The History of the Word for ‘Cacao’ and Related Terms in Ancient Meso-America

Terrence Kaufman and John Justeson

in Chocolate in Mesoamerica

Published by University Press of Florida

Published in print April 2009 | ISBN: 9780813029535
Published online September 2011 | e-ISBN: 9780813039503 | DOI:
The History of the Word for ‘Cacao’ and Related Terms in Ancient Meso-America

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This chapter addresses the problem in linguistic reconstruction that is significant for work on lexical diffusion in Mesoamerica as well as research on the intercultural interaction that probably dates to the Preclassic period. This chapter focuses on the origin and spread of the widely diffused form kakawa as a word for cacao in Mesoamerican languages. The chapter also addresses the origin and history of the word chokol=a:-tl. The chapter illustrates that the word for “cacao” originated in the Gulf Coast of southern Mexico, among speakers of an early Mije-Sokean language. From there it spread to the basin of Mexico in the form of kakawa and into the Mayan languages but not necessarily from Sokean. In Mayan, the word for cacao came to be pronounced as kakaw, and from Mayan or Mijean the word kakaw spread in Honduras Lenka. From the speakers of the languages of the Honduras Lenka, kakaw began spreading into other languages of lower Central America and Costa Rica, including South America, after the pre-Columbian times.

Keywords: linguistic reconstruction; origin; kakawa; cacao; Mesoamerican languages; kakaw; Mije-Sokean language; Mayan

Chapter.  9366 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Prehistoric Archaeology

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