Mayans VS Spanish

Maya vs
May 29, 2016 – 04:49 pm

“Maya” or “Mayan”? “Maya” as noun and adjective describes the people and their culture, “Mayan” is the language – citation: Manolo Romero – Editor.

The adjective Mayan is sometimes incorrectly used to describe the indigenous peoples of southeastern Mexico and Central America, such as Belize, Honduras and Guatemala; their culture, language, and history. But formally, the use of “Mayan” refers to an aspect of their languages; “Maya” is the adjectival form preferred when referring to non-linguistic aspects, for example “The Maya of Belize”.

In traveling around my native Belize, and neighboring Guatemala, Mexico and Honduras, the word Mayan is not in use by the indigenous Maya. The Maya in these regions, including Belize, speak Maya of course, and if any second language is used, it is Spanish. And the word Mayan does not exist in the Mayan or Spanish languages. In Spanish, the Maya refer to themselves as “Nosotros los Maya” (We the Maya), for example. Another form in Spanish is “Los Maya” (The Maya). I have heard “Los Mayas” but this is usually used by non-Maya when referring to the Maya.

The Maya speak Mayan as their first language and often, Spanish second, with a few speaking English or Creole. The Maya are particularly proud of the fact that they were never enslaved by the English colonizers who took over their lands in Baliz – the Maya word for muddy waters that is believed to be the origin of the name for Belize. For these reasons as set out here, I use the term Maya, and not Mayan when referring to our Maya brothers and sisters.

In the context of the interest centering on the Maya Calendar and the discussions centering on whether it was meant to predict the end of the world or the dawn of a new era, we are frequently asked if the terminology is Maya or Mayan. What is the proper we should use when referring to to this ancient civilization and their modern-day descendants in the Yucatan and Central America? Read on to see the various arguments that have been made on the use of Maya vs. Mayan.

Origins Of The Words Maya And Mayan


What is the origin of the term “Maya, ” and how did it come to be used to describe the ancient civilization, the modern people and their languages? Ultimately, the modern usage stems from the contact situation in the late sixteenth century. When a word was needed to describe the peoples of the newly conquered province of Yucatan, the Spanish chose “Maya”. This is so since a word like that was being used in reference to local places, individuals and language, as seen in these entries from the early colonial Motul dictionary (Martínez 1929:590):

máya: acento en la primera, nombre propio desta tierra, Yucatan (maya: accent on the first syllable, proper name of this land, Yucatan)

maya uinic: hombre de Yucatán, indio (maya winik: man of Yucatan, indian)

maya than: lengua assi de Yucatán (maya t’an: language like that of Yucatan)

More specifically, the term “Maya” also appears in “Mayapan, ” the original name of the well-known archaeological site, which was recorded by the sixteenth century Spanish friar Diego de Landa (see Tozzer 1941), and likewise appears in the Motul dictionary (Martínez 1929:590):

Mayapán: una gran ciudad que uvo entre Mérida y Mani (Mayapan: a great city that they had between Merida and Mani)

The -pan (or -apan) ending of the word Mayapan probably comes from the Nahuatl language (see Martínez 1929:ibid), not from Mayan, and it is at least conceivable that the initial portion of the term is therefore Nahuatl too (Nahuatl being, of course, the language of the Aztecs and other groups from Highland Mexico). Such considerations add to the difficulty of analyzing the term “Maya” etymologically. Possibilities include Mayan may “tobacco, ” “deer hoof” or “twenty” or even Nahuatl maya(tl) “beetle” or maya- “hunger, ” though this far from exhausts the list of possibilities.

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