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How to Read Maya Hieroglyphs (Hippocrene Practical Dictionaries) Paperback – 1 Jan 2004

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Product details

  • Paperback: 378 pages
  • Publisher: Hippocrene Books; 2 edition (1 Jan 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0781810205
  • ISBN-13: 978-0781810203
  • Product Dimensions: 15.2 x 2 x 22.9 cm
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,725,122 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 6 reviews
31 of 31 people found the following review helpful
Excellent, though less user-friendly than alternatives 20 Aug 2007
By Pat Muchmore - Published on
Format: Paperback
The main two books I read when studying the Maya script were this one and Michael Coe's "Reading the Maya Glyphs." Ultimately, I preferred this one because it is more in-depth and scholarly, but I did miss the exercises and easy-to-look-up tables that the Coe has. The Coe is also slightly better illustrated (or, at least, more flashily illustrated, which is admittedly not the same thing). Either book can add greatly to your appreciation of monuments at sites such as Palenque and their museums, and ideally I would recommend purchasing both books.

I'm somewhat conflicted about this next issue. The Coe book delves further into some more cutting-edge grammatical theories such as morphosyllables and syllabic disharmony (don't worry, both are explained well). These theories are fascinating, and are barely discussed by Montgomery in the book on this page. HOWEVER, there is far less scholarly support behind these controversial ideas, and in many ways I think Coe makes them seem more accepted than they are. Montgomery's conservatism is probably more academically honest.

It's very difficult to recommend one over the other because they both have their strengths and weaknesses. It may be overly general, but if you're looking for a more sophisticated and deep understanding of Maya script, the book on this page is probably better. If you want a more practical study (including exercises to test your comprehension), go with the Coe--just remember that scholars are less certain about some of his claims than it may seem.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
Great book 22 Dec 2009
By Crifi - Published on
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I am an artist who wanted to take on a 20 year hobby of learning how to draw and read at least basic Maya glyphs. The book is easy to understand and read while still being intellectual (you are learning maya glyphs after all).

The slow part is learning the glyphs! The illustrations are great to reference in drawing, but I don't think they are as good as the illustrations printed in "Reading the Maya Glyphs".
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
Amazing that Maya glyphs were deciphered 19 Jun 2011
By Jetpack - Published on
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
This is a review of the Kindle version. I picked up a copy while it was free.

The Kindle version is wonderful - I was concerned that the glyphs wouldn't have been transferred properly, but they were. So no worries there.

This book does a great job of showing how complicated they were. If you have any interest in history at all, I highly suggest picking up a copy. How they were ever deciphered is amazing. And again, we can stagger at how much knowledge has been lost to ignorance and superstition.
A comprehensive grammar, not a dictionary 27 Jan 2014
By Karl Janssen - Published on
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Want to read the oldest literature in the Western Hemisphere? First you’ve got to learn the language. John Montgomery’s 2004 book How to Read Maya Hieroglyphs is a good first step toward doing just that. This book is a grammar of sorts that explains how the Mayan written language works. It is not a dictionary, so it’s not going to provide you with every character you’re ever going to find in a Mayan inscription. (Montgomery has published a Dictionary of Maya Hieroglyphs, which is available for free online at the FAMSI web site.) The topics of this Mayan grammar include the structure of glyphs, the order in which they are to be read, calendrical dates, numerical expressions, proper names and titles, familial relationships, major life events such as births and deaths, locations and objects, deities, and the syntax in which all these elements fit together into historical or literary narratives. In its comprehensive breadth and methodical structure, the book is an impressive achievement.

There’s no doubt that Montgomery is extremely knowledgeable about his subject. The question is, how well does he get that knowledge across to his intended audience? In his introduction, Montgomery states that this book is intended as an introductory text on the Mayan written language for beginners and the general public. That may be optimistic. In truth, this book is not for the light-hearted dabbler. I have enthusiastically studied a few languages, among them written Chinese, but I found portions of this book to be extremely difficult to get through. Part of the problem is that Mayan script is partially phonetic, so you need some basic understanding of spoken Mayan just to get your bearings. Beyond that barrier, however, Montgomery does at times seem to be addressing an audience of professional linguists, and his explanation of the Maya calendar has to be one of the most complicated and confusing takes on the subject that I’ve ever read.

One can’t be too hard on the author, however, for failing to write a simple survey of a subject that’s so complex it can’t be surveyed simply. After reading this book, I don’t feel fully equipped to dive right in and start translating Mayan texts, not even the simplest of the practice samples included in the appendix. Nevertheless, I now feel like that goal is within my reach, if I’m willing to work toward it. With the knowledge I’ve gained from this comprehensive overview I am now at least in a position to intelligently pursue further study on the subject. What’s more, it’s given me a greater appreciation of the dazzling complexity and sophistication of the Maya’s scriptural achievements. For the amateur Maya enthusiast, reading this book is at times like sitting in on a symposium of epigraphers as they debate the interpretation of a centuries-old stela. Much of the discussion defies understanding, but that doesn’t stop it from being a really cool experience.

Even though the Kindle edition is well-constructed, this may be one book in which owning a paper copy would be better than an e-book. Some of the drawings are reproduced uncomfortably small on the Kindle, even when magnified. Often illustrations are referred to on distant pages, so there’s a lot of flipping back and forth. If you want to browse for some unknown glyph, it would be a lot faster to flip through paper pages the old-fashioned way. For many Mayaphiles, Montgomery’s book may just be the one much-loved, dog-eared, salsa-stained text that protrudes from your pocket as you reverently wander the stunning ruins of Palenque or Tikal.
(Kindle version) Its informative. 25 Mar 2013
By Tyra - Published on
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
The author, J. Montgomery, explains everything to the reader. Its written as an introduction though i often had to refer back to other pages to look at the Glyphs. Its a good book. Its well written, easy to read and its informative.
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