Yaxchilán, Lintel 24 - K2887 ©Justin Kerr - Click to view high resolution MAYA HIEROGLYPH DICTIONARY
Peter Mathews and Péter Bíró
Drawings by John Montgomery

How the Dictionary is Organised

The organization of the Maya Hieroglyph Dictionary is based primarily on Epigraphic Mayan words, but also includes words with additional affixes (such as inflected verbal forms), compounds, affixes, and syllables. In linguistic terms, the Dictionary is principally organised by morphemes-units of meaning that can stand alone ('words') or be attached to words ('affixes') to form longer compounds.

In the Dictionary, each morpheme is listed as a separate entry. For example you will find in the Dictionary chum- 'be seated' (a dash at the end [and/or beginning] of words indicates that other morphemes can be attached in compound forms of the word; linguists call chum- a 'verbal stem', and affixed morphemes provide inflected forms of the verb; attached to nouns it forms a compound noun). Thus under the Dictionary entry chum- you will also see chum tun 'tun seating' (a compound noun), chumuw 'it got seated', chumjiy 'he/she is/was seated', chumwaniy 'he/she was seated long ago', chumwan 'he/she was seated', chumlajiy 'he/she was seated long ago', chumlaj 'he/she was seated' (these are all inflected forms of the verb). These are all referenced in the 'see also' section of the entry for chum-, and they also have their own, separate Dictionary entry.

The Dictionary also contains names of supernatural beings, toponyms and ritual expressions which sometimes form whole phrases. We have decided to leave out the names of human individuals (kings, queens, nobles, captives etc.)—that information can be found in Peter Mathews' Who's Who in the Classic Maya World, which is now available on the FAMSI website.

When you open the title page of the Dictionary you will see that there are various ways to search for items. You can look for Epigraphic Mayan Words and Syllables, English Words, Spanish Words or-if you know the exact word (in any of the three languages)-you can type it in directly under the 'Word Search' category. Also under this same category you can search by Thompson Number (for more information on Thompson numbers see Thompson's Catalogue of Maya Signs). For example if you type '125' in the Thompson Number box you will see a list of all words, compounds, and affixes in the Dictionary that contain the sign that is Thompson's Number 125, or 'T125'. If you type in 125-16, you will link directly to the entry yax, one of the spellings of which is T125-16.

The principal way in which the Dictionary is organised is by Mayan words, compounds, affixes and syllables, listed in alphabetical order. Because the Mayan languages have different phonemes (distinctive sounds) from European languages, the 'alphabetical' listing is a little different from that of English or Spanish words (see Orthography). In the Dictionary, the Mayan words are listed in the following order:


Many scholars have argued that p' did not occur as a distinctive phoneme in what we are calling Epigraphic Mayan, the language of most of the hieroglyphic texts (this phoneme does occur in modern Ch'olan and Yukatekan languages, but it has been interpreted as a later innovation). The phoneme t' appears to be quite rare, but it is attested by some words and by the presence of the syllabic sign t'u.

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