Terrence Kaufman (born 1937) is an American linguist specializing in
documentation of unwritten languages, lexicography, Mesoamerican
historical linguistics and language contact phenomena. He is emeritus
professor of the department of anthropology at the University of
1 Academic career
2 Selected bibliography
Kaufman received his PhD in
Linguistics from the University of
California at Berkeley in 1963. Kaufman has produced descriptive and
comparative-historical studies of languages of the Mayan, Siouan,
Mixe–Zoquean and Oto-Manguean families.
Probably because of his focus on gathering empirical documentation of
unwritten languages through fieldwork and training of native
linguists, Kaufman's list of publications is less extensive than those
of other scholars in the field. Nevertheless, many of his articles,
often coauthored with other scholars such as Lyle Campbell, Sarah
Thomason and John Justeson, have been highly influential.
In a 1976 paper coauthored with Lyle Campbell, he advanced a theory
that the Olmecs spoke a
Mixe–Zoquean language, based on the
substantial presence of early
Mixe–Zoquean loans in many
Mesoamerican languages, particularly from specific, culturally
significant semantic domains. This theory has come to be widely
accepted, and is often cited as quasi-fact. Along with Lyle Campbell
and Thomas Smith-Stark, Kaufman carried out research published in
Language (1986) which led to the recognition of
Mesoamerica as a
In Language contact, creolization, and genetic linguistics (1988),
coauthored by Kaufman and Sarah Thomason, the authors were the first
to lay down a solid theoretical framework for the understanding of the
processes of contact-induced language change. Kaufman's proposed
genealogy of the indigenous languages of South America (Kaufman 1990),
which stands as the most thorough and well-founded classification of
its kind, serves as the basis for the classification presented by Lyle
Campbell in his authoritative "American Indian Languages" (Campbell
Along with John Justeson, he claimed to have successfully deciphered
the Isthmian or Epi-
Olmec script (Justeson & Kaufman 1993). This
claim has not found general acceptance in the general scholarly
community, and has been bluntly rejected by
Michael Coe and Stephen
Houston (Houston & Coe 2004). Kaufman is currently involved in the
"Project for the Documentation of the Languages of Mesoamerica" or
PDLMA, focused on collecting standardized linguistic data from the
underdocumented languages of Mesoamerica.
Campbell, Lyle, and Terrence Kaufman. 1976. "A Linguistic Look at the
Olmec." American Antiquity 41(1):80-89.
Campbell, Lyle, and Terrence Kaufman. 1980. "On Mesoamerican
linguistics." American Anthropologist 82:850-857.
Terrence Kaufman and Thomas C. Smith-Stark.
"Meso-America as a Linguistic Area", Language Vol. 62, No. 3 (Sep.,
1986), pp. 530–570.
Campbell, Lyle, Terrence Kaufman, "Mayan Linguistics: Where are we
Now?" Annual Review of Anthropology, Vol. 14, 1985 (1985),
Justeson, John, and Terrence Kaufman. 1993. "A decipherment of
Olmec hieroglyphic writing". Science 259:1703-1711.
Kaufman, Terrence. 1976. "Archaeological and Linguistic Correlations
in Mayaland and Associated Areas of Meso-America" World Archaeology,
Vol. 8, No. 1, Archaeology and
Linguistics (Jun., 1976),
Kaufman, Terrence. 1988. "A Research Program for Reconstructing
Proto-Hokan: First Gropings." In Scott DeLancey, ed. Papers from the
1988 Hokan–Penutian Languages Workshop, pp. 50–168. Eugene,
Oregon: Department of Linguistics, University of Oregon. (University
of Oregon Papers in Linguistics. Publications of the Center for
Linguistics and Ethnography 1.)
Kaufman, Terrence. 1990. "Language History in South America: What we
know and how to know more." In Doris L. Payne, ed. Amazonian
Linguistics, pp. 13–74. Austin: University of Texas Press.
Justeson, John, William Norman, Lyle Campbell, and Terrence Kaufman
(1985). The Foreign Impact on Lowland Mayan Language and Script.
Middle American Research Institute Publication 53.
Kaufman, Terrence (1972). El Proto-Tzeltal-Tzotzil. Fonología
comparada y diccionario reconstruido. México, UNAM.
Thomason, Sarah G., and
Terrence Kaufman (1988). Language contact,
creolization, and genetic linguistics. Berkeley: University of
California Press. ISBN 0-520-07893-4.
Campbell, Lyle (1997). American Indian Languages, The Historical
Linguistics of Native America. Oxford Studies in Anthropological
Linguistics, Oxford University Press
Houston, Stephen, and Coe, Michael. 2004. "Has Isthmian Writing Been
Deciphered?", Mexicon XXV: 151-161.
Brigham Young University press release on behalf of Brigham Young
Stephen Houston and Yale University professor
Michael Coe disputing Justeson/Kaufman findings.
Project for the Documentation of the Languages of Mesoamerica
Kaufman's faculty page at the University of Pittsburgh
Autobiographical notes by Kaufman
"Works of Terrence Kaufman". Google Scholar.
ISNI: 0000 0001 2096 0090
BNF: cb12840847h (data)