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Landa alphabet

Subject Linguistics

DOI: 10.1111/b.9780631214816.1999.x


Bishop Diego de Landa was one of the first Spanish clergymen to go to Mexico. In the mid sixteenth century he spent several years in Yucatán where he came into contact with maya writing which he studied and professed to have deciphered. The 27 glyphs to which he assigned letter values came to be known as Landa's Maya ‘alphabet’ ( table 1 ). Although Landa made an important contribution to the understanding of Maya writing in as much as he recognized that the glyphs could be read, he was misguided by his alphabetocentric assumptions. In the light of much later research it became clear that his Maya alphabet was not a phonetic transliteration as he suggested. Instead, the individual glyphs must be seen as syllabic rather than alphabetic graphemes. They apparently represent the responses Landa's Maya informants produced when asked how they wrote the letters of the Spanish alphabet as Landa pronounced them, thus corresponding to the Spanish alphabetic letter names rather than their actual sound values. In spite of this misunderstanding, the Landa alphabet was of great value for the eventual decipherment of Maya writing. Reading Coe 1992; Knorosov 1955. Table 1 Landa's Maya ‘alphabet’ ... log in or subscribe to read full text

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