LINGUIST List 7.1146

Wed Aug 14 1996

Qs: Semiotics, Word meaning, Mayan decipherment

Editor for this issue: Ann Dizdar <>

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  1. J M Pepper, Re: semiotics
  2. Mike Josephson, Word meaning
  3. "John O'Meara", Mayan Decipherment

Message 1: Re: semiotics

Date: Tue, 13 Aug 1996 09:12:16 MDT
From: J M Pepper <>
Subject: Re: semiotics
I am looking for periodicals/newsletters/organizations which have anything
to do with the area of semiotics. I have a special interest in Roland
Barthes, as I am attempting to translate "A Lover's Discourse" into a
motion picture. Any interest in this would be appreciated. 
Gordon Pepper - Regina, Saskatchewan, Canada 
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Message 2: Word meaning

Date: Tue, 13 Aug 1996 14:41:27 PDT
From: Mike Josephson <>
Subject: Word meaning

If you can help me with this question I would very much
appreciate it.

I recently heard the following term in the movie City Hall:

I am sure I have spelled the above wrong.

The context and given definition was:
"Honor amoung men or men treating men with character"
I have several jewish friends whom I have asked this question and none
have been able to help.

Please send any response to
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Message 3: Mayan Decipherment

Date: Wed, 14 Aug 1996 12:17:12 EDT
From: "John O'Meara" <JOMEARACS-ACAD-LAN.LakeheadU.CA>
Subject: Mayan Decipherment

I'm interested in getting some opinions, from people familiar with the
decipherment of Mayan writing, about Michael Coe's recent book called
"Breaking the Mayan Code" (Thames and Hudson 1992).

This is a popular book which recounts the history of the decipherment
of Mayan hieroglyphics. To some extent it reads like an intellectual
'whodunit', partly because of the seemingly elusive nature of the
subject matter and the many dead ends which people chased over the
years. The author has been involved in Mayan studies since the 1940s,
and apparently played an important role in the development of Mayan
decipherment in the 1950s and 1960s. The book has a personal tone,
since the author knew many of the key people involved in decipherment
and worked with them. He was instrumental in making the evidently
groundbreaking views of Soviet scholar Yuri Knorosov known outside the
Soviet Union.

In this book Coe rather heavily criticises Eric Thompson, one the
major twentieth century scholars of Mayan. The focus of the criticism
concerns Thompson's denial that the Mayan hieroglyphics were in fact a
writing system (it turns out that Mayan writing is a mixed
logographic/syllabic system). A few articles by Mayanists I have
consulted at least implicity support Coe's criticism of Thompson. Coe
takes the position that Thompson held back the decipherment of Mayan
writing during much of the twentieth century. Coe's criticism is
lengthy and sustained, and (to a complete outsider) at times seems
like a personal diatribe.

In his recent article entitled "Methods of Decipherment" Peter Daniels
(1996, in Peter Daniels and William Bright, "The World's Writing
Systems", 141-159) describes Coe 1992 in the following terms: "though
useful for certain historical information, [it] cannot be recommended
as an account of the decipherment, since it omits essential details of
methodology, and is marred by a pervasive, inexplicably personal
animosity toward Thompson." (pp. 154-155) Daniels gives no other
details which would justify his assessment.

What I would like to know is the following: Is Coe's criticism of
Thompson justified? Obviously the question of whether it is acceptable
to personalise one's criticisms in a popular work is independent of
the question of whether the criticisms are justified; I am interested
in the latter (it may be that the seeming personal tone of much of
Coe's criticism of Thompson comes from his ground-level view of events
as they unfolded. Perhaps an account from a more detached observer
would be phrased differently). I would also be interested in
references to reviews of Coe's book, or any other insight on the
matter. If interested parties wish to e-mail me directly at I will post a summary.


John O'Meara
Native Language Instructors' Program
Faculty of Education
Lakehead University
Thunder Bay, ON
P7B 5E1
FAX: 807-346-7746
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