Gabrielle Vail and Martha J. Macri
[Written Language & Literacy 3:1] 2000
► pp. 37–75
Issues of Language and Ethnicity in the Postclassic Maya Codices
Researchers have long attributed the prehispanic Maya codices to a Yucatecan provenience, based on their style and on the occurrence of Yucatec words spelled phonetically in the glyphic texts. This interpretation has recently been challenged by two studies that demonstrate the presence of Ch’olan vocabulary and morphological features in the Dresden and Madrid codices, alongside the better known Yucatec spellings (Wald 1994, Lacadena 1997). The present study identifies the linguistic affiliation of lexical items in the codical texts (Yucatecan, Ch’olan, or indeterminate), and charts the distribution of Yucatecan and Ch’olan terms in the Madrid Codex as a means of identifying patterns of usage. Several models are examined to account for the linguistic diversity of the manuscript, including (a) possible bilingualism of scribes; (b) lexical borrowing; (c) errors introduced by copying; and (d) the likelihood that certain glyphs were logographic, and could have different values depending on the language being recorded. It is argued that the Madrid Codex was drafted by Yucatecan scribes who were influenced in various ways by Ch’olan speakers — a situation comparable to the use of Spanish loanwords in the Colonial Books of Chilam Balam.
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