Sven Gronemeyer, Class Struggle: Towards a Better Understanding of Maya Writing Using Comparative Graphematics

A spectre is haunting Maya epigraphy, the spectre of sign properties and orthographic premises–both a constant source of vexation and argument in recent years. A functional classification into cenemic and pleremic signs has long been established. New classes of graphemes and underlying representational rules have been proposed since then, debating the nature of Maya writing: diacritics, determinatives, or morphosyllables; to name only a few. Some of these have and continue to cause considerable epigraphic debate and confusion. A 2011 “Written Language \& Literacy” issue was devoted to methodologies to define writing system typologies and advocated a stronger comparative approach, a recommendation this paper fully supports in its discussion of Maya hieroglyphic writing. Comparative graphematics is not entirely new in Maya epigraphy. But instead of using arguments from other writing systems for a line of support, it is worthwhile to take a more multi-faceted approach with comparisons, thereby obtaining a clearer classificatory benefit. For example, homophony and determinatives graphematically differ in Maya, Egyptian, or Cuneiform writing; as diverging emanations of a logo-syllabic system. Contrasting all three systems leads to a clear understanding of similarities as well as differences and leads to a more precise typology.

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