Linguistic classificationProposed language family

Macro-Mayan is a proposal linking the clearly established Mayan family with neighboring families that show similarities to Mayan. The term was apparently coined by McQuown (1942), but suggestions for historical relationships relevant to this hypothesis can be traced back to the Squier (1861), who offered comparisons between Mayan and Mixe-Zoquean languages, and Radin (1916, 1919, 1924), who did the same for Mixe-Zoquean, Huave, and Mayan.

History of proposals

McQuown (1942, 1956) defined Macro-Mayan as the hypothetical ancestor of Mayan, Mije-Sokean, and Totonacan, further promoting the hypothesis. However, his hypothesis relied on the presence of "a glottalized series" of consonants in both Mayan and Totonakan. Such a trait could have potentially spread through contact. McQuown also admitted that “the relatively small number of coincidences in vocabulary indicates to us that this kinship is quite distant” (McQuown 1942:37-38).

The hypothesis was not elaborated until 1979 when Brown and Witkowski put forth a proposal with 62 cognate sets and supposed sound correspondences between the two families. They also published two articles proposing a "Mesoamerican Phylum" composed of Macro-Mayan and other language families of Mesoamerica. This proposal was examined closely by Lyle Campbell and Terrence Kaufman who rejected the proposal because of serious flaws in the methodology that had been applied. They rejected almost all of the 62 cognates. First and foremost they found it important to identify all cases of linguistic diffusion before collecting possible cognates because diffusion has been widespread within the Mesoamerican Linguistic Area. The exchanges between Brown and Witkowski and Campbell and Kaufman took place in the journal American Anthropologist between 1978 and 1983.

In the late 1990s, Campbell (1997) expressed that he believed that Mayan would indeed some day prove to be related to Mixe–Zoquean and Totonacan, but that previous studies have not proven sufficient.

Nevertheless, since then, Brown et al. (2011) have presented arguments in favor of a Totozoquean, a common ancestor between Totonacan and Mixe-Zoquean. Moreover, Mora-Marín (2014, 2016) constitutes the most recent attempt to test the relationship between Mayan and Mixe-Zoquean. He proposes the existence of regular sound correspondences among lexical and grammatical comparanda between the two. By transitivity, these two proposals would connect all three language families, rekindling the Macro-Mayan hypothesis as framed by McQuown.

In Campbell's opinion, previous efforts to link Huave to Mayan, Mixe-Zoquean, Totonacan, or for that matter, any other language or family, has proven unfruitful, and "should thus be considered an isolate" (1997:161).

Related proposals

Stark (1972) proposed a Maya–Yunga–Chipayan macrofamily linking Mayan with the Chimuan and Uru–Chipaya language families of South America.[1]

See also


  1. ^ Stark, Louisa R. (1972). "Maya-Yunga-Chipayan: A New Linguistic Alignment". International Journal of American Linguistics. 38 (2): 119–135. doi:10.1086/465193. ISSN 0020-7071.