Volume 13, Issue 1
  • ISSN 1387-6732
  • E-ISSN: 1570-6001
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The Pre-Columbian Mayan hieroglyphic script utilized logograms, representing CVC roots or CVCVC stems, and CV syllabograms. Starting with Knorozov’s (1952 etc.) initial breakthroughs in applying a Mayan linguistic model to account for the script’s spelling practices, most scholars have assumed that ‘synharmonic’ spellings of roots or stems, those in which the final consonant is ‘complemented’ by means of a CV syllabogram whose vowel is identical in quality to that of the root (e.g. C1V1C2 — C2(V1)), exhibited a linguistically ‘fictitious’ (or silent) vowel; such synharmonic spellings were commonly assumed to be default. Efforts were then aimed at determining the motivation of spellings in which the final syllabogram is instead ‘disharmonic’ (e.g. C1V1C2 — C2(V2)). Recently, it has been proposed that the vowels of disharmonic spellings were utilized as diacritics applied to the vowels of the preceding syllables in order to convey that such vowels were complex, while maintaining, generally, that synharmonic spellings were default. The present paper offers a thorough review of these proposals and gives arguments against their persuasiveness, abiding instead by four phonological contexts that call for the insertion of fictitious synharmonic vowels, supplemented by morphological conditioning and consonant deletion that account for additional cases of synharmonic spellings, and the vast majority of disharmonic spellings. These principles allow for a major refinement of the definition of ‘conventionalized’ and ‘default’ spellings, a new avenue for determining the nature of ‘pseudologographic’ or ‘morphosyllabic’ signs based on common syllabograms, and a new cognitive framework for addressing the question of the nature of logograms and syllabograms, as well as the origin and development of Mayan spelling practices.


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