Mesoamerican Words in Itsate

Both Itsate and Muskogee have borrowed words from other languages. In fact, Muskogee is the most aberrant of all the Muskogean languages. Prior to the European Colonial Period the Muskogee speakers were a minority among the ancestors of the Creeks, but rose rapidly to power after the Itsate provinces were almost wiped out by plagues and slave raids. The original homeland of the Muskogee in the East was a triangle along the middle section of the Chattahoochee river, eastward to the area around Macon, GA. Muskogee seems to have been a blend of Itsate with a non-Muskogean language spoken along the Chattahoochee River, when the Muskogee arrived.

On the other hand, Itsate appears to have originally been a dialect of Alabama, but was altered by contact with Mesoamericans. The grammar and basic vocabulary of Itsate is similar to Alabama. However, it has many words associated with government, architecture and agriculture which are pure Mesoamerican words. Itsate is to Alabama as English is to Old Anglo-Saxon.

The evolutionary process of both languages seems to have been similar. For 200 years, the Norman French nobility spoke French while the commoners spoke Old English, which was evolving in response to the influence of French words being spoken by the elite. It could very well be that the elite of some of the provinces visited by de Soto and Pardo spoke a Mesoamerican dialect among themselves.

Whatever the case, there is no doubt that a professional linguist could identify even more similarities.

The Muskogean languages are generally agglutinative, which means that more complex thoughts are expressed by combining two simpler words together. Even though a surprising number of culturally important words in Itsate are pronounced the same and mean the same as Mesoamerican words, there are probably even more that have been combined with Muskogean words and slightly altered, so that they are not immediately recognizable as borrowed Mesoamerican words. Also, many centuries have passed since the contacts with Mesoamericans. Most North Americans have no clue what Old English means, and throughout that time, England had written language. The Creeks had a writing system in 1735, but apparently, it was only known by the leaders and scholars.

Surprisingly, the elements of Mesoamerican languages that are most immediately apparent in Itsate are prefixes and suffixes. In most cases, they sound the same and mean the same. Some of the prefixes even appear in Cherokee. The Cherokees absorbed several towns named Itsate in Tennessee, North Carolina and Georgia. Apparently, Itsate women and children captured by the Cherokees, brought with them some Mesoamerican grammar and spelling. Itsate entered the proto-Cherokee language in the early 1700s. Several ancient towns named Itsate that predated their capture by the Cherokees appear on the earliest English and French maps as “Itsate, Itsati, Itschati or Itsayi.”

Why are Totonac words mixed into Itsate-Creek?

The presence of Totonac words in Itsate (Hitchiti,) Muskogee, and Koasati is both powerful proof of an Itza Maya presence in the Southern Highlands AND evidence of where these Itza colonists came from. There is a strong possibility that the Itza were not true Mayas, but immigrants from Central American or South America. Between around 200 AD and 600 AD – perhaps 750 AD – the Chiapas highlands were dominated by Teotihuacan. The rulers were originally from Teotihuacan. They spoke a dialect of Totonac. The middle nobility were Maya elite that had collaborated with their new rulers.

After Teotihuacan collapsed the Itza came under the cultural influence of Classic Maya cities in the Guatemala Highlands, the Peten Lowlands and southern Yucatan. Maya words and phrases began entering their language. However, until the conquest of the Itza by the Spanish in the 1500s, the Itza priests spoke a language entirely different from either Maya or Totonac. It was called “Zuyva.” Zuyva was probably the original language of the Itza.

This linguistic situation in the Lower Southeast was identical to what happened to Britain several times. First the Romans, then the Anglo-Saxons, then the Danes and then the Normans conquered substantial portions of the island. Thus, the language spoken by Itza farmers in 800 AD was a mixture of Maya and Totonac. It was NOT the same Itza language spoken in Maya dominated provinces or today. Because there is no dictionary of Chiapas Itza in 900 AD, we can only speculate that Itsate-Creek may have been closer to the old Itza Maya than dictionaries indicate.


“I” or “E”- This is a Itza Maya and Itsate prefix to establish importance, particularly of towns and political leaders. For example, any town in Muskogee would be called a talwa. However, the Big Apple of proto-Creek towns, Etalwa, got its name just by adding the E-sound to the word for town. The early Cherokees did the same thing by adding an “E” sound to the front of the Chota on the Little Tennessee River, when it became the capital.

am, an or al” – Certain dialects of the Chontal Maya Trade Jargon used either “Am,” “an” or “al” as locative prefixes. They seem to apply only to large geographic regions, whereas the suffixes refer to town-scaled locations or smaller. An example of this prefix in the Southeast would be the Altamaha River. The word may be interpreted either as Al-tamau-ahau, pure Chontal Maya for “Place of the Merchant Lord.” It also may be a conversion of the Totonac word for merchant, Tamahi, to a Muskogean form of “Place of the Merchants.”

“chi’a – This is an Itza Maya prefix meaning, “beside,” or enunciated slightly differently meant “salvia” plant. An example would be the town named Chiaha, which could mean either “beside the water” or “Salvia River” in Chontal Maya.


“le” – This was a pre-Nahuatl locative suffix spoken on the coastal plain of Tamaulipas State AND on the coast of Georgia. In both regions, it means “people or ethnic group.” Examples of its use in the Southeast include Wahale (Guale) which means Southern People in Coastal Itsate and Tokahle, which means “Freckled People” in both coastal Itsate AND contemporary Muskogee. The Spanish called the Tokahle, the Tokee. An example of this suffix on the Gulf Coast would be Mapile (Mabila) which meant “Trader People” in the northern Chontal Maya dialect used in Tamaulipas State before 1250 AD.

tli” – This is a Nahuatl and Totonac locative suffix meaning either an ethnic group or the territory of an ethnic group. A good example of the “tli” suffix in the Southeast is the Tamv-tli (Tamatli) who inhabited the upper Altamaha River basin, a section of the Keowee River Valley in South Carolina and the valley between Murphy, NC and Andrews, NC.

“ti” or “te” – Highland dialects of Itza Maya and Itsate shortened the “tli” to “ti”. The use of the “ti” suffix is

endemic in the Southern Highlands. An example would be the actual name of the Koasati, which was Kowasa-ti. This means Bobcat People. The Itza Maya called themselves the Itsate.

“pas, pan, pa” – Pan is the Nahuatl suffix meaning “place of or territory of.” The Chontal Maya altered that

to pas or pa. The “pa” suffix can be seen is several town names mentioned by early Spanish explorers, but by the time of the arrival of English explorers, “po” was more common along the South Carolina coast. Early South Carolina settlers generally wrote down the “po” sounds as a “bo” sound.

“ha” – Pronounced “haw,” this suffix means “water” or “river” in Chontal Maya and is pronounced like “haw.” It is found in several geographical place names in South Carolina and eastern Georgia – with the same meaning.

“ahau” – This is Itza Maya for “lord” or someone from the nobility. A combination of a Chontal Maya prefix, a Totonac word and an Itza Maya suffix can be seen in the Altamaha River. In Chontal Maya – or the Tamatli language of southeast Georgia that would be Al – Tamv –ahv, which means, “Place of the Tamau Lord.”

Examples of Mesoamerican words borrowed by Itsate

English wordArchaic ItsateChontal or Itza MayaTotonac (Papantla)Oklahoma MuskogeeComments
Itza PeopleItsate**Itzate
corn (maize)icheiche’mkux’iache
beanstalakotalakotalakomeans lima bean in Mexico
barbaric, crudechiliki*chilikichiliyain the de Soto Chronicles
housechikichike’mchikichokochoko means warm in Maya
rotunda, council housechokopachokopachukofa
merchanttamahi ***tamahinesvknown as Tamahiti
buy, tradetamatamanesetvAs in Tama tribal town
trademapimapi’As in Mapile (Mobile)
Great Sunhene-makohene-makohese-meko
Sun Lordhene-ahauhene-ahauhenehatitle of Creek Second chief
lord, templeahauahau, yumahau
town leadermakomakomekko
now, readychechihiyamat
writechilamchilamchoyetaw“to take dictation from gods”
sunhenehene, k’inharase
salttaubetaabokcvnwvas in Tybee Island, GA
great cityt’ulatulae-talwatalwa is derived from t’ula


Thornton, Richard. The Trail to Yupaha. Web. 2012.

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