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

by Peter Mathews

I can hear Linda Schele laughing, and saying "You’ve WHAT!? You’ve actually put Peter in charge of a WEB PAGE!?" Given how "challenged" I am in the area of the demon electronic multifaceted computational–type thingy, a fair comment. The truth of it is very simple. If I can’t mess the thing up, then it must be foolproof. And if I can successfully navigate my way around it, anyone can. More important for the safety and security of the world wide web, I shan’t really be directly involved in the inputting and formulating of the website. That task will be in the hands of FAMSI—so my capacity to inflict catastrophic damage will be minimized.

The genesis of this project was when the FAMSI Board of Directors decided that having a Maya glyph dictionary on the "web" would be great service to Maya studies. They hoped that such a web page would enable scholars and amateurs alike to be able to check on what is new in Maya glyph readings, and to see at least some of the rationale and context for the readings. John Montgomery was at the time completing his Dictionary of Maya Hieroglyphs for Hippocrene Press (Montgomery 2002), and FAMSI asked if they could use his important dictionary as the basis for this web page. John graciously agreed, but of course then came the issue of converting it to website format and adding to and updating the web page with more recent proposed readings, additional contexts, etc. This is where that Antipodean Luddite, yours truly, enters the picture: for some reason FAMSI took it upon themselves to ask me to coordinate the online Maya Dictionary. Needless to say, I am delighted and honoured to be asked, and I hope that you, fair reader and glypher, will feel that the project is a useful and worthwhile one.

The project will take a little time to get fully up to speed. My intention is to get things going bit by bit, since there will be several components to the online Maya Dictionary. Most important, of course, is the dictionary itself. Inevitably, I shall have some disagreements with John Montgomery’s Dictionary. These differences will be signaled and explained in an accompanying commentary. But the first step will be to get John Montgomery’s Dictionary online as quickly as possible. In addition, there will be various explanatory and informational texts, such as this one, the Introduction. Obviously one advantage of a web-dictionary is the reader will be able to toggle easily between the syllabary entrys and dictionary definitions.

At first, the Dictionary entries will be essentially those as published by John Montgomery, with some emendations by me that will be flagged and explained. As time goes on, however, I hope to add more dictionary entries, more examples, and more commentary. The commentary will include other readings that have been proposed for individual signs, and for words. Some of these readings are by amateurs, as well as by professionals, since the field of Maya hieroglyphic studies is blessed with many expert amateurs who have made some important insights and proposals of glyphic readings. No more fitting statement could be made of the vibrancy and popularization of Maya decipherment than to acknowledge these "glyphers" and their invaluable contributions.

Finally, another advantage of a web-dictionary is that we can easily incorporate new readings and suggestions for changes and improvements to the Dictionary. No doubt there will be many suggestions—such is the energy and pace of Maya hieroglyphic decipherment. In other words, I hope that this online Dictionary will be a fine example of the degree of cooperation among Mayanists—amateurs and professionals alike.

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