Paleobiolinguistics of New World Crops and the Otomanguean Language Family

Cecil H. Brown


Several studies recently published in Ethnobiology Letters treat respectively the paleobiolinguistics of chili pepper, manioc, maize, and the common bean in New World language families. This includes the Otomanguean family of Mexico, one of the oldest language groups of the hemisphere, whose parent language may have been spoken at the latest around 6500 years ago. This communication addresses the possibility that Otomanguean paleobiolinguistics should be considered tentative since languages of the grouping are not yet conclusively demonstrated to be descended from a common ancestor. This challenges the proposal that words for chili pepper, manioc, and maize were in vocabularies of languages spoken two thousand or more years before development of a village-farming way of life in the New World.


Crop origins; Historical linguistics; Native Americans; Otomanguean; Paleobiolinguistics

Full Text:



Bartholomew, D. A. 1965. The Reconstruction of Otopamean (Mexico). Unpublished Doctoral Dissertation, Department of Linguistics, University of Chicago, Chicago, IL.

Brown, C. H., C. R. Clement, P. Epps, E. Luedeling and S. Wichmann. 2013a. The Paleobiolinguistics of Domesticated Chili Pepper (Capsicum spp.). Ethnobiology Letters 4:1-11. Doi: 10.14237/ebl.4.2013.2.

Brown, C. H., C. R. Clement, P. Epps, E. Luedeling and S. Wichmann. 2013b. The Paleobiolinguistics of Domesticated Manioc (Manihot esculenta). Ethnobiology Letters 4:61-70. Doi: 10.14237/ebl.4.2013.5.

Brown, C. H., C. R. Clement, P. Epps, E. Luedeling and S. Wichmann. 2014a. The Paleobiolinguistics of Domesticated Maize (Zea mays L.). Ethnobiology Letters 5:52-64. Doi: 10.14237/ebl.5.2014.130.

Brown, C. H., C. R. Clement, P. Epps, E. Luedeling and S. Wichmann. 2014b. The Paleobiolinguistics of the Common Bean (Phaseolus vulgaris L.). Ethnobiology Letters 5:104-115. Doi: 10.14237/ebl.5.2014.203.

Brown, C. H., E. Luedeling, S. Wichmann and P. Epps. 2013. The Paleobiolinguistics of Domesticated Squash (Cucurbita spp.). In Explorations in Ethnobiology: The Legacy of Amadeo Rea, edited by M. Quinlan and D. Lepofsky, pp. 132-161. Society of Ethnobiology, Denton, TX.

Brown, C. H., S. Wichmann and D. Beck. 2014. Chitimacha: A Mesoamerican Language in the Lower Mississippi Valley. International Journal of American Linguistics 80:425-474.

Campbell, Lyle. 1997. American Indian Languages: The Historical Linguistics of Native America. Oxford University Press, NY.

Gudschinsky, S. C. 1959. Proto-Popotecan: A Comparative Study of Popolocan and Mixtecan. Indiana University Publication, Bloomington, IN.

Kaufman, Terrence. S. 1990. Early Otomanguean Homeland and Cultures: Some Premature Hypotheses. University of Pittsburgh Working Papers in Linguistics 1:91-136.

Nichols, Johanna. 2010. Proving Dene-Yeniseian Genealogical Relatedness. In The Dene-Yeniseian Connection, edited by J. Kari and A. Potter, pp. 299-309. University of Alaska, Fairbanks, AK.

Rensch, Calvin. R. 1976. Comparative Otomanguean Phonology. Indiana University Publications, Bloomington, IN.


Copyright (c) 2015 Ethnobiology Letters

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.