ELIZABETH P. BENSON, Editor,
MESOAMERICAN WRITING SYSTEMS,
A Conference at Dumbarton Oaks, October 30th and 31st 1971,
TRUSTEES FOR HARVARD UNIVERSITY — 1973
Practically fifty years after the conference, it is high time to evaluate the distance that has been journeyed since 1971–1973. The conference occurred at the very end of Sir Eric Thompson’s era and the book came out two years before his death in Cambridge, United Kingdom. His grip on the subject is quite clear in the conference though he did not commit anything for it and the editor speaks of him as a landmark in the field. At the same time, Knorosov is quoted by Elizabeth P. Benson and Michael D. Coe in their preface and quite a few contributions show their resistance at Thompson’s domination by for example never using the T-numbers that had been devised by Thompson himself to list the various Maya glyphs. Yet on the other hand some like Tatiana Proskouriakoff are mostly satisfied with the T-number of a glyph that is not given in its glyph form, and not even in its transliteration, the “hand-grasping-fish glyph (hand-fish for short).” (page 165) Tatiana Proskouriakoff is a compromise with at times the T-numbers, at times the italicized English identification, at times the transliteration, and at times a few actual reproductions of the glyph itself. If I give here this example, it is because this hand-fish glyph is typical. She identifies it as T714 under the image of it and she does not see that Thompson was wrong there. The glyph is a composite glyph. The hand can be found in other glyphs, holding or not holding other items and this hand-fish is, in fact, T714. for the hand “tza” T714 and the fish “ka” T203, and the composite glyph is “tzak.” The word and the glyph are referring to blood self-sacrifice and human sacrifice as the request from the Gods for them to bring prosperity and stability. Only one rule: to submit.
The first study is by H.B. Nicholson on “Phoneticism in the Late Pre-Hispanic Central Mexican Writing System.”
The second study is by Mary Elizabeth Smith and concerns “The relationship between Mixtec Manuscript Painting and the Mixtec Language: A Study of Some Personal Names in Codices Muro and Sánchez Solís.”
The third study by Floyd G. Lounsbury concerns “The Derivation and Reading of the ‘Ben-Ich’ Prefix.”
The fourth paper is by George Kubler and deals with “The Clauses of Classic Maya Inscriptions.”
The fifth article is that of Tatiana Proskouriakoff on “The Hand-grasping-fish on Classic Maya Monuments.”
The sixth contribution is by David H. Kelley and K. Ann Kerr on “Maya Astronomy and Astronomical Glyphs.”
The seventh and last contribution is by Bodo Spranz on “Late Classic Figurines from Tlaxcala, Mexico, and Their Possible Relation to the Codex Borgia Group.”
The conclusion about this book nearly fifty years after its publishing is that we have tremendously improved our knowledge about the Mayas and their language or languages. Yet we still have to do a lot of research along two lines.
The first line is linguistics and particularly syntactic linguistics, not of the present Maya languages but the Maya languages behind the glyphic writing system.
The second line is the historical, social, and linguistic phylogeny of this culture and it is important to understand that the three dimensions have to be treated as autonomous and yet at the same to understand that the three dimensions developed and develop phylogenetically and both simultaneously and reciprocally.
By phylogeny, we have to understand the development is brought by the past and that present creations or future creations use means and dynamics that are contained in the history, society, and languages any people inherit from their ancestors.
That means that the concept of revolution is in many ways ideological and hardly representative of reality, even when we line up industrial revolutions one after another. Every single revolution is only the fruit of what exists at the time of this revolution, and the most sustainable and durable revolutions develop very slowly in time over long periods.
English took nearly five centuries to emerge in its modern form at the time of Shakespeare after the conquest of England by the Normans and the bringing face to face of two languages or two sets of languages, the Anglo-Saxon multiple palette of dialects and sibling languages, on one hand, and Norman Oil Language, on the other hand, meaning several Oil dialects and even Oc dialects later on.
“Beef,” “mutton,” “veal,” “pork,” and a few more meats were not invented from scratch, and they did not erase the old Anglo-Saxon “cú,” “sceáp,” “cealf,” “swín.” Just as much as the Sumerian writing system was the result of commerce and the clay tablet medium with the particular stylus used to impress one basic character in the clay that could be vertical or horizontal. Then the development of the writing system was only the multiplication of these two characters and their association in clusters standing for words mostly on the basis of some syllabic understanding of Sumerian that was a synthetic Indo-European ancestral language within the Indo-European migration from the Irani plateau to Europe. This writing system was adopted by the Akkadians, the scribes of the Sumerians, for their own Afro-Asiatic or Semitic consonantal-root language.
Dr. Jacques COULARDEAU