Maya Vase with Hieroglyphs K5424 ©Justin Kerr - Click to view Kerr rollout John Montgomery
Dictionary of Maya Hieroglyphs

What a Typical Entry Looks Like
by Peter Mathews

The first parts of the Dictionary to go online are the syllabary grid, and the alphabetical listing of syllables, words, and compounds which comprise the main part John Montgomery’s Dictionary of Maya Hieroglyphs (2002).

To summarize, each entry currently contains (1) a drawing of the sign or glyph, as well as (2) a transliteration and (3) transcription in Classic Mayan, (4) the Thompson number(s) of the sign or glyph, (5) the dictionary definition(s) of the glyph, and (6) comments and other supplemental information.

The following examples identify elements used in entries in John Montgomery's Dictionary of Maya Hieroglyphs:

Example of elements used in entries in John Montgomery's Dictionary of Maya Hieroglyphs.

The following example identifies elements used in entries for this on-line Maya dictionary:

Example of elements used in entries for this on-line Maya dictionary.

To list the information that each on-line entry contains in more detail:

First is a drawing (by John Montgomery) of the sign or glyph. At present, only one, typical example is shown. Since, however, there is tremendous variation due to individual scribal calligraphy as well as regional and temporal styles, I would like eventually to add some more glyphic examples to each entry: at minimum a row of six or seven examples, perhaps with a link to still more.

Second, is the phonetic transliteration of the sign or glyph. This transcription is in bold face; logograms (signs representing whole words) are in upper case, and syllable signs are in lower case. In some cases, both the Ch’ol Mayan and Yukatek Mayan forms are indicated: they are paired and separated by a "/", shown in the above example under "complex entry".

Third is the transcription of the sign or glyph in Classic Mayan. This transcription represents the syllable, word, or phrase in Classic Mayan, and is recorded in italics within parentheses. Again, in some cases "/" is used to indicate paired Ch’ol Mayan and Yukatek Mayan forms. This pairing is used in the case of logograms whose precise reading is not clear; the "Classic Mayan" form probably more closely approximates the Ch’ol form listed first.

Fourth is the transcription in Thompson’s (1962) catalogue system of Maya signs (for more on Thompson and his catalogue, see How the Dictionary works; see also Earlier Glyph Dictionaries). These numbers are preceded by "T" (for Thompson) and are also recorded within parentheses. In Thompson’s system, Maya numerals are recorded in upper case Roman numerals. Arabic numbers refer to the signs as enumerated in Thompson’s catalogue: in all he listed over 800. An "nn" indicates a "new number"—one not listed in Thompson. The punctuation signs–periods, colons, dashes, and square brackets–indicate the relative position of the signs within the glyph block. A period between two Thompson numbers indicates that the second is situated to the right of the first. A colon between two T-numbers indicates that the second is below the first. A dash between two signs indicates that the critical features of two signs are conflated within the one glyph. And square brackets indicate that the sign within the brackets is infixed within the previous sign.

After the T-numbers (5th) come the dictionary definition(s). These are introduced with a bold-face arrow (preceded by 1, 2, 3 etc. for entries with multiple definitions). Within each definition the first item recorded is the part of speech (verb, noun, etc.); then comes the definition. An attempt has been made to list the most important and securely identified definitions first.

Finally, (6th) introduced by a bold-face diamond, are comments pertinent to the entry. These comments include the iconic identification of the sign (what it represents graphically), as well as cross-references and relationships with other glyphs and signs. Comments will be added from others with a system of initials to designate whose comments are listed. Obviously (JM) John Montgomery will be the main commentator in the early stages with additional comments from myself (PM) Peter Mathews.

Eventually, I intend to add other information and other levels of interpretation and explanation to the Dictionary. For instance, I think it would be useful to show some additional examples of the signs and glyphs—to show more of the range of variation that each has—as I have indicated above. I also believe that the source (site and monument) as well as date (date of the passage and the contemporary date of the monument) of each glyphic example should be listed. Eventually I would like to include links to additional examples that record the sign or glyph in context.

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