Sunday, March 28, 2010

Notes and Hieroglyphs: Cracking the Maya Code

From Wikipedia: Mayan Script [emphasis mine]:

The Maya script was a logosyllabic system. Individual symbols ("glyphs") could represent either a word (actually a morpheme) or a syllable; indeed, the same glyph could often be used for both. For example, the calendaric glyph MANIK’ was also used to represent the syllable chi. (It's customary to write logographic readings in all capitals and phonetic readings in italics.) It is possible, but not certain, that these conflicting readings arose as the script was adapted to new languages, as also happened with Japanese kanji and with Assyro-Babylonian and Hittite cuneiform. There was ambiguity in the other direction as well: Different glyphs could be read the same way. For example, half a dozen apparently unrelated glyphs were used to write the very common third person pronoun u-.

Maya was usually written in blocks arranged in columns two blocks wide, read as follows:
Maya inscriptions were most often written in columns two glyphs wide, with each such column read left to right, top to bottom

Within each block, glyphs were arranged top-to-bottom and left-to-right, superficially rather like Korean Hangul syllabic blocks. However, in the case of Maya, each block tended to correspond to a noun or verb phrase such as his green headband. Also, glyphs were sometimes conflated, where an element of one glyph would replace part of a second. Conflation occurs in other scripts: For example, in medieval Spanish manuscripts the word de 'of' was sometimes written Ð (a D with the arm of an E). Another example is the ampersand (&) which is a conflation of the Latin "et". In place of the standard block configuration Maya was also sometimes written in a single row or column, 'L', or 'T' shapes. These variations most often appeared when they would better fit the surface being inscribed.

Maya glyphs were fundamentally logographic. Generally the glyphs used as phonetic elements were originally logograms that stood for words that were themselves single syllables, syllables that either ended in a vowel or in a weak consonant such as y, w, h, or glottal stop. For example, the logogram for 'fish fin' (Maya [kah] — found in two forms, as a fish fin and as a fish with prominent fins), came to represent the syllable ka. These syllabic glyphs performed two primary functions: They were used as phonetic complements to disambiguate logograms which had more than one reading, as also occurred in Egyptian, and they were used to write grammatical elements such as verbal inflections which did not have dedicated logograms, as in modern Japanese. For example, b'alam 'jaguar' could be written as a single logogram, BALAM, complemented phonetically as ba-BALAM, or BALAM-ma, or ba-BALAM-ma, or written completely phonetically as ba-la-ma.

Phonetic glyphs stood for simple consonant-vowel or bare-vowel syllables. However, Maya phonotactics is slightly more complicated than this: Most Maya words end in a consonant, not a vowel, and there may be sequences of two consonants within a word as well, as in xolte’ [ʃolteʔ] 'scepter', which is CVCCVC. When these final consonants were sonorants (l, m, n) or glottals (h, ’) they were sometimes ignored ("underspelled"), but more often final consonants were written, which meant that an extra vowel was written as well. This was typically an "echo" vowel that repeated the vowel of the previous syllable. That is, the word [kah] 'fish fin' would be written in full as ka-ha. However, there are many cases where some other vowel was used, and the orthographic rules for this are only partially understood. Here's our current understanding:

* A CVC syllable was written CV-CV, where the two vowels (V) were the same: yo-po [yop] 'leaf'
* A syllable with a long vowel (CVVC) was written CV-Ci, unless the long vowel was [i], in which case it was written CiCa: ba-ki [baak] 'captive', yi-tzi-na [yihtziin] 'younger brother'
* A syllable with a glottalized vowel (CV’C or CV’VC) was written with a final a if the vowel was [e, o, u], or with a final u if the vowel was [a] or [i]: hu-na [hu’n] 'paper', ba-tz’u [ba’tz’] 'howler monkey'.

A more complex spelling is ha-o-bo ko-ko-no-ma for [ha’o’b kohkno’m] 'they are the guardians'. (Vowel length and glottalization are not always indicated in common words like 'they are'.) A minimal set, not fully translated, is,

ba-ka [bak]
ba-ki [baak]
ba-ku [ba’k] or [ba’ak]
ba-ke [baakel] (underspelled)


It was until recently thought that the Maya may have adopted writing from the Olmec or Epi-Olmec. However, recent discoveries have pushed back the origin of Maya writing by several centuries, and it now seems possible that the Maya were the ones who invented writing in Mesoamerica.[14]

Knowledge of the Maya writing system continued into the early colonial era and reportedly a few of the early Spanish priests who went to Yucatán learned it. However, as part of his campaign to eradicate pagan rites, Bishop Diego de Landa ordered the collection and destruction of written Maya works, and a sizable number of Maya codices were destroyed. Later, seeking to use their native language to convert the Maya to Christianity, he derived what he believed to be a Maya "alphabet" (the so-called de Landa alphabet). Although the Maya did not actually write alphabetically, nevertheless he recorded a glossary of Maya sounds and related symbols, which was long dismissed as nonsense but eventually became a key resource in deciphering the Maya script, though it has itself not been completely deciphered. The difficulty was that there was no simple correspondence between the two systems, and the names of the letters of the Spanish alphabet meant nothing to Landa's Maya scribe, so Landa ended up asking the equivalent of write H: a-i-tee-cee-aitch "aitch", and glossed a part of the result as "H".

Landa was also involved in creating a Latin orthography for the Yukatek Maya language, meaning that he created a system for writing Yukatek in the Latin alphabet. This was the first Latin orthography for any of the Mayan languages,[citation needed] which number around thirty.

Only four Maya codices are known to have survived the conquistadors. Most surviving texts are found on pottery recovered from Maya tombs, or from monuments and stelae erected in sites which were abandoned or buried before the arrival of the Spanish.

Knowledge of the writing system was lost, probably by the end of the 16th century. Renewed interest in it was sparked by published accounts of ruined Maya sites in the 19th century.
Wikipedia: Writing System:

Writing systems were preceded by proto-writing, systems of ideographic and/or early mnemonic symbols. The best known examples are:

* Jiahu Script, symbols on tortoise shells in Jiahu, ca. 6600 BC
* Vinča script (Tărtăria tablets), ca. 4500 BC
* Early Indus script, ca. 3500 BC

The invention of the first writing systems is roughly contemporary with the beginning of the Bronze Age in the late Neolithic of the late 4th millennium BC. The Sumerian archaic cuneiform script and the Egyptian hieroglyphs are generally considered the earliest writing systems, both emerging out of their ancestral proto-literate symbol systems from 3400–3200 BC with earliest coherent texts from about 2600 BC.

The Chinese script likely developed independently of the Middle Eastern scripts, around 1600 BC.

The pre-Columbian Mesoamerican writing systems (including among others Olmec and Maya scripts) are also generally believed to have had independent origins.

It is thought that the first true alphabetic writing appeared around 2000 BC, as a representation of language developed for Semitic slaves in Egypt by Egyptians (see History of the alphabet). Most other alphabets in the world today either descended from this one innovation, many via the Phoenician alphabet, or were directly inspired by its design.

From Above Time: Emerson's and Thoreau's Temporal Revolutions by James R. Guthrie

In Above Time, James R. Guthrie explores the origins of the two major transcendentalists' revolutionary approaches to time, as well as to other temporally related issues such as history, memory, and change. Most critical discussions of this period neglect the important truth that a good deal of the entire American transcendentalist project involved a transcendence not just of materiality, but also of time. Emerson concluded that time was a human invention contrived as a means of organizing, subduing, and owning a world of things. Nature, he agreed with Thoreau, did not need time, nor even acknowledge its existence. Like many other nineteenth-century observers, Emerson and Thoreau were compelled to see time in a new light by developments in contemporary science: geologists were debating the antiquity of the earth, archaeologists were making discoveries in Egypt, and zoologists were attempting to unravel the mysteries of speciation and heredity. The discoveries effectively enlarged the scope of time, and consequently, exacerbated existing tensions between religious orthodoxy and scientific rationalism. This tension culminated in the ambivalent public reception that greeted Darwin's Origin of Species when it first appeared in 1859. Thoreau and Emerson were thoroughly aware of these wider cultural developments; and both tried, with varying degrees of success, to integrate contemporary scientific thought with their preexisting late-romantic idealism. As romantics, the American transcendentalists regarded nature as a set of correspondences, formalized as symbols or hieroglyphics that could be decoded to discover the animating presence of eternal laws. Yet the transcendentalists hoped togo beyond merely understanding nature to achieving a kind of passionate identity with it, and this union could be achieved only by overcoming time. In their essays and poems, Emerson and Thoreau adopt a series of philosophical, rhetorical, and psychological strategies designed to jolt their readers out of time, often by attacking conventional and traditional notions about temporality.

Personal Notes:

  • Nature of Hieroglyphs
  • de Landa - biography
  • only 4 codices survive
  • Mayan civilization at height of glory during the Dark Ages
  • 9th cen. abandoned
  • Dresden Codex

    • developed calendar - mark time
    • date universe was created: 13 August 3014 B.C. to 23 December 2012 "Long Count"
    • Eric Thompson: Mayan :: Focus :: Time
    • Tatiana Proskouriakoff - Story of Kings
    • Knorozov
    • Linda Schele 
    • David Stuart
    • Graphic component of Mayan Writing - letters and sounds conflate to create and art in addition to the meaning of the word

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