old Man’s bangs— corresponded to Designs 2, 4, 13, 14 of his classification (Figure 2) as seen in Figure 4. Designs 13 and 14 differ from Designs 2 and 4 by their lack of dots, showing only the bracket elements of T1 instead. Thus, the examples in Figures 4A, 4C, and 4D can be transcribed more accurately as [ʔu]MAM.


Figure 4

In addition to allowing for a more precise reading of the frequent contexts of T128, such as the Glyph F collocation, the recognition of the typical embedding of T1 ʔu within T128 TIʔ also has the potential to elucidate less frequent contexts. For instance, Houston (2009:Figure 3) translates a phrase on Dos Pilas Panel 19:R2-R3 as  ‘guardian [?] of he of the nine [or many] mouths’; the final glyph block in fact can now be transcribed ʔaj-B’OLON-[ʔu]TIʔ, so that a more precise translation would be ‘Mr. nine are his languages’. The design of T1 embedded within this example of T128 is a Late Classic version of Design 2, one that was commonly used at Dos Pilas (cf. Dos Pilas Panel 19:P1).


It is now time to say a few remarks about linguistic structure. The lexical referent of T128 can be traced back to proto-Mayan *tyiiʔ ‘mouth’ (Kaufman with Justeson 2003:262–266), with reflexes such as proto-Ch’olan *tiʔ and proto-Yucatecan *chiʔ. In most Mayan languages it is clear that this term is extended metaphorically (e.g. ‘edge’) or metonymically (e.g. ‘speech/language’) to variety of contexts, yielding a wide range of polysemies. In contemporary Ch’olan and Tzeltalan languages, when it refers to ‘mouth’, the noun is inalienable: it is either possessed by means of an ergative/possessive marker (e.g. u- ‘her/his/its’), or it is unpossessed and suffixed with a -Vl suffix (-il in Ch’ol, -ir in Ch’orti’; apparently -a(l) in Yokot’an). (In some cases, when possessed, it also requires a -Vl suffix, particularly when it is possessed by some types of inanimate possessor). In Classic texts, the unpossessive suffix has the shape -Vs (Stuart et al. 1999; Zender 2004a), probably for -is. This means that tiʔ should be expected to occur either possessed with u- or unpossessed with either -Vl or -Vs in Classic texts. The proposal that so many instances of T128 actually include a conflated or infixed ʔu, therefore is consistent with the linguistic expectation.[2] I recommend Zender (2004b:216–221) for additional discussion of the linguistic evidence relevant to tiʔ in the context of the tiʔsakhuun title.


Although T1 ʔu was consistently embedded within T128 TIʔ during the Classic period, there is clear evidence that by the beginning of the Late Classic period scribes were increasingly reanalyzing the embedded T1 ʔu as simply a graphic element of T128 TIʔ.vThis is evident in the reinforcement of the infixed or conflated ʔu by means of an additional, autonomous ʔu sign, a relatively common pattern in Late Classic texts, as in the examples from Figures 5A-D. This reinforcement, so far unattested in Early Classic texts, could support preserving the catalog exemplars in Thompson (1962) and Macri and Looper (2003) unchanged, and maybe adding examples without the dots, with a note regarding chronological differences. Note too that in Figure 5D, the embedded example of T1 ʔu within T128 has been flipped horizontally, revealing that the scribe was in fact ignorant of the original motivation of the line of dots. 


Figure 5

Finally, while Matthew Looper and Yuriy Polyukhovych (Looper, personal communication, 2020) interpreted examples like the ones in Figure 5, involving an autonomous syllabogram ʔu preposed to T128 TIʔ, as evidence that the dots within the left oval-shaped component of T128 were not due to the incorporation of T1 ʔu, I would argue that both the lateness of such examples, and the fact that some such cases show a reorientation of the internal details of the oval-shaped component (cf. Figure 5D), actually support the hypothesis.


Acknowledgment. I am indebted to Mary Jane Acuña for her generous permission to use her drawings of the glyph on the mural of Rio Azul Tomb 1, and to Matthew Looper for reading and offering comments on a much longer draft over a year ago.



Acuña, Mary Jane. 2015. Royal Death, Tombs, and Cosmic Landscapes: Early Classic Maya Tomb Murals from Río Azul, Guatemala. Maya Archaeology 3:168-185.

Giron-Ábrego, Mario. 2015. On a Preclassic Long-Lipped Glyphic Profile. Mesoweb:

Helmke, Christophe, Jaime J. Awe, Shawn G. Morton, and Gyles Iannone. 2015. The Text and Context of the Cuychen Vase, Macal Valley, Belize. In Maya Archaeology 3, edited by Charles Golden, Stephen Houston, and Joel Skidmore, pp. 8-29. Precolumbia Mesoweb Press, San Francisco.

Houston, Stephen. 2009. Maya Multilinguals? Blog: Maya Decipherment: Ideas in Ancient Maya Writing and Iconography.

Kaufman, Terrence, with John Justeson. 2003. Preliminary Mayan Etymological Dictionary.

Lacadena García-Gallo, Alfonso. 1995. Evolución formal de las grafías escriturarias mayas: implicaciones históricas y culturales. Unpublished Ph.D. thesis, Universidad Complutense de Madrid.

Macri, Martha J., and Matthew Looper. 2003. The New Catalog of Maya Hieroglyphs. Volume One: The Classic Period Inscriptions. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press.

Mora-Marín, David F. 2020. A Previously Unidentified Example of T1/HE6 ʔu on the Painted Stone Block from San Bartolo Sub-V. Notes on Mesoamerican Linguistics and Epigraphy 11.

Mora-Marín, David F. 2021a. Two Instances of T1ʔu on the Painted Stone Block from San Bartolo Sub-V: Reviewing Giron-Ábrego (2015). Notes on Mesoamerican Linguistics and Epigraphy 12.

Mora-Marín, David F. 2021b. Drawing of Mayan Inscription on Stone Sphere (K6582) with Epigraphic Commentary. Glyph Dwellers Report 68.

Mora-Marín, David F. n.d.a. Graphic Incorporation of T1/HE6 ʔu Within T128/32P TIʔ ‘Mouth’ and Other Paleographic Details. Unpublished manuscript, in progress.

Mora-Marín, David F. n.d.b. The Paleography of T1/HE6 ʔu: Late Preclassic and Early Classic Developments. Unpublished manuscript, in progress.

Schele, Linda. 1990. The Early Classic Dynastic History of Copán: Interim Report 1989. Copán Note 70. Copán Acropolis Project & Instituto Hondureño de Antropología e Historia, Austin.

Stuart, David. 2007. The Mam Glyph. Maya Decipherment: Ideas on Ancient Maya Writing and Iconography: Posted September 29, 2007.

Thompson, Eric J. 1962. A Catalogue of Maya Hieroglyphics. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press.

Zender, Marc U. 2004a. A Study of Classic Maya Priesthood. Ph.D. dissertation, Department of Archaeology, University of Calgary.

Zender, Marc U. 2004b. On the Morphology of Intimate Possession in Mayan Languages and Classic Mayan Glyphic Nouns.  In The Linguistics of Maya Writing, edited by Søren Wichmann, pp. 195-210. Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press.



[1] The anthropomorphic nature of the MOUTH variant is confirmed by the presence of the O-shaped element that is commonly placed in signs that depict parts of the human body (Hopkins 1994; Hopkins and Josserand 1999; Mora-Marín 2008a). This O-shaped element was derived from a U-shaped element by means of a regular graphic change (Lacadena 1995), briefly discussed here in connection with the Early Classic design of the MOUTH sign. It seems possible that T128 (non-MOUTH) and the MOUTH variant were conflated at some point, late in the Early Classic period, at least by some scribes, but that they were originally distinct graphemes with the same value (allograms).

[2] The uses of this this root with the meaning  ‘mouth’ are difficult to investigate in contemporary Ch’ol and Ch’orti’, which appear to prefer reflexes of proto-Mayan *ʔeeh ‘tooth’, which in addition to ‘tooth’ and ‘(sharp) edge’, appears to have attained the meaning ‘mouth’ via metonymy. That said, this noun is also inalienable: Ch’ol ʔej is typically possessed and takes -äl when unpossessed (Aulie and Aulie 1999:35), and Ch’orti’ ʔej is also typically possessed and takes -ir when unpossessed (Hull 2016:9, 244).



Nota 20 (Traducción)

Reanálisis del signo BM4 en una vasija del Museo del Chocolate en Colonia, Alemania

David F. Mora-Marín
University of North Carolina
Chapel Hill



Esta nota reanaliza la propuesta por Krempel et al. (2017) del signo BM4 (Macri y Looper 2003) como un sustituto de la Colocación del Signo Inicial (CSI) de la Secuencia Estándar Primaria (SEP). El signo, que representa a un pequeño polluelo dentro del pico de una ave (buitre), se conoce en contextos en el que fue utilizado en la grafía de la palabra y-aal ‘su hijo/hija/cría [de la madre]’. De funcionar como sustituto de la CSI, podría ser analizado como sustituto alográfico del signo principal más frecuente de la CSI, el signo T617/1M2. Propongo que este análisis requiere revisión, por dos razones: BM4 puede de hecho analizarse como una grafía del término de parentesco ‘hijo/a de madre’ en este texto, como en todos los demás casos en los que aparece; y también, este texto de SEP en particular constituye un ejemplo de un pequeño subconjunto de textos de SEP que carecen de la CSI antes del verbo dedicatorio. Esto significa que la razón por la que BM4 aparece antes del verbo dedicatorio DIOS.N es pura coincidencia: el escriba se quedó sin espacio para completar la frase del nombre de la madre del destinatario previsto del recipiente, y a la vez, el escriba no comenzó el texto con la CSI, sino que con el verbo DIOS.N, lo que da como resultado que el texto del borde finalice prematuramente, justo antes del comienzo del texto en sí.


Krempel et al. (2017) constituye un excelente examen de dos vasijas pintadas, una taza y un cuenco, que se encuentran en la colección del Museo del Chocolate en Colonia, Alemania. La vasija en cuestión, representante del Polícromo Naranja Saxche, Variedad Saxche, está catalogada como No-Inv. 50061, mide 18 cm x 12,1 cm y tiene un texto pintado que comprende 11 bloques de glifos (Figura 1A). Esos autores (2017: 10-11) identificaron la instancia de BM4 (Figura 1B) como ocupando la primera posición en el texto y, por lo tanto, tomando el lugar de la CSI. Propusieron una lectura ‘AL para ‘a’l[ay] ‘aquí’, apoyado la identificación de MacLeod y Polyukhovych (2005) de la CSI como representante de un demostrativo deíctico. Los autores sugieren que “el escriba usó la rara sustitución ‘AL? para la versión común del Glifo Introductorio ‘a-‘ALAY?-ya,” y señalan que este signo se ve en otros textos en la grafía de “la declaración de parentesco y-al,” para ‘su hijo/a (de ella)’, y brindan ejemplos (2017:13, Fig. 9) en los que los silabogramas yuxtapuestos ya y la apoyan dicha lectura (Figuras 1C-D), señalando que el BM4 puede “leerse ‘AL en algunos ejemplos y YAL en otros.”


Figura 1

Primero, llamo la atención sobre una ocurrencia común en los textos de SEP: los escribas a veces se quedaban sin espacio y no “terminaban” un texto. La Figura 2A presenta un caso concreto, la vasija K4976. Nótese que el texto en K4976 (Figura 2B) comienza con una grafía de la CSI (Bloque Glífico A),  y que, cuando el texto que circunda el borde de la vasija llega a su fin, éste termina con yu-ne (Bloque Glífico P), para y-unen ‘su hijo/a [de padre]’, justo antes de la CSI. La expresión yu-ne suele ir seguida del nombre del padre de alguien. De hecho, el destinatario previsto del recipiente, denominado CHAK ch’o[ko] ke-KELEMpara chak ch’ok keleem ‘gran joven macho’ (Bloques Glíficos I–K), es seguido inmediatamente por ya-YAL/ʔAL para y-aal ‘el hijo de [madre]’ (Bloque Glífico L), seguido por el nombre de la madre (Bloques Glíficos M–O). El texto termina con el Bloque Glífico P, yu-ne. Por lo tanto, el escriba no tuvo suficiente espacio para proporcionar el nombre del padre del destinatario previsto de la vasija.


Figura 2


En segundo lugar, K4976 no es el único texto en el que el título o nombre del destinatario previsto va seguido de una declaración de parentesco y, más específicamente, dado el orden típico, en el que el nombre de la madre precede al nombre del padre. De hecho, existen varios textos de SEP en los que la expresión ya-YAL/ʔAL sigue inmediatamente después de la expresión KELEM, siendo K4976 solo uno de tales ejemplos, como se ve en la Figura 3A, con la secuencia ke-KELEM ya-YAL (Bloques Glíficos K–L), seguida de la frase del nombre glífico que se refiere a la madre, y el texto de SEP en el Vaso 38 en Coe (1973: 84-86), parte del cual se puede apreciar en la Figura 3B, que también muestra una secuencia ke-KELEM YAL-la (Bloques Glíficos R–S), seguido del nombre de la madre (no ilustrado). En consecuencia, es lógico que el texto del SEP en la vasija Inv.-50061 sigua el mismo patrón: que el título del destinatario previsto, CHAK ch’o/CH’OK KELEM(Bloques Glíficos 9–11), va seguido del término de parentesco, YAL para y-aal, que introduciría el nombre de su madre, como se ve en la Figura 3C. La única diferencia entre Inv.-No. 50061, por un lado, y K4976 y el Vaso 38 de Coe (1973), por el otro, es que el escriba que pintó el texto en el número Inv.-50061 se quedó sin espacio para proporcionar el nombre de la madre, y mucho menos el nombre del padre que habría seguido. Una vez más, los escribas se quedaban sin espacio ocasionalmente, como se ve en la Figura 3D, donde yu-ne termina el texto SEP en K4976.


Figura 3


Finalmente, ¿qué sucedió entonces con la CSI? La gran mayoría de los textos de SEP que incluyen un verbo dedicatorio contienen un ejemplo de la CSI que precede a dicho verbo; hay cerca de quinientos textos SEP en objetos portátiles que se comportan de esta manera. Sin embargo, algunos pocos, no se comportan así: K5035, K5976, K6436, K8007, K8220, K9096, K9115 probablemente constituyen la mayoría de estos ejemplos en textos portátiles. La Figura 4 ilustra tres de ellas: la primera (Figura 4A) comienza con la expresión DIOS.N, la segunda (Figura 4B) con la secuencia K’AL-ja DIOS.N-yi, y la tercera (Figura 4C) con la expresión GRADA[yi]. Debe quedar claro, a estas alturas, que Inv.-No. 50061 constituye un ejemplo más de los textos de SEP que inician con un verbo dedicatorio en vez de la CSI, y al mismo tiempo, que el signo YAL (Bloque Glífico 11) precede al verbo dedicatorio DIOS.N por simple casualidad: fue el último signo que pintó el escriba antes de quedarse sin espacio, dándole así la vuelta al borde de la vasija y quedando de último glifo antes del la expresión verbal DIOS.N que comienza el texto.


Figura 4


Para concluir, el texto de la vasija Inv.-No. 50061 no contiene evidencia de que BM4 funcione como sustituto de la Colocación de Signo Inicial de la SEP; de hecho, ni siquiera muestra un ejemplo de la CSI. El texto comienza con la expresión verbal DIOS.N y concluye, de manera incompleta, con la expresión YAL para y-aal ‘su hijo/a (de ella)’.


Agradecimiento. Me gustaría agradecer a Guido Krempel por su generosidad con respecto al uso de su dibujo de la vasija Inv.-50061 del Museo del Chocolate en Colonia.



Coe, Michael. 1973. The Maya Scribe and His World. New York: The Grolier Group.

Krempel, Guido, Sebastián Matteo, and Albert Davletshin. 2017. A Cup Joins a Bowl: The Ceramics of Naranjo’s King K’ahk’ “Skull” Chan Chaahk in The Chocolate Museum in Cologne, Germany. Mexicon, 39(1), 8-15.

MacLeod, Barbara, and Yuriy Polyukhovych. 2005. Deciphering the Initial Sign. In Sourcebook for the 29th Maya Hieroglyph Forum, March 11-16, pp. 166-174. Department of Art and Art History, University of Texas, Austin.

Macri, Martha J., and Matthew Looper. 2003. The New Catalog of Maya Hieroglyphs. Volume One: The Classic Period Inscriptions. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press.

Note 20

Reanalysis of the BM4 Sign on A Vessel from The Chocolate Museum, Cologne, Germany

David F. Mora-Marín
University of North Carolina
Chapel Hill



This note reviews Krempel et al.’s (2017) analysis of the sign BM4 (Macri and Looper 2003), depicting a small chick inside a bird’s beak, and known from other contexts to be used in the spelling of the word y-aal ‘her child [child of mother]’, as a substitute for the Initial Sign Collocation (ISC) of the Primary Standard Sequence (PSS), and therefore as a potential allographic substitute for the most frequent main sign of the ISC, T617/1M2. I propose that this is analysis requires revision, for two reasons: BM4 can be in fact analyzed as a spelling of the kinship term ‘child of mother’ in this text, as in all other cases where it appears; and this particular PSS constitutes an example of a small subset of PSS texts that lack the ISC before a so-called dedicatory verb. This means that the reason BM4 appears before the GOD.N dedicatory verb is pure coincidence: the scribe ran out of room to complete the name phrase of the mother of the intended recipient of the vessel, and the scribe did not begin the text with the ISC, but instead with the GOD.N verb, resulting in the rim text ending prematurely as it wrapped around back to where it began.


Krempel et al. (2017) is a superb examination of two painted pots, a cup and a bowl, housed at The Chocolate Museum in Cologne, Germany. The vessel in question here, a representative of the Saxche Orange Polychrome, Saxche Variety, ceramic type, is cataloged as Inv.-No. 50061, measures 18 cm x 12.1 cm, and bears a painted text comprising 11 glyph blocks (Figure 1A). Those authors (2017:10–11) identified this instance of BM4 (Figure 1B) as occupying the first position in the text, and thus taking the place of the ISC; they propose a reading ‘AL for ‘a’l[ay] ‘here’, following MacLeod and Polyukhovych’s (2005) identification of the ISC as representing a deictic demonstrative. The authors suggest that “the scribe used the rare substitution ‘AL? for the common version of the Introductory Glyph ‘a-‘ALAY?-ya,” and they note that this sign is seen elsewhere in spellings of “the parentage statement y-al,” for ‘her child’, and provide examples (2017:13, Fig. 9) in which juxtaposed syllabograms ya and la support such reading (Figures 1C–D), noting that the BM4 may be “read ‘AL in some examples and YAL in other ones.”


Figure 1


First, I draw attention to a common occurrence in PSS texts: scribes sometimes ran out of room and did not “finish” a text. Figure 2A presents a case in point, vessel K4976. Note that the text on K4976 (Figure 2B) begins with the ISC (Glyph Block A) and when the text wraps around the rim, it ends with yu-ne (Glyph Block P), for y-unen ‘the child of [father]’, before returning to the ISC. The yu-ne expression is typically followed by the name of someone’s father. In fact, the intended recipient of the vessel, referred to as CHAK ch’o[ko] ke-KELEM for chak ch’ok keleem ‘great youth young male’ (Glyph Blocks I–K), is immediately followed by ya-YAL/ʔAL for y-aal ‘the child of [mother]’ (Glyph Block L), itself followed by the mother’s name (Glyph Blocks M–O). The text ended with Glyph Block P, yu-ne. Thus, the scribe did not have enough room to provide the name of the father of the intended recipient of the vase.


Figure 2


Second, K4976 is not the only text in which the intended recipient’s title or name is followed by a parentage statement, and more specifically, given the typical order, in which the mother’s name precedes the father’s name. In fact, there exist several PSS texts in which the ya-YAL/ʔAL expression follows immediately after the KELEM expression, with K4976 being but one, as seen in Figure 3A, with the sequence ke-KELEM ya-YAL (Glyph Blocks K–L), followed by the glyphic name phrase referring to the mother, and the PSS text on Vessel 38 in Coe (1973:84–86), seen in Figure 3B, also showing a sequence ke-KELEM YAL-la (Glyph Blocks R–S), itself followed by the mother’s name (not illustrated). Consequently, it stands to reason that the PSS text on Inv.-No. 50061 follows the same pattern: that the title of the intended recipient, CHAK ch’o/CH’OK KELEM (Glyph Blocks 9–11), is followed by the parentage term, YAL for y-aal, that would introduce his mother’s name, as seen in Figure 3C. The only difference between Inv.-No. 50061, on the one hand, and K4976 and Vessel 38 from Coe (1973), on the other, is that the scribe who painted the text on Inv.-No. 50061 ran out of room to provide the mother’s name, let alone the father’s name that would have followed. Again, scribes ran out of space occasionally, as is seen in Figure 3D, where yu-ne ends the PSS text on K4976.


Figure 3


Finally, what about the ISC? The vast majority of PSS texts that include a dedicatory verb bear an example of the ISC preceding such a verb; there are close to five hundred PSS texts on portable objects that behave this way. Nevertheless, a few, a very few, don’t: K5035, K5976, K6436, K8007, K8220, K9096, K9115 likely constitute the majority of such examples on portable texts. Figure 4 illustrates three of these: the first (Figure 4A) begins with the GOD.N expression, the second (Figure 4B) with the K’AL-ja GOD.N-yi sequence, and the third (Figure 4C) with the STEP[yi] expression. It should be clear, at this point, that Inv.-No. 50061 constitutes yet another example of a PSS text with a dedicatory verb that bears no ISC, and instead, the YAL sign (Glyph Block 11) precedes the GOD.N dedicatory verb by simple chance: it was the last sign the scribe painted before running out of room and wrapping the text back around to the beginning, which in this case was the GOD.N expression.


Figure 4


To conclude, the text on Inv.-No. 50061 does not bear evidence for BM4 functioning as the Initial Sign Collocation of the PSS; in fact, it bears no Initial Sign Collocation at all. The text begins with the GOD.N verbal expression, and concludes, incomplete, with the YAL expression for y-aal ‘her child’.


Acknowledgments. I would like to thank Guido Krempel for his generous permission to use his drawing of vase 50061 from The Chocolate Museum at Cologne.



Coe, Michael. 1973. The Maya Scribe and His World. New York: The Grolier Group.

Krempel, Guido, Sebastián Matteo, and Albert Davletshin. 2017. A Cup Joins a Bowl: The Ceramics of Naranjo’s King K’ahk’ “Skull” Chan Chaahk in The Chocolate Museum in Cologne, Germany. Mexicon, 39(1), 8-15.

MacLeod, Barbara, and Yuriy Polyukhovych. 2005. Deciphering the Initial Sign. In Sourcebook for the 29th Maya Hieroglyph Forum, March 11-16, pp. 166-174. Department of Art and Art History, University of Texas, Austin.

Macri, Martha J., and Matthew Looper. 2003. The New Catalog of Maya Hieroglyphs. Volume One: The Classic Period Inscriptions. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press.

Note 19

Notes on the *oo/*oʔ > uu > u Shift in Ch’olan and Huastec(an)


David F. Mora-Marín
University of North Carolina
Chapel Hill



The purpose of this note is to demonstrate that the *oo/oʔ > uu > u shift is not a shared change between Ch’olan and Huastecan, but a set of independent developments. The key piece of evidence lies within Huastecan. More specifically, as Norcliffe (2003:95) has suggested and as is reviewed here, Huastecan did not undergo the change: Huastec did. Chicomuceltec (Kabil), very closely related to Huastec, and argued by Kaufman (1980:101), Kaufman and Justeson (2008), and Robertson and Houston (2015:32) to have differentiated from Huastec during the Postclassic period, does not exhibit the change. This means that Huastec experienced the shift, largely independently, since the beginning of the Postclassic period, many centuries after attestations of the Ch’olan shift in Epigraphic Mayan texts (e.g. Justeson and Fox 1989; Mora-Marín 2009).


I begin with some basic background. Kaufman and Norman (1984) proposed two exclusive vowel shifts in Ch’olan: *oo > uu > u and *ee > ii > i. Those authors characterized these shifts as follows (1984:87):


It is important to note that this change is neither regular nor pervasive, i.e., there are more cases where it does not take place than where it does. However, the change, to the extent it occurs, has a uniform result within Cholan.


They noted too that it affected *oo from both proto-Mayan *oo and proto-Mayan *oʔ, which they proposed had merged into proto-Greater Tzeltalan *oo, as well as *ee from both proto-Mayan *ee and *eʔ, which they proposed had merged into proto-Greater Tzeltalan *ee. Table 1 presents a list of the cases of both proto-Mayan *oo and *oʔ and their reflexes in proto-Ch’olan, according to Kaufman and Norman (1984), with a few additions (e.g. #12, observed by Brown and Wichmann 2004), as compiled in Mora-Marín and Frazier (2021:27).


Table 1. Cases of PM *oo and *oʔ reflected as PCh’ *u or *o.

Item # PM PCh’ Gloss Class Raising
1. *kooŋ-eej *chun-ij in four days adv Yes
2. LM *loot *lut twins n Yes
3. *sootz’ *sutz’ bat n Yes
4. GLM *qootz *kutz wild turkey n Yes
5. *tooŋ *tun stone n Yes
6. GLM *tzoʔn *tzun body hair n Yes
7. GLM *tzoʔtz *tzutz head hair n Yes
8. *ʔoʔq’ *ʔuk’ to cry iv Yes
9. *ʔooŋ *ʔun avocado n Yes
10. *ʔoox= *ʔux= three num Yes
11. *ʔamooch *ʔa=much toad n Yes
12. LM *ʔooj-eel Ch’ol ʔuj-il, Yokot’an ʔuw-i(l) to know v Yes
13. *kooh *choh cheek n No
14. #ch’ool *ch’ol ethnonym (ch’ol) n No
15. *hoonon *honon bumblebee n No
16. *jooj *joj heron n No
17. *joʔl *jol head n No
18. *q-oʔŋ *kon (Ch’ol) let’s go! Expl No
19. LM #koox? *kox pava (bird species) n No
20. *q’oor *k’oy dough n No
21. PM *mooʔ *moʔ macaw n No
22. *nooq’ *nok’1 cloth(es/ing) n No
23. Was+WM *nooq’ ‘animal’ *nok’2 caterpilar n No
24. *ʔook *ʔoch to enter iv No
25. *ʔooq *ʔok foot n No
26. PCM *ʔooŋ-eer *ʔon-i formerly, long ago adv No
27. *ʔoor *ʔoy house-post n No
28. *ʔatyooty *ʔotot home n No
29. PM *poom < MZ *poomɨ *pom copal incense n No
30. PM *tyook’ *tok’ flint n No
31. *t’oot’ *t’ot’ snail n No
32. *ʔaj=tzooʔ *ʔaj=tzoʔ tom turkey n No
33. *xooch’ *xoch’ screech owl n No


Two decades after Kaufman and Norman (1984), Brown and Wichmann (2004) presented a new model of proto-Mayan syllable nuclei based on what they propose are additional vowel correspondences not identified by previous authors. In their model, Kaufman and Norman’s *oo would correspond to their *ooh, and Kaufman and Norman’s *oʔ would correspond to their *oo’ and *oo’h. In addition, Kaufman and Norman’s *ee/*eʔ vowels that experienced the shift would correspond to Brown and Wichmann’s *e/*E/*eh reconstructions (2004:146, 152). Their cases of proto-Mayan *oo’ and *oo’h, thus correspond to the cases of pM *oʔ that merged with *oo in proto-Greater Tzeltalan according to Kaufman and Norman (1984). Moreover, those authors proposed that proto-Mayan *e/*E/*eh shifted to proto-Ch’olan *i in the presence of “a stem-final fricative,” and that proto-Mayan *ooh shifted to proto-Ch’olan *u unconditionally, which means that they treat these processes as distinct from each other. Though Brown and Wichmann (2003) do not say so explicitly, their statement that *oo’ and *oo’h resulted in proto-Ch’olan *uu’ and then u in each of the descendant Ch’olan languages (2003:142-143, Table 9), suggests they consider these to be also unconditioned and exceptionless shifts.


Here I do not intend to review Brown and Wichmann’s (2004) model. This note simply aims to discuss the *oo/*oʔ > uu > u shift, primarily with regard to recent suggestions that it is shared with Huastecan. This suggestion was made by Brown and Wichmann (2004:146), who characterize the vowel-raising shift of *ooh > u as occurring in Huastec, Ch’ol, Chontal (Yokot’an), and Ch’orti’. Although those authors defined a second vowel-raising shift of relevance, their *oo’/*oo’h > u shift, as occurring only in Ch’olan, they cautioned that the three etyma affected by this shift lack cognates in Huastecan (2004:146), so that it cannot be determined, one way or the other, whether Huastecan was involved, the implication being that it may have.


More recently, Lacadena and Davletshin (2013:72), seemingly assuming that Brown and Wichmann’s *ooh > u shift is the only one of relevance to Ch’olan, state that because such shift is shared with Huastecan, and therefore, that “the only solid phonological argument for considering Hieroglyphic Mayan to be a Ch’olan language” would be “*eeh > *ii”; here it should be clarified that Brown and Wichmann’s formulation involves *e/*E/*eh > *ii, not *eeh > *ii. Either way, there is clearly some confusion, which is worthy of clarification. To attempt to do this, I will first review the dataset by Brown and Wichmann of relevance to the *ooh/*oo’/*oo’h shifts those authors redefine in their paper. Table 2 presents the data from Table 1 that experienced the shift, plus a few new etyma proposed by Brown and Wichmann; I have re-transcribed Brown and Wichmann’s <th> as <θ>.


Table 2. Cases of vowel-raising to PCh’ *u, including those exclusive to Ch’olan and those argued to be shared with Huastecan by Brown and Wichmann (2004).

Item # PM (K&N) PM (B&W) Huastecan (B&W) PCh’ (K&N) Gloss Subgroups
1. *kooŋ-eej *koohng- *chun-ij in four days Ch’
2. LM *loot *lut twins Yes
3. *sootz’ *soohtz’ θut’ *sutz’ bat Hua, Ch’
4. GLM *qootz *kutz wild turkey Yes
5. *tooŋ *toohng *tun stone See commentary
6. GLM *tzoʔn *tzoo’n *tzun body hair Ch’
7. GLM *tzoʔtz *tzoo’tz *tzutz head hair Ch’
8. *ʔoʔq’ *oohq’ uk’ *ʔuk’ to cry Hua, Ch’
9. *ʔooŋ *oohng uh/oh *ʔun avocado Hua, Ch’
10. *ʔoox= *oohx oox *ʔux= three Ch’
11. *ʔamooch *moohch *ʔa=much toad Ch’
12. LM *ʔooj-eel *oohj Ch’ol ʔuj-il, Yokot’an ʔuw-i(l) to know Ch’
13. See commentary *oo’hch See commentary *ʔuch possum See commentary
14. See commentary *hoohy or *joohy huy- See commentary slow, sluggish No Ch’
15. See commentary *looht’ See commentary pressed, tightened, cramped See commentary
16. See commentary *poohs puθ- See commentary bubbling, steam, steam bath See commentary
17. See commentary *poohl *pul ‘to burn’ to fry, burn See commentary
18. See commentary *poohl See commentary head, forehead See commentary
19. CM *tz’ul, pM *ch’ol *tz’oohl See commentary to peel, to skin See commentary


Cases #5 and #13-#19 require commentary. First, #5, ‘stone’: though Brown and Wichmann do not make a note of this, the term bears a cognate in Huastecan: <tuhu> in Chicomuceltec, and t’uhu(b) in Huastec (Norcliffe 2003:36, 75). It is therefore another case in which Huastecan agrees with Ch’olan in having u from an earlier *oo (or Brown and Wichmann’s *ooh).


#13, ‘possum’, is problematic. Brown and Wichmann have apparently merged cognates from what Kaufman with Justeson (2003:577–578) consider to be three different semantically-related sets with strong phonological similarities: proto-Mayan *huhty’ ‘possum’; Western Mayan plus Lowland Mayan *ʔuch ‘possum’; and Western Mayan *ʔuhchum ‘possum’. Brown and Wichmann (2004:157, 176) include the Yucatecan, Ch’olan, Tzeltalan, and Mocho’ reflexes of Western Mayan plus Lowland Mayan *ʔuch; the Popti’ (Jakalatek) reflex of Western Mayan *ʔuhchum as ʔutx-, as well as the Tojolab’al and Chuj reflexes of Western Mayan *ʔuchum as ʔuhch- and ʔuch-, respectively. The form the authors cite for Ixil (Greater Mamean), uch, is not listed in Kaufman with Justeson under any of the three reconstructed etyma; Kaufman with Justeson (2003:577) only provide uch’ and juʔch’ for Ixil, as a reflex of their Proto-Mayan *huhty’. Brown and Wichmann do not explain where they obtained their datum. Interestingly, despite merging reflexes from two of the three separate reconstructions, Brown and Wichmann left out the Huastec reflex of proto-Mayan *huhty’, provided by Kaufman with Justeson as ʔuut’ ‘tlacuache’. It appears that Brown and Wichmann’s reconstruction, *oo’hch, is thus an attempt to trace at least two different etymologies back to a single proto-Mayan etymon, but they do not explain how they do this—how their reconciliation works. Their only statement on the matter appears to be their suggestion that “A Cholan language or languages, then, could have influenced development of unexpected vowel quality in the above non-Cholan reflexes of *oo’hch” (2004:157). However, the reconstructed etyma in Kaufman with Justeson all bear a vowel /u/, so there is no reason at this time to suspect that an original *oo (or *oo’h) is involved. Given these uncertainties, this etymon is eliminated below.


Next, #14, ‘slow, sluggish’. Unfortunately, Brown and Wichmann do not provide their sources for this etymon, which they reconstruct as *hoohy or *joohy, and document attestations in Huastec as huy- and Mocho’ as hooy-. It is not attested in Ch’olan, and therefore, there is no way to know whether it experienced the shift in Ch’olan. For this reason, this etymon is eliminated below.


#15, ‘pressed, tightened, cramped’, is reconstructed as *looht’ by Brown and Wichmann, who document attestations as follows: Yucatec lòot’, Mopan lot’-, Ch’ol lut’-, Tzotzil lot’-, Tzeltal lot’-, Q’anjob’al lot’­-, Popti’ (Jakaltek) lot’-, Tojolab’al lot’-, and Chuj lot’. A problem here is found with their entry for Yucatec: it is actually a transitive root lot’ ‘to shrivel up; pull in /stomach/’ (Bricker et al. 1998:173), with the form lòot’ constituting the antipassive stem, the form lóot’ the mediopassive stem, and the form lòʔot’ the passive stem. The Ch’ol form is attested in Aulie and Aulie (2009:54) as lut’ul ‘apretado (squeezed)’. What is interesting is that the Ch’orti’ cognate attested in Hull (2016:260) is lot’-, not lut’, suggesting that this is not an example of the shift. For this reason, this etymon is eliminated too.


Regarding #16, ‘bubbling, steam, steam bath’, reconstructed as *poohs, Brown and Wichmann document attestations in Huastec as puθ-, Ch’ol as pus, Tzotzil as pus, Tzeltal as pus, and Mam as poos- (2004:177); although those authors cite it as an example of the *ooh > u shift they propose for Huastecan and Ch’olan, the /u/ vowel in Tzeltalan poses a problem. The only explanation for the Tzotzil and Tzeltal forms would therefore be borrowing from Ch’olan. Given the lack of sources, however, for now this term will be eliminated.


#17, ‘to fry, burn’, is reconstructed as *poohl by Brown and Wichmann (2004:176), who provide the following dataset: Ch’ol pul, Chontal (Yokot’an) pul-, Ch’orti’ pur-, Teko pool-, and K’ichee’ pool-. However, it also appears in Tzeltal as pul ‘prender, encender (fuego) (to kindle, light (fire))’ (Polian 2019:512). Kaufman and Norman (1984:129) reconstructed this etymon to proto-Ch’olan as a transitive root *pul ‘to burn’ and reported “No outside cognates.” It seems clear that the Tzeltal form is either a cognate or a borrowing. As for the other cases reported by Brown and Wichmann, it is not clear what their sources, actual glosses, or phonological shapes actually are. I have only been able to corroborate a general form <pol-> ‘to fry (an egg)’ in K’ichee’, though the source I consulted (Christenson n.d.:91) regrettably does not distinguish vowel length contrasts. Thus, for now, this form is eliminated.


As far as #18, ‘head, forehead’, is concerned, Brown and Wichmann (2004:176) observe that “This is probably a diffused Maya Lowland form and, therefore, not Proto-Mayan. Nonetheless, it is cited here because it relates to the vowel-quality shift” of *ooh > u. Their attestations include Yucatecan forms, such as Yucatec pòol, Itzaj pol, and Mopan pol, as well as Chontal (Yokot’an) pul. An examination of the Yokot’an entry in Keller and Luciano (1997:197, 512) shows it as pul ‘frente (forehead)’. Kaufman with Justeson (2003:275) only document it in Yucatecan, reconstructing it as proto-Yucatecan *pool. I will include this etymon in the dataset below, and consider it an important addition to the data relevant to the shift, just like the case of ‘to know’, also introduced into the literature on the matter by Brown and Wichmann.


Finally, #19, ‘to peel, to skin’, is complicated, like the case of #13. It appears that Brown and Wichmann have merged cognates from different etyma as reconstructed in Kaufman with Justeson (2003:904­–906), who propose five etyma with the meaning ‘to peel’: Greater Tzeltalan *choʔ, proto-Mayan *q’ol, Central Mayan *tz’ul, Greater K’ichee’an *sol, and proto-Mayan *ch’ol. Clearly, a degree of sound symbolism is involved in at least four of these forms, involving a back vowel /o, u/ and /l/. But more importantly, the reflexes proposed by Brown and Wichmann for their reconstruction *tz’oohl come from different sets: the Ch’ol and Ch’orti’ forms would fit under Kaufman with Justeson’s Central Mayan *tz’ul; and the Mam and Ixil forms would fit under Kaufman with Justeson’s proto-Mayan *ch’ol. Brown and Wichmann present Yucatecan forms: Yucatec tz’òol and Itzaj tz’ol, with only the Itzaj form presented in Kaufman with Justeson (2003:906) under proto-Mayan *ch’ol. With regard to the Yucatec form, it is worth noting that it is attested both as tz’òol in tz’òolol ‘peeled, skinned’ and as tz’óol in tz’óol-pah ‘to peel, get skinned’ (Bricker et al. 1998:53). And with regard to the Ch’ol and Ch’orti’ forms, it is clear that the Ch’orti’ form tz’uhr- includes the passivizer -h-, which has apparently been reanalyzed as part of the root in most contexts, except in the affective derivation tz’ur-tz’a ‘be bald’, where it retains its root shape as tz’ur-. The Ch’ol data provide further justification: it is attested as both ts’ujlel ‘to be peeled’ and ts’ul ‘nude; to peel’ (Aulie and Aulie 2009:103). For now, this etymon must be excluded, but it is absent from Huastecan anyway.


After reviewing the data in Table 2, the following Table 3, with revisions, is offered.


Table 3. Cases of vowel-raising to PCh’ *u, including those exclusive to Ch’olan and those argued to be shared with Huastecan.

Item # PM or later (K&N) PM (B&W) Huastecan PCh’ (K&N) Gloss Subgroups
1. *kooŋ-eej *koohng- *chun-ij in four days Ch’
2. LM *loot *lut twins Ch’
3. *sootz’ *soohtz’ θut’ *sutz’ bat Hua, Ch’
4. GLM *qootz *kutz wild turkey Ch’
5. *tooŋ *toohng <tuhu>, t’uhu(b) *tun stone Hua, Ch’
6. GLM *tzoʔn *tzoo’n *tzun body hair Ch’
7. GLM *tzoʔtz *tzoo’tz *tzutz head hair Ch’
8. *ʔoʔq’ *oohq’ uk’ *ʔuk’ to cry Hua, Ch’
9. *ʔooŋ *oohng uh/oh *ʔun avocado Hua, Ch’
10. *ʔoox= *oohx oox *ʔux= three Ch’
11. *ʔamooch *moohch *ʔa=much toad Ch’
12. LM *ʔooj-eel *oohj Ch’ol ʔuj-il, Yokot’an ʔuw-i(l) to know Ch’
13. pYu *pool *poohl Yokot’an pul ‘forehead’ head, forehead Ch’


Back to Lacadena and Davletshin (2013:72), those authors included examples of etyma such as ‘toad’ (#11), ‘to burn’ (eliminated from dataset due to insufficient reliability of evidence), ‘bat’ (#3), ‘stone’ (#5), ‘to cry’ (#8), and ‘avocado’ (#9) among the examples illustrating a shared change between Ch’olan and Huastecan. As the review of the data so far has shown, only three of these, ‘bat’, ‘stone’, and ‘to cry’, are supportive of such a statement. The case of ‘toad’ is not attested in Huastecan, and the case of ‘avocado’, though attested in Huastecan, actually provides support against the proposed shared innovation, as shown next. In fact, the same may be true of ‘bat’.


At this point I will be more explicit about Huastecan. I will employ the work of Norcliffe (2003), who systematically compares Chicomuceltec (Kabil) and Huastec, the two Huastecan languages, to reconstruct the phonology of proto-Huastecan. According to Norcliffe, the reflex of pM *ʔooŋ ‘avocado’ is attested as uh in Huastec, but as <ou> in Chicomuceltec; and that of pM *sootz’ ‘bat’ is attested as θut’ in Huastec, but as <sot> in Chicomuceltec. These examples led Norcliffe (2003:95-97) to suggest that proto-Huastecan did not experience the shift in question, but instead, that it was Huastec that did. Since the differentiation of Huastec and Chicomoceltec can be dated to the Postclassic period (Kaufman 1980; Kaufman and Justeson 2008; Robertson and Houston 2015), it can be safely argued that the shift in Huastec is not related to the Ch’olan shift, which is documented already during the Early Classic period spellings like su-tz’i for pre-Ch’olan *suutz’ > proto-Ch’olan *sutz’ ‘bat’ on Yaxchilan Lintel 18, dated to CE 526, tu-TUN for pre-Ch’olan *tuun > proto-Ch’olan *tun ‘stone’ on Tikal Stela 31, dated to CE 445, and perhaps in a spelling yu-ta possibly for a reflex of Western Mayan plus Lowland Mayan *ʔoʔt that may have experienced the shift in Ch’olan, resulting in y-ut ‘his/her/its food’, attested as early as CE 100-200 (Mora-Marín 2009:147–148).


Interestingly, pM *q’ab’ ‘hand, arm’ is attested as k’ubak in Huastec, seemingly providing evidence for a shift of *a > u in Huastecan. Nevertheless, it is attested as <kovác> in Chicomuceltec, a form that could suggest that proto-Huastecan actually exhibited a form *k’ob’ak (Norcliffe 2003:180), which then shifted to k’ub’ak ~ k’ubak in Huastec, but was retained with /o/ in Chicomuceltec. What this could suggest is that that Huastec itself experienced a shift of certain cases of proto-Huastecan *o, whatever their source (e.g. earlier *oo, *oʔ, *a), to /u/. And it would appear, consequently, that the only form with *u from a previous *oo in both Chicomuceltec and Huastec is ‘stone’.


Back to the data in Table 1, and assuming for now the reconstructions in Kaufman and Norman (1984), and more generally Kaufman’s (1976, 2015) phonological model for proto-Mayan, a few more observations are worth making here. First, Huastec has preserved some cases of pM *oo that shifted to *uu > u in Ch’olan: pM *ʔoox ‘three’ > Huastec ʔoox, compared to proto-Ch’olan *ʔux=. Second, there are cases where Huastec experienced a change but Ch’olan did not: pM *xooch’ ‘screech owl’, attested in Huastec as tx’uux (Kaufman with Justeson 2003:613), documented by Norcliffe as ts’ux in Potosino and ch’ux in Veracruz (Norcliffe 2003:66), but reconstructed to proto-Ch’olan as *xoch’. Finally, there are also cases of pM *oo that did not shift in either branch, such as pM *kooh ‘tooth (molar)’, pM *q’oor ‘dough’, and pM *ʔook ‘to enter’.


All in all, the evidence suggests that in Huastecan the change was largely restricted to Huastec and not Chicomuceltec, and therefore, that it was late, significantly postdating the *oo > u change in Ch’olan attested by the Early Classic period, perhaps as early as CE 100-200. Also, disagreements among Huastec and Ch’olan in forms that shifted or did not shift further support the contention that Huastec and Ch’olan experienced independent changes; even if Brown and Wichmann’s (2004) model were proven correct —in which case these disagreements would be the result of different correspondence sets— the crucial point here is that Huastec, not Chicomuceltec, underwent the more general shift within Huastecan, which means it was a late, Postclassic change, postdating the earliest attestations of it in Epigraphic Mayan texts. Moreover, Chicomuceltec, attested in Chiapas, and thus the Huastecan language closest to the Lowland Mayan languages, at least during the Postclassic period, is the language that was not affected by the change in question, with one possible exception (i.e. ‘stone’). It is Huastec, at a much greater geographic distance from Ch’olan, that experienced the change of Huastecan *o > u, seemingly under very different circumstances from the Ch’olan *oo > uu > u shift, and almost certainly since the beginning of the Postclassic period. Thus, it is not likely that the change in Huastec was the result of contact with Ch’olan, or vice versa. And there is no reason to exclude cases of the *oo/*oʔ > uu > u shift in Epigraphic Mayan texts as evidence for exclusive Ch’olan innovations, alongside cases of the *ee/*eʔ > ii > i shift.



Aulie, Wilbur H., and Evelyn W. de Aulie. 2009. Diccionario Ch’ol-Español, Español-Ch’ol. Mexico City: Instituto Lingüístico de Verano.

Bricker, Victoria, Eleuterio Po’ot Yah, and Ofelia Dzul de Po’ot. 1998. A Dictionary of The Maya Language As Spoken in Hocabá, Yucatán. Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press.

Brown, Cecil H., and Søren Wichmann. 2004.  Proto-Mayan Syllable Nuclei.  International Journal of American Linguistics 70:128-186.

Christenson, Allen J. n.d. K’iche’-English Dictionary. URL:

Hull, Kerry. 2016. A Dictionary of Ch’orti’ Mayan-Spanish-English. Salt Lake City: The University of Utah Press.

Justeson, John S., and James A. Fox. 1989. Hieroglyphic evidence for the languages of the Lowland Maya.  (Unpublished manuscript.)

Kaufman, Terrence. 1976. Archaeological and linguistic correlations in Mayaland and associated areas of Mesoamerica.  World Archaeology 8.101–118.

—–. 1980. Pre-Columbian borrowing involving Huastec. In American Indian and Indo-European studies: papers in honor of Madison S. Beeler, edited by Kathryn Klar, Margaret Langdon, and Shirley Silver, pp. 101–112. (Trends in Linguistics, Studies and Monographs 16). The Hague: Mouton.

—–. 2015. Mayan Comparative Studies. URL: Accessed January of 2017.

—–. 2017. Aspects of the Lexicon of Proto-Mayan and Its Earliest Descendants. In The Mayan Languages, edited by Judith Aissen, Nora C. England, and Roberto Zavala Maldonado, pp. 62-111. London and New York: Routledge/Taylor and Francis Group.

Kaufman, Terrence, and John Justeson. 2007. The History of the Word for Cacao in Ancient Mesoamerica. Ancient Mesoamerica 18.193–237.

—–. 2008. The Epi-Olmec Language and its Neighbors. In Classic Period Cultural Currents in Southern and Central Veracruz, edited by Philip J. Arnold, III, and Christopher A. Pool, pp. 55–83.  Washington, DC: Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection.

Kaufman, Terrence, with John Justeson. 2003. Preliminary Mayan Etymological Dictionary.

Kaufman, Terrence, and William Norman.  1984.  An outline of Proto-Cholan phonology, morphology, and vocabulary.  In Phoneticism in Maya Hieroglyphic Writing, edited by John S. Justeson and Lyle Campbell, pp. 77-166.  Institute for Mesoamerican Studies Publication No. 9.  Albany: State University of New York.

Keller, Kathryn C., and Plácido Luciano G. 1997. Diccionario Chontal de Tabasco. Tucson, Arizona: Instituto Lingüístico de Verano.

Lacadena, Alfonso, and Albert Davletshin. 2013. Grammar of Hieroglyphic Maya. Advanced Workshop, Brussels, October 29-31, 2013, European Association of Mayanists.

Mora-Marín, David F. 2009. A Test and Falsification of the “Classic Ch’olti’an” Hypothesis: A Study of Three Proto-Ch’olan Markers. International Journal of American Linguistics 75(2): 115-157.

Mora-Marín, David F, and Melissa Frazier. 2021. The Historical Reconstruction of Greater Tzeltalan (Mayan) Vowel Assimilation and Vowel Raising Patterns. Transactions of the Philological Society Volume 00:1–59 (Early View).

Norcliffe, Elizabeth. 2003. The Reconstruction of Proto-Huastecan. MA Thesis in Linguistics, University of Canterbury.

Polian, Gilles. 2015. Diccionario Multidialectal del tseltal. Mexico City: CIESAS.

Robertson, John S., and Stephen Houston. 2015. The Huastec Problem: A Linguistic and Archaeological Perspective. In The Huasteca: Culture, History, and Interregional Exchange, edited by Katherine A. Faust and Kim N. Richter, pp. 19-36. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press.



Note 18

Some Notes on the Inverse Voice in Mayan Languages and Epigraphic Mayan


David F. Mora-Marín
University of North Carolina
Chapel Hill



In a seminal article on the pragmatics of voice constructions in Akatek Mayan, Zavala (1997) identified, for the first time, the inverse voice in a Mayan language. The inverse voice is a type a voice construction defined functionally on the basis of its discourse contexts, in which the agent and patient are both topical, but the patient is more topical than the agent. Moreover, Zavala was able to show that there exist two voice constructions in Akatek that fit the pragmatic profile of an inverse: one that is conventionally described as a passive, and the other consisting of a “semantically transitive but syntactically intransitive” construction. Examples (1a-1b) illustrate the difference between an active transitive clause and an intransitive clause that is nonetheless semantically active, i.e. an inverse construction (Zavala 1997:458). Note that in (1a) the transitive verb ‘to carry’ is inflected with both ergative (Set A) and absolutive (Set B) person markers, as expected of an active transitive verb, and both ‘the boy’ and ‘the bull’ are core arguments of the verb. In (1b), in contrast, the verb is ‘to go’, an intransitive verb, and is inflected only with the absolutive person marker; also, there is only one core argument of the verb, ‘the boy’, and the semantic agent is now an oblique argument, expressed as the possessor of a relational noun -uu, used to express agents. In such inverse clauses the verb is thus intransitive and the agent must be expressed, albeit indirectly.[1]


(1)       Akatek (Zavala 1997:458)

            a.         Active transitive

                        max     Ø-y-ii                   toj                        naj      unin    no’      wakax

                        cmp     b3-a3-carry     dir:thither       ncl      boy      ncl      cow

                        ‘The bull took the boy away’.

            b.         Inverse

                        max     Ø-too              naj       unin     y-uu                no’      wakax

                        cmp     b3-go               ncl      boy      a3-rn:by         ncl      cow

                        ‘The bull took the boy away’.

                        (Lit., ‘the boy went by the bull’.)


Previously, I (Mora-Marín 2007a) discussed examples of this construction in other Mayan languages at the CILLA III conference: Huastec, Ch’ol, K’ichee’, Awakatek. However, in the proceedings paper derived from that presentation (Mora-Marín 2007b), I left out the discussion of the inverse voice in order to focus on the main topic of the paper, inchoatives. This note thus aims to merely provide a few examples of inverse constructions à la Zavala (1997) from a few additional Mayan languages and discuss their historical significance.


The first example comes from Potosino Huastec. Although the translation is not suggestive of a semantically transitive construction, the clauses seen in (2a-b) are morphosyntactically analogous to those described for Akatek by Zavala (1997). Huastec employs a preposition k’al ‘with, to, of, in, by, for’ to convey a variety of indirect roles, such as comitative, benefactive, recipient, demoted agent, and demoted object (Edmonson 1988:523-524, 531). In (2a-b) k’al is used to introduce a semantic cause, as in (2a) with ‘sun rays’, or semantic agent, as in (2b). Edmonson (1988:491-492) suspects it is likely that this preposition is historically related to the noun root k’aal ‘possession’, attested unpossessed as k’aal-aab ‘property, possession’, and possessed as k’aal in 7in k’aal ‘her/his property; hers’. I agree with this suggestion, and further hypothesize that its case-marking role may have in fact originally involved a construction of the type erg-k’aal ± np. As shown below, a similar development is seen in Ch’ol. Also, as a sidenote, it seems likely that Acalán/Yokot’an k’a (Keller and Luciano 1997:) is a borrowing of Huastec k’al (or k’a:l).


(2)       Potosino Huastec (Edmonson 1988:242, 297)

            a.         7in      7ot’-ool           7u        7okoob          xuh(uu)l-in-Ø

                        a3        skin-poss        a1        arm                  spotted-vn-cmp

                        k’al                    7i         k’ak’al

                        prep:by           of        sun.ray

                        ‘The skin of my arm is spotted by the sun’s rays’.

            b.         k’atz-utzuul                 7an      lukuk

                        stirred.up-rep              the       dirt

                        k’al                     7an     bel-al

                        prep:by           the       travellers

                        ‘The dirt (is) very stirred up by the travellers’.


Next is Ch’ol, with a few examples provided in (3a-c). In general, the Ch’ol examples appear to be consistently translated into Spanish or English as semantically transitive clauses, whether in the work of non-native speakers (e.g. Aulie and Aulie 2009[1978]) or native speakers (e.g. Vázquez Álvarez 2011). The semantic agent of these expressions is the possessor of the relational noun cha7an (cha7añ), which is used to express possession when inflected with ergative/possessive pronominals (i.e. Set A), as in (3a-d), but used to express other semantic roles (benefactive) or verbal complements (purpose clauses) when used as a preposition. Note that the translations by Aulie and Aulie (2009[1978]) vary between intransitive (passive), as in (3a), and semantically transitive, as in (3b-d), whereas they are consistently semantically transitive in the work of Vázquez Álvarez (2011), as in (4a-c).


(3)       Ch’ol Mayan (Aulie and Aulie 1978:62, 14, 18, 29)

            a.         ñaj-ä-y-em-Ø                                      k-cha7añ

                        forget-inch-epn-partc-b3            a1-rn:possession

                        jini                   tsa7      bä        i-su[b]-be-y-on

                        dems               cmp     rel      a3-say-indir-epn-b1

                        ‘Ya está olvidado lo que me dijo’.

                        ‘It is forgotten [by me] what s/he told me’.

            b.         käch-äl-Ø                    k-cha7añ                     jini        chitam

                        tie-stat-b3                   a1-rn:property        dems   pig

                        kome               ñajt      mi7      cha7len            xämbal

                                                                   mi        i-cha7len

                        because           far        inc       a3-make          walk(ing)

                        ‘Tengo el cerdo amarrado porque va muy lejos’.

                        ‘I have the pig tied up because it goes/walks far’.

                        (Lit. ‘It is tied up by me the pig because it walking-makes far’,

                        or ‘It is tied up the pig of mine because it walking-makes far’)

            c.         Max=to           (7)añ-ik           k’ajty-i-bil-Ø                k-cha7añ

                        neg=still         exist-subj        ask-tvzr-partc-b3    a1-rn:property

                        ba-ki=ora          mi         kaj         i-tilel.

                        what=time       impf     begin   a3-come-inc

                        ‘No le he preguntado para cuándo va a venir’.

                        ‘I have not asked him what time he will come’.

                        (Lit. ‘S/he is not yet asked by me what time s/he will come’)

            d.         chuk-bil-Ø                   i-cha7an                         i-machit

                        seize-partc-b3           a3-rn:property           a3-machete

                        ‘Tiene el machete agarrado en la mano’.

                        ‘S/he has the machete seized/grasped in his hand’.

                        (Lit. ‘It is seized by him/her his/her machete’ or ‘It is seized the machete of his/



(4)       Ch’ol Mayan (Vázquez Álvarez 2011:149, 216, 334)

            a.         k’ajal-ety=äch=me                   i-cha7añ

                        remember-b2=affr=pre        a3-rn:property

                        ‘Yes, he remembers you’.

                        (Lit. ‘You are indeed remembered by him’.)

            b.         tz’ej-chok-o-bi(l)-Ø                            k-cha7añ

                        sideways-dep-tvzr-partc-b3         a1-rn:property

                        ‘I put it in sideways’.

                        (Lit. ‘It is/was placed sideways by me’.)

            c.         majch             kuch-u(l)-Ø                 k-cha7añ

                        who                 carry-stat-b3             a1-rn:property

                        jiñ                    ix7ä                 Mikolas

                        foc                  that                  Nicolás

                        jiñ                    jiñ=i

                        foc                  that=fin

                        ‘Whom I was carrying, was Nicolás. It was him’.

                        (Lit. ‘Who was carried by me, it was Nicolás. It was him’.)


Acalán/Yokot’an exhibits similar constructions, which are sometimes translated in a semantically transitive manner, but other times not. Two grammatical morphemes are involved. One is k’a in contemporary Yokot’an, <kal> in Acalán, almost certainly related, probably through diffusion, to Huastec k’al ~ k’aal. The other is the demonstrative pronoun base jin. Osorio May (2005) includes examples, most of which were not translated as semantically transitive clauses. In Acalán <kal> is attested only as a possessed relational noun <ukal> or <ukalob> (Smailus 1975:25, 40), for example, used to express demoted or underlying agents. In the variety of Yokot’an from Tapotzingo, it is still used as a possessed relational noun with various case functions, including the introduction of cause and purpose complement verbs and nouns, as well as as a ‘dative pronoun’, as in k’än-ä-Ø u-k’ä (want-stat-b3 a3-rn:property) ‘lo necesita (s/he needs it) (Lit. ‘it is needed/wanted by him’) or u-na<j>y-an u-c’a (a3-forget[pas]-inc a3-rn:property) ‘se le olvida (s/he forgets it) (Lit. ‘it is forgotten by him’), in which rather than dative, the relational noun u-k’a serves to express the semantic agent or experiencer (Keller and Luciano 1997:268-269). In the variety from Tecoluta documented by Osorio May (2005), it has clearly undergone further grammaticalization to a preposition in the context of passive clauses where it introduces the demoted agent, as in (5a). However, in the context of in psychological verb constructions like those reported by Keller and Luciano (1997), it still functions as a relational noun, as in (5b-c), one that expresses the semantic agent or experiencer. I should note that Neither Keller and Luciano (1997) nor Osorio May (2005) analyzes the /j/ of najy ‘to forget’ as a passivizer infix; however, the verb najy is inflected in the manner typical of passives in the completive, with -i, and incompletive, with -an.


(5)       Yokot’an (Osorio May 2005:20, 252, 258)

            a.         jäts’-k-i-Ø                   ch’ok               k’a                  7ix-pet

                        hit-pas-cmp-b3       child                prep              ncl-Petrona

                        ‘El niño fue golpeado por Petrona’.

                        ‘The boy was hit by Petrona’.

            b.         na<j>y-i-Ø                              kä-k’a-la                          ni         buk

                        forget<pas>-cmp-b3         a1-rn:property-pl      det      shirt

                        ‘Se nos olvidó la camisa’.

                        ‘We forgot the shirt’.

                        (Lit. ‘The shirt was forgotten by me’)

            c.         yaj-i-Ø                                    kä-ka                               7ix-mita7

                        esteem-cmp-b3                 a1-rn:property           ncl-Carmita

                        ‘Estimé a Carmita’.

                        ‘I appreciated Carmita’.

                        (Lit. ‘Carmita was appreciated by me’)


Similar constructions also appear in K’ichee’, as illustrated in (6). K’ichee’ employs the relational noun -umaal to express the agent.


(6)       Kichee(Mondloch 1978:31):

            x-Ø-b’ee                        lee       wuuj                w-umaal

            cmp-b3-go                   det      book                a1-rn:cause

            The document went by me.


Finally, (7) provides an example from Awakatek present in a passage published in McArthur (1979). I have preserved McArthur’s transcription and glossing, for the most part.


(7)       Awakatek (McArthur 1979:223)

            Cmi’x              nin        wex       cu’n

            shirt                 and      pants    all

            el                          tzaj-tz                                 cy-ak’un                  chij

            went.out          in.this.direction           a6-rn                

            ‘They took only shirts and pants’.

            (Lit. ‘the shirts and pants went out by them’.)


Some comments are in order. First, given the wide distribution of these constructions (Huastecan, Greater Tzeltalan, Greater Mamean, Greater K’ichee’an), it is likely that proto-Mayan exhibited at least one type of inverse voice construction in which an intransitive or intransitivized verb plus relational noun construction functioned as a semantically transitive clause. Second, there is no shared relational noun across the subgroups of Mayan represented by the languages just cited, with the exception of Huastec k’al ~ k’aal and Yokot’an k’a, though this is almost certainly a case of diffusion, perhaps in the context of maritime trade along the Gulf Coast, in which ‘possession/property’ would have been a topic of typical linguistic interaction. That said, it is likely that proto-Mayan would have employed an abstract noun with a basic meaning of ‘cause’ or ‘doing’ or ‘property’ as a relational noun in constructions of this type.


One last topic is worth pursuing at this point, at least in a cursory manner. As already noted, previously Mora-Marín (2001:102, 222; 2007a) suggested the possibility that some Epigraphic Mayan constructions were similar to those discussed by Zavala (1997) for Akatek. The construction in question involves, in general, the following structure: [Intransitive Verb + Intransitive Subject]clause1 + [7u-T526(-ji-ya) + Proper Name of Person]clause2. The intransitive verb is most of the time a passivized transitive root or an inchoative in -V1y based on a variety of roots (nominal, transitive, intransitive, positional, adjectival) (Mora-Marín 2007a, 2007b, 2009). Only rarely does an active transitive verb appear in this position, though this may take place (Mora-Marín 2004). The intransitive subject of the first clause is most often inanimate, and is sometimes possessed by a phrase referring to a human referent; however, it may also be animate, and if so, it refers to a human referent (e.g. in clauses referring to taking of office). In the second clause, one finds the 7u-T526(-ji-ya) glyphic expression which appears to indicate either cause or agency. The final proper name phrase typically refers to a human actor in position of greater power relative to the human actor or possessor mentioned in the first clause. To test whether these constructions function like an inverse voice, pragmatically, it would be necessary to study their contexts for topicality and determine whether the subject (or perhaps its possessor) in the first clause is of greater topicality than the subject of the second clause.



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[1] Abbreviations: 3 = third person; a = Set A pronominal (ergative), affr = affirmative, b = Set B pronominal (absolutive), cmp = completive, dems = demonstrative, det = determiner, dir = directional, fin = phrase-final enclitic marker, foc = focus marker, impf = imperfective, inc = incompletive, ncl = nominal classifier, neg = negative, parts = (passive) participle, pas = passivizer, poss = possessive suffix, pre = (pre)cautionary, prep = preposition, rep = repetitive, rn = relational noun, stat = stative participle, subj = subjunctive, tvzr = transitivizer, vn = vowel-initial thematic suffix. <7> stands for /ʔ/.

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