Monday, July 18, 2011

Lost Languages

This display is "encyclopediac" with two columns per page, filled with diagrams and pictures. However, this does not distract from a very engaging narrative. It begins with background on deciphering lost languages, and how it differs from code-breaking. (One intends to deceive, but renders a common language. Another does not intend to deceive, but does not render to a known language.)

It then spends time covering some decipherments such as Linear B and Mayan. These are intriguing synopses, with plenty of details provided to allow the reader to try it on their own.

After that it goes in to some of the major "undeciphered" scripts. The degree to which they are not deciphered varies. Some are totally unknown. While others have a few proposed decipherments, but nothing that scholars can agree on. Part of the problem is simply identifying what defines a "character". We haven't been blessed with ancient civilizations that did a beautiful job typesetting all of their artifacts. Instead we have characters that may be the same, but have slightly different shapes. We may also have compound characters and perhaps characters that look almost the same, but are really quite different. Then once the characters are "cracked", there is the matter of figuring out what they mean. If we don't know the language of the time, we cna try to find related languages and hope for the best. Or we can try computer models, or we can just try to come up with something new.

Will we be able to crack this old scripts? Probably one day, but it could take a while.

This book does a great job of exciting interesting in ancient languages, while also making their challenges clear.

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