Thursday, July 17, 2008

Olmec/Mande Origin of Mayan Writing

Some researchers maintain that Mayan writing is of Mixe-Zoque origin. These researchers cite the Mixe-Zoque words for writing : [i]tunja and [i]haypa as if they have something to do with Mayan writing. These terms have nothing to do with Mayan writing.

But the Mande term for writing is clearly the source for the Mayan term for 'writing'.B. Stross (1973) mentions the Mayan tradition for a foreign origin of Mayan writing.

This idea is also confirmed by Mayan oral tradition mentioned by Tozzer ( 1941), and C.H. Brown (1991) that claimed that writing did not exist among the Proto-Maya.Terrence Kaufman has proposed that the Olmec spoke a Mixe-Zoquean speech and therefore the authors of Olmec writing were Mixe-Zoquean speakers.

This view fails to match the epigraphic evidence. The Olmec people spoke a Manding (Malinke-Bambara) language and not Zoquean.There is a clear African substratum for the origin of writing among the Maya (Wiener, 1922).

All the experts agree that the Olmec people gave the Maya people writing (Schele & Freidel, 1990; Soustelle, 1984). Mayanist also agree that the Proto-Maya term for writing was *c'ihb' or *c'ib'.

Figure 1. Mayan Terms for Writing

Yucatec c'i:b'
Chorti c'ihb'a
Mam c'i:b'at
Lacandon c'ib'
Chol c'hb'an
Teco c'i:b'a
Itza c'ib'
Chontal c'ib'
Ixil c'ib'
Mopan c'ib'
Tzeltalan c'ib'

Proto-Term for write *c'ib'

The Mayan /c/ is often pronounced like the hard Spanish /c/ and has a /s/ sound. Brown (1991) argues that *c'ihb may be the ancient Mayan term for writing but, it can not be Proto-Mayan because writing did not exist among the Maya until 600 B.C.

This was 1500 years after the break up of the Proto-Maya (Brown, 1991). This means that the Mayan term for writing was probably borrowed by the Maya from the inventors of the Mayan writing system.Tozzer (1941) supports the linguistic evidence that the Mayan language was introduced to the Maya by non-Mayan speakers.

Tozzer noted that the Yucatec Maya claimed that they got writing from a group of foreigners called Tutul Xiu from Nonoulco.The Tutul Xiu were probably Manding speaking Olmecs. The term Tutul Xiu, can be translated using Manding as follows:Tutul , "Very good subjects of the Order". Xiu , "The Shi (/the race)"."The Shis (who) are very good Subjects of the cult-Order".The term Shi, is probably related to the Manding term Si, which was also used as an ethnonym.

The Mayan term for writing is derived from the Manding term *se'be. Below are the various terms for writing used by the Manding/Mande people for writing.

Figure 2.Manding Term for Writing

Malinke se'be
Serere safe
Bambara se'be
Susu se'be
Dioula se'we'
Samo se'be
Sarakole safa
W. Malinke safa

Proto-Term for writing *se'be , *safâ

Brown has suggested that the Mayan term c'ib' diffused from the Cholan and Yucatecan Maya to the other Mayan speakers. This term is probably derived from Manding *Se'be which is analogous to *c'ib'.

As you can see [i]haypa and [i]tunja have nothing to do with the Mayan writing. If the Mixe were the Tutul Xiu, the Maya would have adopted their term for writing, instead of the Olmec/Mande term.

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