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recommend John Loyd Stephens travel book written in the 1850's "Incidents of Travel in Yucatan" for a modern day thriller read "A Tourist in the Yucatan"


Trying to cover all three senses in one article is awkward. Besides, the history should include also the history of Belize and El Petén.

Consider creating a separate article for Yucatán (state), which would contain the current section "State of Yucatán" and those history sections that follow the creation of the State. The current page would retain the information on the peninsula and a summary of its history up to the Mexican Independence. Consider also moving some of the historical details to the pages on History of Mexico, Belize, and Guatemala.
Jorge Stolfi 21:00, 3 Dec 2004 (UTC)

After looking into this question, I disagree. Better, keep the current division: this article (Yucatán) will continue to cover the state alone, while the article on Yucatán Peninsula will cover the peninsula. Information on the broader sense of Yucatán (e.g. the history of the conquest) should perhaps be moved to the Yucatán Peninsula article. All that is needed is a disambiguation page. -Potosino 04:21, 15 January 2007 (UTC)


The story of how Yucatán got its name has been given a lot of interest, perhaps because it is one of the few self-deprecating stories the Spaniards told about their exploits in the conquest, and it has focused an inordinate amount of attention on the "true" etymology of the name. That said, in my opinion the Nahuatl etymology given in the current (14 Jan 2007) version of the article does not hold up. Lyle Campbell (the cited source of the etymology) is an excellent linguist, but I cannot see how "Yokatlān" would mean "place of riches" in Nahuatl. I assume he was analyzing it as yohcā(tia) "riches" + -tlan "place of", but yohcā(tia) means "to take possession of, to appropriate," or by extension "possession," but that is not the same as "riches" except after a series of slight misinterpretations. -Potosino 04:41, 15 January 2007 (UTC)

Hm. Interesting. Also, when I made that edit, I evidently didn't notice all the discussion already on the talk page about the etymology--I have no idea how I missed that :\ . I'll see if maybe I can email Campbell and see what he has to say about it? His mention of the etymology is one line of a footnote, so maybe he could shed some more light on the specifics, or on how certain that etymology he gives is. His book is also ten years old, so he may have changed his opinion by now. Thanks for pointing all this stuff out! --Miskwito 05:12, 15 January 2007 (UTC)
The different etymologies are probably all interesting enough to document somewhere, however it does not really seem to me that any of them can claim to be the definitive etymology; it would probably be best to mention them, cite them, but not endorse any one over the other.--cjllw | TALK 10:16, 15 January 2007 (UTC)
Sounds reasonable to me. --Miskwito 09:43, 16 January 2007 (UTC)

This is what I heard back from one of the Nahuatl professors I asked about this (Fran's dictionary is An Analytic Dictionary of Nahuatl by Frances Karttunen):

I assume that the root of this "-yohcauh" from Fran's dictionary is the preterite agentive "-yoh", "owner of/covered with". Since it's a preterite agentive the only locative it could take would be "-n", giving "yohcan", which I have never seen by itself, only with imbeds, such as "tizatl", "chalk", "tizayohcan", "place covered with chalk". If indeed, "yucat(l)an" is a Nahuatl word, and it has the "-t(l)an" locative, there would be six possible roots, "yocatl", "yocahtli", "yohcatl", "yohcahtli", "yocaitl", or "yohcaitl". I haven't seen any of these. -- John Sullivan, Profesor de lengua y cultura nahua, Universidad Autónoma de Zacatecas.

This agrees with my own bit of research into the question, but I can't claim to speak Nahuatl. The bottom line is, there is no evidence of a Nahuatl word "yokatl" that means "riches," much less any evidence that this is the origin of the term Yucatan. I had never heard this etymology before, and wonder if Campbell just made it up.... -Potosino 17:04, 17 January 2007 (UTC)

That may be, although Campbell is normally a very thorough and reliable scholar, in my experience, who often criticizes slipshod research. On the other hand, I'm thiking he may just have made a guess based on what he knows of Nahuatl, and this isn't something that has been proposed before. Campbell's specialty is Mayan languages, though, and although he's done some historical linguistic work on Nahuatl and Uto-Aztecan, I gather he's probably less of an expert in that area. For what it's worth, here's the full, complete quote from endnote #27 on page 403 of the book:

Apparently ["Yukatek" is] from Nahuatl yo(ʔ)ka(·)- 'richness, inheritance' + te·ka 'inhabitant of place of'; compare Yucatan, from yo(ʔ)ka(·)- 'richness' + tla·n 'place of'.

--Miskwito 20:55, 17 January 2007 (UTC)

Update: I've emailed Professor Campbell about this, and provided him with a link to the discussion here. Hopefully he'll get back to me, and maybe help clear the situation up a bit. Take care everyone --Miskwito 21:14, 17 January 2007 (UTC)

I'm moving the etymology to the talk page for the time being...I'm hoping Campbell will get back to me soon--he told me he was very busy but would get back to me after last weekend, so I'm not sure what's up. If he doesn't, we can just add the etymology back, along with the other possible ones, and give some idea of which one(s) is/are more favored by specialists and whatnot. If anyone disagrees, we can put the etymology back in the article.

The name Yucatan comes from the Nahuatl language Yokatlān, meaning "place of richness" [1]

--Miskwito 22:00, 30 January 2007 (UTC)

Campbell's response[edit]

Yay, so I finally heard back from Lyle Campbell with his views on all this. I'll just quote from his email to me:

I tried to check up on the possible etymologies of "Yucatán" as best I could, I haven't seen anything that looks more plausible than that it comes from Nahuatl yo(')ca-tl 'riches, richness' (plus the -tla:n suffix for 'place of').
John Sullivan says he hasn't seen any of the logically possible roots for this in Nahuatl, but I wonder if he is talking only about modern varieties? The word <yucatl> 'riqueza' is certainly in the colonial dictionaries, e.g. Simeon.
I would favor a Nahuatl source over a Mayan one for the name, since mostly in Mexico and many parts of Central America, the names that came into Spanish come from Nahuatl versions of the place names, regardless of what the local language might have had (e.g. Tabasco, Chiapas, Guatemala, and the towns and provinces in between, etc.) (bother Quintana Roo). The proposed Maya sources sound strained to me -- <u'y than> from 'not understanding' just sounds unlikely, and a Chontal name for Yucatán where Yucatec Maya dominates might need more finessing than it is worth, though it is not implausible.
The Chontal "Yocotan" (which has /t'an/ 'language' in it ... again, not such a likely source of a name for the territory) needs an explanation for why Yucatán has "u" and "a" in it in Spanish -- Spanish had a perfectly good "o" and so, had they been hearing /yokot'an/ from Chontal, they would presumably have ended up with "Yocotán" in Spanish -- the "u" of Nahuatl is easy, since there was not contrast in Nahuatl between "o" and "u" and in many varieties [o] and [u] alternated with one another for the pronunciation of the sound most commonly recorded linguistically as /o/. The "Yocotan" proposal is not implausible, but it is it also not without its own difficulties.
Wish I could do better, but, alas, this is what I come up with.

So...there's that. I simply don't have the knowledge in this area to make any valuable comment here--what are others' thoughts? --Miskwito 00:32, 20 February 2007 (UTC)

Thanks for pursuing that angle, Miskwito- most informative. I'd suggest the etymology discussion in the article start out with something like "there have been several explanations put forward concerning the origins of the word 'Yucatan'", and then give the three possibles noted so far, with references. I guess it's rather common for etymologies like this to have accumulated varying proposals, each with at least some justification, but none definitive. FWIW the Nahuatl-origin does have its appeal, and the "what did he say" explanation does sound rather apocryphal (albeit has a long pedigree, see investigations further down the pg). I wonder though just what 'riches' of the peninsula were being referred to...--cjllw | TALK 03:51, 20 February 2007 (UTC)
Sounds good to me. Everyone else okay with that? --Miskwito 00:12, 21 February 2007 (UTC)

Name story[edit]

Re the story about the name Yucatán: It may be invented, of course, but it does not seem out of the ordinary (and it does not imply "arrogance", as the article said.) Imagine yourself in the same situation, what would you do? Pointing at the land and asking "what is this" -- or anything, for that matter -- in interrogative tone would often work, as the explorers had learned in previous voyages.

It may be that, in the local language, the Spaniard's pointing gestures and the interrogative tone had a different meaning than they had in Europe and Africa. But how would the explorers know that? Even today, most West Europeans assume that basic signals like "nodding for approval" and "nodding for disapproval" are universally obvious, and are quite surprised when they discover that in some countries their meanings are switched.

When Pedro Álvares Cabral first sighted the coast of Brazil, they loaded all their interpreters -- who spoke a dozen European, Asian, and African languages -- into a boat and, from a safe distance, tried to interrogate the Tupinambá natives who had assembled on the beach. The report they sent back to Portugal tells that, unfortunately, the indians did not understand a thing -- "because the sea was making too much noise".

Jorge Stolfi 22:48, 5 Jun 2004 (UTC)

Terry Pratchett's take on this in The Light Fantastic is wonderful:
The forest of Skund was indeed enchanted, which was nothing unusual on the Disc, and was also the only forest in the whole universe to be called - in the local language - Your Finger You Fool, which was the literal meaning of the word Skund.
The reason for this is regrettably all too common. When the first explorers from the warm lands around the Circle Sea travelled into the chilly hinterland they filled in the blank spaces on their maps by grabbing the nearest native, pointing at some distant landmark, speaking very clearly in a loud voice, and writing down whatever the bemused man told them. Thus were immortalised in generations of atlases such geographical oddities as Just A Mountain, I Don't Know, What? and, of course, Your Finger You Fool.
-- Terry Pratchett, The Light Fantastic (quoted without permission, but I suppose Terry won't mind provided you buy the book) -- B.d.mills 06:03, 1 Jun 2005 (UTC) (PS: If this quote shouldn't be here due to copyright issues then please delete it)
Brief quotes generally fall under fair use. -- Cyrius| 4 July 2005 00:15 (UTC)
The OED gives the following etymology for "Yucatec", which makes me suspicious of the story: "ad. Sp. yucateco, f. Yucatán, earlier Yocotán, adapted from a Maya name for the language of the Mayan Chontal Indians." Granted, the OED isn't immune from being wrong, especially with native words, but I'd say it's a more authoritative source than some anonymous claimants...any Maya speakers know about this? DopefishJustin (・∀・) 18:09, July 13, 2005 (UTC)

I agree the tale seems unlikely, and given that it is also unsourced I have moved it to here:

It has been claimed that "Yucatán" means "what did you say?" in some local Native American language. According to an unconfirmed story, that was the reply heard by the first Spaniards to set foot there, when they asked the indígenas "what is this place?" — in Spanish.

For starters, the verbal root for "say/tell" in most Mayan languages is al- or something quite similar, (or yal- in 3rd pers); the closest approach to the term might derive from Cholan languages, where Spanish "que!?" has the root-form, chu-, and chuki tak would mean something like "what are these?" Also, the first Spaniards to have any kind of dialogue with the inhabitants of the region were a few shipwrecked sailors, two of whom survived several years in captivity and in the process learnt the local lingo. One of these was later reunited with his countrymen, and his proficiency in the language was instrumental in further communications with the indígenas. --cjllw | TALK 06:16, 1 December 2005 (UTC)

Yucatecan mayan[edit]

Too bad I didn't catch this thread before, I'm from Yucatan. It it taught in schools here in Yucatan that it was indeed the origin, although yucatan deosn't mean literally "what did you say", since that spaniards weren't used to the phonetics of mayan language, they wrote down wrongly the words as yucatan. I'll dig for sources and the original mayan text. -- ( drini's vandalproof page ) 00:08, 2 December 2005 (UTC)

About the verbal root, it should be noted that the mayans inhabited a quite large region (from southeast mexico up to honduras) and theere are about a dozen of different dialects, I'm looking for references about yucatecan dialect (as the one below from Yucatan's university).

El nombre de Yucatán es de origen español pues, cuenta la leyenda que, llegados los españoles a la península, preguntaron por el nombre de esas tierras, a lo que los mayas contestaron "u'y than", que quiere decir "¡mira como hablan!" o "no entiendo lo que hablan" y que a oídos de los españoles sonó como "Yucatán". Los conquistadores creyeron que tal era el nombre de la zona y así acabó convirtiéndose en el nombre de la península.


Yucatan name is from spanish origin, since it's said that when spaniards arrived, they asked for the name of the land, which mayans answered u'y than, which means look how they talk or I don't understand what you say, which at spaniards ears sounde like Yucatan. Conquerors thought that was the name of the land and so it became the name of the peninsule.

Taken from [1]. I'm not living at Yucatan anymore but I will go back home for holidays if you need written sources, I can get them. -- ( drini's vandalproof page ) 00:11, 2 December 2005 (UTC)

I've looked at Yucatan's university website, where they have a mayan-spanish diccionary [2], and the word for "speak" (hablar) is T'aan, which at least gives some credibility for the origin. I'm not quite sure "u'y than" is the proper spelling (since I don't think than is a mayan word), I'm doing more research. If I now look up t'aan [3] I get

T’AAN: Lengua o idioma, palabra, dicción; hablar, pliticar. that is: language, word, diction, speaking, talking.

finally [4]

U: Pronombre posesivo de tercera persona del singular: su. (possesive pronoun in third person singular: his/her)

-- ( drini's vandalproof page ) 00:25, 2 December 2005 (UTC)

Incidentally, chontal was a dialect of maya talked in Tabasco and Oaxaca (far from northeast Yucatan) and chontal itself is actually from nahuatl roots: chontalli (foreigner, stranger). -- ( drini's vandalproof page ) 01:06, 2 December 2005 (UTC)

Most informative, Drini, thanks. I concur that the lexical root for nouns meaning "speech, language, word, etc" appears to be t'an for most Western Mayan languages, including Yucatec, Chol & Chontal. Indeed, the 1690 Motul dictionary of 16/17thC Yucatec gives t'an as a synonym for "speak" (intransitive). In fact, a 1927 dictionary of Chontal gives yokotan (I've revised the orthography) as meaning "language" (see for eg this online db of Mayan language dictionaries- search for "language"). This is presumably a basis for the above-mentioned cite in the OED, claiming derivation from Chontal. And even though as you note Cholan languages like Chontal were predominantly or formerly spoken in the southern lowlands and Tabasco region, not NE Yucatan, the Chontal Maya were extensive sea traders and the Chontal language served as a lingua franca through much of the region. Also, excepting the intial skirmish off Cape Catoche the first extensive Spanish contacts and dialogues with the Maya (the expeditions of Cordova and Grijalva) took place in Campeche and Tabasco, where Chontal was spoken. So it would seem quite plausible (at least not unlikely) for the word to be of Chontal, not Yucatec, origin.
The Yucatan University references you've found are also plausible, although they themselves note that it is "cuenta la leyenda", implying I gather they view it as somewhat apocryphal. After some further research, it appears that the source for this tale comes may ultimately derive from Gomara's Historia de las Indias, who says it came from "Tectetan," meaning, "I do not understand you" (see footnote #9 in this account). Gomara was a 16thC contemporary and chronicler of Hernán Cortés.
A third etymology comes from another contemporary source, Bernal Díaz del Castillo's The Conquest of New Spain, wherein he states it comes from the word yuca, a root vegetable.
It's all very interesting, and perhaps it would be best to work the various etymological accounts into the script, with the appropriate citations, without favouring one over the other.--cjllw | TALK 04:23, 2 December 2005 (UTC)
As an addendum, I've just noticed that wikipedia's own article on Francisco Hernández de Córdoba (itself a translation of the corresponding entry in the Spanish wiki) discusses the etymology at some length, giving a few other sources for the variations. It gives precedence to the Motolina dictionary, but I think that Gomara's account pre-dates this, I'll have to check.--cjllw | TALK 04:35, 2 December 2005 (UTC)
ALright, I'll be traveling to Yucatan by mid-december, if you need some reference I could try to look at the local libraries there. -- ( drini's page ) 19:55, 7 December 2005 (UTC)
It appears that Motolinia's account is the earliest, written c1541; Gòmara's was written 1552 and Bernal's c.1568. Diego de Landa also mentions it. I'll look to work these references and others into the text, but if you can find any local language sources that would be great too. Cheers,--cjllw | TALK 01:53, 8 December 2005 (UTC)

What about the canal?[edit]

what happened to the canal de Yucatan? I can't find it anywhere! —The preceding unsigned comment was added by (talk) 20:57, 14 March 2007 (UTC).


It's incredibly hard to see the rest of Mexico (might just be my moniter settings), can Mexico be coloured a bit darker? ArdClose (talk) 14:06, 16 September 2008 (UTC)


I guess that most people looking up Yucatan mean the peninsula and not the Mexican state, so I propose that we move the article to a new name and allow for the plain name to redirect to the article about the Yucatán Peninsula. __meco (talk) 08:06, 22 July 2009 (UTC)

Am not so sure it would be a significant-enough majority of users expecting to see an article about the peninsula, to justify amending a situation that has stood for some years now. And the peninsula is linked in the first sentence.
But there is something to your point, a quick review through the almost 1000 incoming links here shows that while many have the right target, some reasonable number are mis-directed. I don't think that just redirecting Yucatan to Yucatan Peninsula on its own would correct matters, that would invalidate the many already-correct incoming links.
If we were going to change the name on this article about the mexican state, then probably the best option would be to have yucatan as a disambig page, not a redirect. But that itself would necessitate a lot of cleanup work afterwards.--cjllw ʘ TALK 02:42, 23 July 2009 (UTC)

No primary topic:

  1. - Yucatán has been viewed 12009 times in 201505.
  2. - Yucatán_Peninsula has been viewed 14721 times in 201505.

Eldizzino (talk) 23:29, 19 June 2015 (UTC)

The state is clearly not the primary topic:

  1. - Yucatán has been viewed 33253 times in the last 90 days.
  2. - Yucatan has been viewed 5579 times in the last 90 days.
  3. - Yucatán_Peninsula has been viewed 41258 times in the last 90 days.
  4. - Yucatan_Peninsula has been viewed 3029 times in the last 90 days.
  5. - Republic_of_Yucatán has been viewed 7095 times in the last 90 days.
  6. - Republic_of_Yucatan has been viewed 2159 times in the last 90 days.

Eldizzino (talk) 23:46, 19 June 2015 (UTC)

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  1. ^ Campbell, Lyle (1997). American Indian Languages: The Historical Linguistics of Native America. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Pg. 403