EthnicityLenca people
El Salvador and Honduras
Linguistic classificationMacro-Chibchan ?
  • Lencan
ISO 639-3len

The Lencan languages are a small linguistic family from Central America, whose speakers before the Spanish conquest spread throughout El Salvador and Honduras. But by the beginning of the 20th century, only two languages of the family survived, Salvadoran Lenca or Potón and Honduran Lenca, which were described and studied academically; Of them, only Salvadoran Lenca still has current speakers, despite the fact that indigenous people belonging to the Lenca ethnic group exceed between 37,000 and 100,000 people.[1][2][3]


There are two attested Lencan languages:

Map of El Salvador's Indigenous Peoples at the time of the Spanish conquest: 1. Pipil people, 2. Lenca people, 3. Kakawira o Cacaopera, 4. Xinca, 5. Maya Ch'orti' people, 6. Maya Poqomam people, 7. Mangue o Chorotega.

The languages are not closely related; Swadesh (1967) estimated 3,000 years since separation. Arguedas Cortés (1987) reconstructs Proto-Lencan with 12 consonants (including ejectives) and 5 vowels.

External relationships

The external relationships of the Lencan languages are disputed. Inclusion within Macro-Chibchan has often been proposed; Campbell (1987) reported that he found no solid evidence for such a connection, but Constenla-Umaña (2005) proposed regular correspondence between Lencan, Misumalpan, and Chibchan.

Campbell (2012) acknowledges that these claims of connection between Lencan, Misumalpan, and Chibchan have not yet been proved systematically, but he notes that Constenla-Umaña (2005) "presented evidence to support a relationship with two neighboring families [of languages]: Misumalpan and Lencan, which constitute the Lenmichí Micro-Phylum. According to Constenla-Umaña's study (2005), the Lenmichi Micro-Phylum first split into Proto-Chibchan and Proto-Misulencan, the common intermediate ancestor of the Lencan and the Misumalpan languages. This would have happened around 9,726 years before the present or 7,720 B.C. (the average of the time depths between the Chibchan languages and the Misulencan languages)...The respective subancestors of the Lencan and the Misumalpan languages would have separated around 7,705 before the present (5,069 B.C.), and Paya and the other intermediate ancestors of all the other Chibchan languages would have separated around 6,682 (4,676 B.C.)."[5][6]

Another proposal by Lehmann (1920:727) links Lencan with the Xincan language family, though Campbell (1997:167) rejects most of Lehmann's twelve lexical comparisons as invalid. An automated computational analysis (ASJP 4) by Müller et al. (2013)[7] also found lexical similarities between Lencan and Xincan. However, since the analysis was automatically generated, the grouping could be either due to mutual lexical borrowing or genetic inheritance.


The Proto-Lencan homeland was most likely in central Honduras (Campbell 1997:167).

At the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century, the use of Honduran Lenca and Salvadoran Lenca began to decline. In the 1950s, Honduran Lenca was already in a critical state of extinction, since the only place where there were speakers was Guajiquiro. In 1982 a Honduran Lenca speaker was found in Guajiquiro.[8][9][10][11] In the 1970s, died in Chilanga, Anselmo Hernández, the last competent Salvadoran Lenca speaker. In the 1990s, some semi-speakers of Honduran Lenca were found. It was assumed that the languages were most likely extinct, and it was believed that it was very unlikely that there were any elders with any knowledge or memory of both languages, and it was also believed that it was very unlikely that fluent speakers could be found. The Honduran Lenca is currently believed to be extinct.[9][10]

In the case of Salvadoran Lenca, in the end of the nineties Consuelo Roque, linguist from the University of El Salvador (UES), found Mario Salvador Hernández from Guatajiagua (a semi-speaker who is considered the last native speaker by the salvadoran newspapers, and specifically of the variant of that population, and who learned the language from his grandmother) and both would write a learning primer titled in spanish: Poton piau, nuestra lengua Potón.[12] However, linguist Alan R. King, in his 2016 book titled in spanish Conozcamos el Lenca, una lengua de El Salvador (where he also used the Potón Piau primer as a reference), points out that (translating in english: "Today no one knows how to speak Lenca, although certain individuals have memories of—or have learned—some fragments of that now lost language. This type of partial knowledge is not even remotely close, in any case that we have been able to verify, to a real mastery of the historical language, whose disappearance dates back to the mid-twentieth century...".[13]

While in the case of Honduran Lenca, the linguist American Alan R. King, in the company of his colleague James Morrow, in 2017 they published the book Kotik molka niwamal (which from Honduran Lenca translated into Spanish means Let's learn to speak Lenca), which is a compilation of words in Lenca among the communities still existing that opens the possibility of recovering a significant part of the language. Currently in El Salvador there are rehabilitation projects for Salvadoran Lenca to prevent its extinction.[14]

A 2002 novel by Roberto Castillo, La guerra mortal de los sentidos, chronicles the adventures of the "Searcher for the Lenca Language."[15]


Reconstruction ofLencan languages

Proto-Lenca reconstructions by Arguedas (1988):[16]

No. Spanish gloss
English gloss
1. abrir open (verb) *inkolo-
2. agua water *was
3. anciana old woman
4. araña spider *katu
5. ardilla squirrel *suri
6. bailar dance *uli-
7. bañar bathe *twa-
8. beber drink *tali-
9. blanco white *soko
10. boca mouth *in
11. bueno good *sam
12. cabello hair *asak
13. caites sandals *waktik
14. camarón shrimp *siksik
15. camino path *k’in
16. casa house *t’aw
17. cerrar close (verb) *inkap-
18. cinco five *ts’aj
19. comal comal *k’elkin
20. comprar buy *liwa-
21. cortar cut *tajk-
22. coyol coyol *juku
23. coyote coyote *sua
24. chupar suck
25. decir say *aj-
26. desear want *saj
27. diente tooth *nek
28. dos two *pe
29. él he *inani
30. enfermo, estar sick *ona-
31. espina thorn *ma
32. este this *na
33. estrella star *sirik
34. flor flower *sula
35. fuego fire *juk’a
36. grande big *pukV
37. guacal tub *k’akma
38. hermano brother *pelek
39. hígado liver *muts’u
40. hormiga ant *its’its’i
41. hueso bone *ts’ek
42. ir go *o-
43. jocote jocote *muraka
44. lavar wash *ts’ajk-
45. leña firewood *sak
46. lluvia rain *so
47. macho male *kew
48. maíz corn *ajma
49. mapachín raccoon *wala
50. milpa cornfield *ta
51. montaña mountain *kotan
52. mover move *lum-
53. nariz nose *nep
54. niño boy *we
55. nosotros we *apinani
56. nube cloud
57. oír hear *eni-
58. orinar urinate *wajsa-
59. pavo turkey *lok
60. peine comb *tenmaskin
61. pelo, pluma hair, feather
62. perro dog *su
63. pico peak *ints’ek
64. piedra stone *ke
65. piña pineapple *mats’ati
66. piojo louse *tem
67. puerco de monte wild pig *map’it, *nap’it
68. pulga flea *t’ut’u
69. quebracho quebracho tree *sili
70. quién who *k’ulan
71. reír laugh *jolo-
72. río river *wara
73. roble oak *mal
74. ropa clothes *lam-
75. rostro face *tik
76. saber know *ti-
77. seis six *wi
78. sembrar sow *isa-
79. tapesco, cama bed frame, bed *le-
80. tigre (jaguar), león (puma) tiger (jaguar), lion (puma) *lepa
81. tocar touch *jete-
82. trabajar work
83. tres three *lawa
84. you (sg.) *amanani
85. uña fingernail *kumam
86. venir come *po-
87. yo I *unani
88. zarigüeya opossum *ts’ewe
89. zopilote vulture *kus


  1. ^ a b c Liliana Fuentes Monroy (2012). "Buscan rescatar lengua potón". La Prensa. Archived from the original on 2016-09-24. Retrieved 2016-07-29.((cite news)): CS1 maint: bot: original URL status unknown (link)
  2. ^ "Pequeño vocabulario de la lengua lenca ; (dialecto de Guajiquiro)". Latin American Pamphlet Digital Collection - CURIOSity Digital Collections. Retrieved 2024-04-20.
  3. ^ Newson, Linda. El costo de la conquista. Editorial Guaymuras. ISBN 9789992615577.
  4. ^ Costenla Umaña, Adolfo (2002). "Acerca de la relación genealógica de las lenguas lencas y las lenguas misumalpas". Revista de Filología y Lingüística. Universidad de Costa Rica.
  5. ^ Campbell, Lyle (2012), "Classification of the Indigenous Languages of South America", The Indigenous Languages of South America, DE GRUYTER, pp. 59–166, doi:10.1515/9783110258035.59, ISBN 9783110258035
  6. ^ Constenla-Umaña, Adolfo (2005). "Existe relacion genealogica entre las lenguas misumalpas y las chibchenses?". Estudios de Linguistica Chibcha. 23: 9–59.
  7. ^ Müller, André, Viveka Velupillai, Søren Wichmann, Cecil H. Brown, Eric W. Holman, Sebastian Sauppe, Pamela Brown, Harald Hammarström, Oleg Belyaev, Johann-Mattis List, Dik Bakker, Dmitri Egorov, Matthias Urban, Robert Mailhammer, Matthew S. Dryer, Evgenia Korovina, David Beck, Helen Geyer, Pattie Epps, Anthony Grant, and Pilar Valenzuela. 2013. ASJP World Language Trees of Lexical Similarity: Version 4 (October 2013).
  9. ^ a b Dalma Mejía (September 30, 2023). "Researcher Atanasio Herranz presents his conference "The Nahuatl language in Honduras" at Unah-vs". www.laprensa.hn (in Spanish). Retrieved 2024-04-18.
  10. ^ a b "Lenca Languages of Honduras".
  11. ^ Adams, Richard N. (1957). "Cultural surveys of Panama, Nicaragua, Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras". Scientific Publication; 33. Retrieved 2024-04-18.
  12. ^ Frederick Meza (August 9, 2019). "The last lenca of Guatajiagua".
  13. ^ King, Alan R. (2016). Conozcamos el Lenca. Una lengua de El Salvador.
  14. ^ Aburto, Wilfredo Miranda (2023-12-13). "The Lenca heritage resists in the east of El Salvador | Photo report 📸". Divergentes (in Spanish). Retrieved 2024-04-18.
  15. ^ "Beatriz Cortez ¿Dónde están los indígenas? La identidad nacional y la crisis de la modernidad en La guerra mortal de los sentidos de Roberto Castillo". Retrieved 2012-09-30.
  16. ^ Arguedas Cortés, Gilda Rosa. 1988. Los Fonemas Segmentales del Protolenca: Reconstrucción Comparativa. Filología y lingüística XIV. 89-109.