Dictionaries of Mayan languages, recorded by Spanish priests in the early years of the colonial period, provide a rich body of data for investigating indigenous systems of governance around the time of contact. Dictionary sources drawn from four geographical regions of the Maya world shed light on Maya political organization of this period as well as on larger issues of the construction of difference and the dynamism of these systems. In particular, this article explores two questions: First, how did systems of community governance operate in this era, and to what extent did they represent new adaptations versus long-term continuities? And second, is it possible to access emic or internal perspectives on meanings behind governance, difference, and even change in order to illuminate Maya perspectives on the early colonial experience? The results highlight the intertwined nature of change and continuity for this era, help to identify indigenous models for framing governance and change, and provide new perspectives on the applicability of these data for comparison with other periods of Maya history.

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