Xincan languages

Last updated
Ethnicity Xinca people
Extinct By 2010
Linguistic classification One of the world's primary language families
ISO 639-3 xin
Glottolog xinc1237 [1]

Xincan languages.png

Geographic distribution of the Xincan languages. Solid blue is the recorded range, transparent is the range attested by toponyms.

Xinca (Szinca) is a small extinct family of Mesoamerican languages, formerly regarded as a single language isolate, once spoken by the indigenous Xinca people in southeastern Guatemala, much of El Salvador, and parts of Honduras.

Mesoamerican languages languages indigenous to the Mesoamerican cultural area; not genetically related; includes 6 major families (Mayan, Oto-Mangue, Mixe–Zoque, Totonacan, Uto-Aztecan, Chibchan) as well as various smaller families and isolates

Mesoamerican languages are the languages indigenous to the Mesoamerican cultural area, which covers southern Mexico, all of Guatemala and Belize and parts of Honduras and El Salvador and Nicaragua. The area is characterized by extensive linguistic diversity containing several hundred different languages and seven major language families. Mesoamerica is also an area of high linguistic diffusion in that long-term interaction among speakers of different languages through several millennia has resulted in the convergence of certain linguistic traits across disparate language families. The Mesoamerican sprachbund is commonly referred to as the Mesoamerican Linguistic Area.

A language isolate, in the absolute sense, is a natural language with no demonstrable genealogical relationship with other languages, one that has not been demonstrated to descend from an ancestor common with any other language. Language isolates are in effect language families consisting of a single language. Commonly cited examples include Ainu, Basque, Korean, Japanese, Sumerian, Elamite, and Vedda, though in each case a minority of linguists claim to have demonstrated a relationship with other languages.

Indigenous peoples of the Americas Pre-Columbian inhabitants of North, Central, and South America and their descendants

The indigenous peoples of the Americas are the Pre-Columbian peoples of North, Central and South America and their descendants.



The Xincan languages have no demonstrated affiliations with other language families. Lehmann (1920) tried linking Xincan with Lencan, but the proposal was never demonstrated. [2] The Xincan languages were formerly regarded as one language isolate, but the most recent studies suggest they were indeed a language family.

Lencan is a small family of nearly extinct indigenous Mesoamerican languages.


There were at least four Xincan languages, each of which is now extinct. [2] Yupiltepeque was spoken in Jutiapa Department, while the rest are spoken in Santa Rosa Department. Campbell also suggests that the Alagüilac language of San Cristóbal Acasaguastlán may have in fact been a Xincan language.

Extinct language language that no longer has any speakers, or that is no longer in current use

An extinct language is a language that no longer has any speakers, especially if the language has no living descendants. In contrast, a dead language is "one that is no longer the native language of any community", even if it is still in use, like Latin. Languages that currently have living native speakers are sometimes called modern languages to contrast them with dead languages, especially in educational contexts.

Jutiapa Department Department in Jutiapa, Guatemala

Jutiapa is a department of Guatemala that borders along El Salvador and the Pacific Ocean. The capital is the city of Jutiapa. It has a population of about 489,085. The population is ethnically "mestizo" Though in the northern regions of Jutiapa there are few descendents that once belonged to the now extinct xinca population. The indigenous population is non existent today in Jutiapa with traditional language and culture no longer conserved or practiced. The department is divided into seventeen municipalities. Jutiapa is the country's southeastern-most department. The main crops are sorghum, tobacco, onion and corn. The climate is dry. An important attraction is the cattle fair. It is at 405 m above sea level.

Alagüilac is an undocumented indigenous American language that is thought to have been spoken by the Alaguilac people of Guatemala at the time of the Spanish conquest.

Yupiltepeque is a Xincan language of Guatemala, from the region of Yupiltepeque. See Xincan languages for an overview.

Jumaytepeque is a Xincan language of Guatemala, from the region of Jumaytepeque, discovered by Lyle Campbell in the 1970s. See Xincan languages for an overview.

Lyle Richard Campbell is an American scholar and linguist known for his studies of indigenous American languages, especially those of Central America, and on historical linguistics in general. Campbell is professor emeritus of linguistics at the University of Hawaii at Manoa.

To these, Glottolog adds

Sachse (2010) considers all Xincan speakers today to be semi-speakers, with the completely fluent speakers having already died.


Xincan languages have many loanwords from Mayan languages especially in agricultural terms, suggesting extensive contact with Mayan peoples. [4]

Mayan languages language family spoken in Mesoamerica

The Mayan languages form a language family spoken in Mesoamerica and northern Central America. Mayan languages are spoken by at least 6 million Maya peoples, primarily in Guatemala, Mexico, Belize and Honduras. In 1996, Guatemala formally recognized 21 Mayan languages by name, and Mexico recognizes eight more within its territory.

In the 16th century the territory of the Xinca extended from the Pacific coast to the mountains of Jalapa. In 1524 the population was conquered by the Spanish Empire. Many of the people were forced into slavery and compelled to participate in the conquest of modern-day El Salvador. It is from this that the names for the town, river, and bridge "Los Esclavos" (The Slaves) are derived in the area of Cuilapa, Santa Rosa.

Pacific Ocean Ocean between Asia and Australia in the west, the Americas in the east and Antarctica or the Southern Ocean in the south.

The Pacific Ocean is the largest and deepest of Earth's oceanic divisions. It extends from the Arctic Ocean in the north to the Southern Ocean in the south and is bounded by Asia and Australia in the west and the Americas in the east.

Spanish Empire world empire from the 16th to the 19th century

The Spanish Empire, historically known as the Hispanic Monarchy and as the Catholic Monarchy, was one of the largest empires in history. From the late 15th century to the early 19th, Spain controlled a huge overseas territory in the New World and the Asian archipelago of the Philippines, what they called "The Indies". It also included territories in Europe, Africa and Oceania. The Spanish Empire has been described as the first global empire in history, a description also given to the Portuguese Empire. It was the world's most powerful empire during the 16th and first half of the 17th centuries, reaching its maximum extension in the 18th century. The Spanish Empire was the first empire to be called "the empire on which the sun never sets".

El Salvador country in Central America

El Salvador, officially the Republic of El Salvador, is the smallest and the most densely populated country in Central America. It is bordered on the northeast by Honduras, on the northwest by Guatemala, and on the south by the Pacific Ocean. El Salvador's capital and largest city is San Salvador. As of 2016, the country had a population of approximately 6.34 million.

After 1575, the process of Xinca cultural extinction accelerated, mainly due to their exportation to other regions. This also contributed to a decrease in the number of Xinca-language speakers. One of the oldest references concerning this language was presented by the archbishop Pedro Cortés y Larraz during a visit to the diocese of Taxisco in 1769.

Contemporary situation

Xinca was most recently spoken in seven municipalities and a village in the departments of Santa Rosa and Jutiapa. In 1991, it was reported that the language had only 25 speakers, and the 2006 edition of the Encyclopedia of Language and Linguistics reported fewer than ten. [5] Nonetheless, of the 16,214 Xinca who responded to the 2002 census, [6] 1,283 reported being Xinka speakers, most probably semi-speakers or people who knew a few words and phrases of the languages. [7] However by 2010, all completely fluent speakers have died, leaving only semi-speakers who know the languages.


Xincan languages were once more widespread, which is evident in various toponyms with Xincan origins (Campbell 1997:166). These toponyms are marked by such locative prefixes as ay- "place of" (e.g. Ayampuc, Ayarza), al- "place of" (Alzatate), san- "in" (e.g. Sansare, Sansur), or with the locative suffixes -(a)gua or -hua "town, dwelling" (e.g. Pasasagua, Jagua, Anchagua, Xagua, Eraxagua).

Kaufman (1970:66) lists the following towns as once being Xinca-speaking. [8]

Sachse (2010), citing colonial-era sources, lists the following villages in Santa Rosa Department and Jutiapa Department as having Xinca speakers during the Spanish colonial era.


The phonological system of Xincan languages had some variance, as evidenced by the variations in recorded phonology exhibited among semi-speakers of the two remaining languages. [9]


It is generally agreed upon that the Xincan languages have 6 vowels. [9]



The number and type of consonants in the Xincan languages is not known. This chart shows the consonants used by the final semi-speakers of the language. [9]

Bilabial Alveolar Postalveolar Velar Glottal
plain ejective plain ejective lateral plain ejective
Stop ptkʔ
Fricative sɬʃh
Affricate t͡sʼt͡ʃ
Nasal mn
Approximant lɰ
Trill r

Many younger semi-speakers also used the phonemes /b, d, g, f, ŋ, ʂ/ due to greater influence from Spanish. [9]

See also

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  1. Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds. (2017). "Xincan". Glottolog 3.0 . Jena, Germany: Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History.
  2. 1 2 Lyle Campbell, 1997. American Indian Languages: The Historical Linguistics of Native America
  3. Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds. (2017). "Sinacantan". Glottolog 3.0 . Jena, Germany: Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History.
  4. Mayan Loan Words in Xinca
  5. Xinca (2005). Keith Brown, ed. Encyclopedia of Language and Linguistics (2 ed.). Elsevier. ISBN   0-08-044299-4.
  6. "XI Censo Nacional de Población y VI de Habitación (Censo 2002) – Pertenencia de grupo étnico". Instituto Nacional de Estadística. 2002. Retrieved 2009-12-22.
  7. "XI Censo Nacional de Población y VI de Habitación (Censo 2002) – Idioma o lengua en que aprendió a hablar". Instituto Nacional de Estadística. 2002. Archived from the original on December 3, 2009. Retrieved 2009-12-22.
  8. Kaufman, Terrence. 1970. Proyecto de alfabetos y ortografías para escribir las lenguas mayances. Antigua: Editorial José de Pineda Ibarra.
  9. 1 2 3 4 Frauke, Sachse,; Letteren, Faculteit der. "Reconstructive description of eighteenth-century Xinka grammar". Retrieved 2018-06-22.

This article draws heavily upon the corresponding article in the Spanish-language Wikipedia which was accessed in the version of 29 November 2005.