Project Overview

In 2014, the North Rhine-Westphalian Academy of Sciences, Humanities and the Arts (Nordrhein-Westfälische Akademie der Wissenschaften und Künste) in Düsseldorf, together with the Union of the German Academies of Sciences and Humanities (Union der deutschen Akademien der Wissenschaften) in Berlin, established the Interdisciplinary Dictionary of Classic Mayan (Textdatenbank und Wörterbuch des Klassischen Maya) research center for the study of hieroglyphic writing and language of the ancient Maya at the University of Bonn’s Philosophy Faculty (press release [in German]). The project is directed by Prof. Dr. Nikolai Grube of the Department of Anthropology of the Americas (Abteilung für Altamerikanistik).

The goal of this long term, 5.4 million Euro project, is the analysis of all known hieroglyphic Mayan texts which will serve as the basis for the compilation and editing of a Classic Mayan language dictionary. Positioned in the Digital Humanities by its cooperation with the eHumanities research network TextGrid at the Göttingen State and University Library (Niedersächsische Staats- und Universitätsbibliothek Göttingen) and the Bonn University Library (Universitäts- und Landesbibliothek Bonn), the project provides an innovative link between the humanities and information technology.

This project is the first to employ machine-readable versions of the source materials in order to integrate all occurrences of the Maya hieroglyphs into a corpus-based database, together with information concerning the original hieroglyphic spelling, transcription, and translation, as well as supplementary information. It thus lays the foundation for a systematic understanding of the structure of the writing system and of Classic Maya, the standard language underlying the hieroglyphic script.

Due to the large volume of data, the creation of a corpus-based dictionary and the complete decipherment of the script are only possible using a database of text entries and computer-based concordance and collocation analysis and recognition of text patterns. Using these resources, the first-ever comprehensive inventory of the script and of the language it represents will be developed. The project will thus allow the development of writing and language to be traced from a historical perspective.

This Academy-supported research project aims not only to represent the cultural vocabulary and the accumulation of current and past research on the Maya script and language, but also to simultaneously make an important contribution to the comparative study of writing systems.