Periods of Yucatec language history
Proto-Maya Proto-Yucatecan Pre-Columbian Yucatec Colonial
Modern Yucatec









The inscriptions and codices of the Pre-Columbian Mayan culture span a period from roughly 250 to 1500 AD. They represent some Ch'olan language called Classical Maya and are therefore relatively close to Pre-Columbian Yucatec. However, the glyphic writing as it has been deciphered up to now does not represent the phonology and morphology of the language very well.

Yucatec Maya has been historically well attested since the early times of Spanish colonization. This period of the language history is called Colonial Yucatec Maya, often also Classical Yucatec Maya.1 Apart from having a longer documented history than most Amerindian languages, Yucatec Maya also boasts a set of early grammars and dictionaries. The diagram shows the most important ones.

Colonial grammars and dictionaries of Yucatec Maya

Spanish conquest of Yucatan

Calepino de Motul

San Buenaventura

Beltrán de Santa Rosa

1546 1614
1684 1746








The earliest published source is the Calepino de Motul. The earliest grammars – and still among the earliest sources of data for Yucatec Maya – are Coronel 1620 and San Buenaventura 1684. In the course of the eighteenth century, Colonial Yucatec Maya passed into Modern Yucatec Maya. Beltrán 1746 is assumed to mark the transition between the two stages.

The documented history of Yucatec Maya begins with a few colonial manuscripts of the 16th century. Its prehistory is indirectly represented in Mayan hieroglyphic writing and may be accessed by internal reconstruction and historical comparison with cognate languages. Data from the other Yucatecan languages are from the second half of the 20th century. Lacandón preserves some archaic traits, lending thus additional support to reconstructions.

Under the given methodological circumstances, responsible diachronic analysis may reach back approx. 1,000 years, which is about the point where Proto-Yucatecan began to split up.

1 not to be confused with Classical Maya