The manuscript known as the Ritual of the Bacabs is a rare corpus of Yucatec Maya–language incantations and medical remedies put to paper in the eighteenth century. When a given instance of discourse such as a healing incantation is put into writing, it is rendered as a detachable unit of text that can be lifted out of its interactional setting so that it may be successfully recontextualized in future performances. Deciding what signs are essential to convey in writing requires a judgment about what constitutes an effective performance of the text. Such a judgment is based in a group's semiotic ideologies. In this essay I examine the role of semiotic ideologies in colonial Maya literacy through an analysis of abbreviation conventions, metalinguistic commentary, and the various kinds of signs explicitly employed in these written incantations' performance: “speech” (tħan); “written character” (uoh); and “icon” (uayasba).

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