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NRSI: Computers & Writing Systems

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Short URL: http://scripts.sil.org/RecentCuatrilloUse

Cuatrillo and Tresillo in Recent Linguistic Publications

Peter Constable, 2003-03-28

The characters "cuatrillo" and "tresillo" were innovations of Jesuit missionaries in the XVIth century to transcribe certain sounds in Mayan languages of Guatemala that do not occur in Spanish. These are illustrated here in a sample taken from the book The Annals of the Cakchiquels, by Daniel G. Brinton.

Characters cuatrillo and tresillo



The cuatrillo and tresillo are not currently in use orthographically. They are attested in recent publications on Mayan linguistics, however. The most recent occurrence I have encountered is from Robertson 1999:



The sounds that these symbols represent are documented in a footnote in Robertson 1986:



Note, though, that this author has chosen to equate the typeform tresillo with the typeform open e, as seen in a footnote from an earlier publication, Robertson 1984:



This does not seem appropriate to me, though, as it seems obvious from the name "tresillo", from the typeform shown in Brinton (above), and from the parallel situation with cuatrillo (clearly derived from "4") that the tresillo typeform is derived by reversing the typeform "3". Indeed, Robertson (in working around the typographic limitations he faced in 1984) uses the digit "3" to represent tresillo in his article.

Not surprisingly, the typeforms for cuatrillo and tresillo are reproduced in some recent publications by typographic approximations. In his 1984 article, Robertson used a digit "3" to represent tresillo (though not in the description of it in the footnote shown above), and used a digit "4" to represent cuatrillo:



In his 1986 article, Robertson continued to used digit "4" for cuatrillo, but began to use open e to represent tresillo:



(This might reflect a decision on Robertson's part, as suggested in the footnote to his 1984 article, that the tresillo typeform really is the same as the open e typeform, though it really does not seem appropriate to equate these.)

In Campbell 1977, the cuatrillo is presented more or less in its actual form, but the tresillo appears to have been reproduced by printing the letter "c" and then partially overstriking the circumflex, "".



This evidence leads me to conclude that there is a current user community for cuatrillo and tresillo. For the former, I see nothing standing in the way of proposing a new character in Unicode, LATIN LETTER CUATRILLO. Recent depictions of tresillo have been quite varied, though, and I have not seen any samples from XVIth and XVIIth century usage to be confident of what the glyph should look like. Also, some may feel uncertain about a possible relationship to LATIN CAPITAL / SMALL LETTER OPEN E (particularly given Robertson's comments). Thus, I would want to see further research done before proposing a character LATIN LETTER TRESILLO for addition to Unicode.

References

Campbell, Lyle. 1977. Quichean linguistic prehistory. (University of California publications in linguistics, 81.) Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.

Robertson, John S. 1984. "Colonial evidence for a pre-Quiche, ergative 3sg *ru-." International Journal of American Linguistics 50.452-5.

Robertson, John S. 1986. "A reconstruction and evolutionary statement of the Mayan numerals from twenty to four hundred." International Journal of American Linguistics 52.227-41.

Robertson, John S. 1999. "The history of first-person singular in the Mayan languages." International Journal of American Linguistics 65.449-65.


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 Reply
"David Starner", Mon, Mar 31, 2003 16:36 (CST)

Tresillo in Brinton 1885

Brinton notes that the tresillo is an old form of the number three, reversed (and then shows a current 3, rotated 180 degrees.)

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