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  • Terrence Kaufman (a1) and John Justeson (a2)

The word *kakaw(a) (‘cacao’, Theobroma cacao) was widely diffused among Mesoamerican languages, and from there to much of lower Central America. This study provides evidence establishing beyond reasonable doubt that this word originated in the Mije-Sokean family; that it spread from the Mije-Sokean languages in or around the Olmec heartland into southeastern Mesoamerican languages; that its diffusion into Mayan languages took place between about 200 B.C. and A.D. 400; and that it spread from a Mije-Sokean language in or near the Basin of Mexico into languages in the region. It shows that each of the arguments presented by Dakin and Wichmann (2000) against a Mije-Sokean origin is either unworkable, is based upon false premises, or is not relevant; and that their proposed alternative — that it originated in and spread from Nawa into other Mesoamerican languages — conflicts with the mass of evidence relevant to the issue.

This study also discusses the linguistic details of vocabulary for drinks made from cacao; shows that no proposed etymology for the word chocolate is correct, but agrees with Dakin and Wichmann that its proximate source is a Nawa form chikola:tl; and discusses the history of words for Theobroma bicolor (‘Nicaragua chocolate tree; pataxte’) and their use.

The linguistic data are pertinent to issues of intergroup interaction in pre-Columbian Mesoamerica, but do not shed light on the nature or the cultural context of the diffusion of cacao in Mesoamerica, nor on its uses.

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This list contains references from the content that can be linked to their source. For a full set of references and notes please see the PDF or HTML where available.

Lyle Campbell 1985 The Pipil Language of El Salvador. Mouton, Berlin.

Lyle Campbell , and Ronald W. Langacker 1978 Proto-Aztecan Vowels. International Journal of American Linguistics 44:85102,197–210, 262–279.

Karen Dakin , and Søren Wichmann 2000 Cacao and Chocolate: A Uto-Aztecan Perspective. Ancient Mesoamerica 11:5575.

Munro Edmonson 1982 The Ancient Future of the Itza: The Book of Chilam Balam of Tizimin. University of Texas Press, Austin.

Jane Hill 2001 Proto-Uto-Aztecan: A Community of Cultivators in Central Mexico? American Anthropologist 103:913934.

W. Jeffrey Hurst , Stanley M. Tarka Jr., Terry G. Powis , Fred Valdez Jr., and Thomas R. Hester 2002 Cacao Usage by the Earliest Maya Civilization. Nature 418:289290.

B'alam Mateo-Toledo 2003 The Use of Languages' Names: The Mayan Case. International Journal of American Linguistics 69:151153.

Søren Wichmann 1998a Conservative Look at Diffusion Involving Mixe-Zoquean Languages. In Archaeology and Language II: Archaeological Data and Linguistic Hypotheses, edited by Roger Blench and Matthew Spence , pp. 297323. Routledge, London.

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Ancient Mesoamerica
  • ISSN: 0956-5361
  • EISSN: 1469-1787
  • URL: /core/journals/ancient-mesoamerica
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