Maya hieroglyphic writing was violently suppressed from the beginning of the conquista (1516). From 1557 (Maní land treaty) on, Maya alphabetic writing was firmly established.

The Franciscans had a province in San José de Yucatán since 1536 and a convent in Maní. Initially, their project was to study the native languages in order to be able to preach in them. From 1550 on, they had to teach Spanish.

According to a letter of 1578 by Diego de Landa, bishop of Mérida, there was at the time no Arte of the Mayan language.

Of half a dozen known manuscripts,1 only two are presented here. The earliest extant linguistic work is a vocabulary by Solana:

authorFray Alonso de Solana
lifelived in Yucatán between 1560 and 1600
titleVocabulario muy copioso en Lengua Española e Maya de Yucatán
ms. finished1580
contentSpanish-Maya vocabulary
size9,500 entries in 206 folios
commentTwo extant ms. copies, in the library of the Hispanic Society of America and in the John Carter Brown Library, with few differences.

Hernández, Esther 2008,“En torno al vocabulario hispano-maya conservado en la biblioteca «John Carter Brown» (Codex Indicus 8)”. Revista de Lexicografía 14: 125-136.

Spanish entries are based on the Nahuatl vocabulary by Fray Alonso de Molina (1555 and 1571). However, several Spanish lemmas are phrases which translate a Maya lemma of some unidentified Maya-Spanish vocabulary. Some references to an unidentified Arte.

Bocabulario de Viena

author[Fray Gaspar González de Nájera]
lifeactive in Yucatán between 1580 and 1603
titleBocabulario de maya than por su abecedario
ms. finished~ 1600
contentSpanish-Maya vocabulary
sizeca. 14,000 entries with ca. 40,000 Maya equivalents in 209 folios
commentThe extant manuscript (conserved in the National Library of Vienna) is a poor copy made in the beginning of the 18th cent. by people who knew neither Maya nor Spanish.

Mengin, Ernst (ed.) 1972, Bocabulario de Mayathan. = Das Wörterbuch der yukatekischen Mayasprache. Vollständige Faksimile-Ausgabe des Codex Vindobonensis S. Graz: Akademische Druck- und Verlagsanstalt (= Bibliotheca linguistica Americana. Bd. 1, ZDB-ID 186028-8).

Acuña, René (ed.) 1993, Bocabulario de maya than. Codex vindobonensis n.s. 3833. Facsimil y transcripción crítica editada. México D.F.: Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, Instituto de Investigaciones Filológicas (Fuentes para el estudio de la cultura maya, 10).

Facsimile and transcription. Specimen

Bolles, David 2001, [s.t.] (Combined Dictionary-Concordance of the Yucatecan Mayan Language).

Unchanged HTML copy of the ms.


The work is anonymous, author uncertain. Nájera also wrote an Arte, of which nothing is known.

The original is prior to Calepino de Motul, since it is used by the latter.

The two vocabularies are roughly contemporaneous. Both are based on an earlier ms. which is lost.

Between 1990 and 1994, Acuña and Bolles digitized the most important early vocabularies.

1 Among them: Michelon, Oscar (ed.) 1976, Diccionario de San Francisco. Graz: Akademische Druck- und Verlagsanstalt (Bibliotheca Linguistica Americana, II).