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Books - History - Ancient - Mayan - The mystery of undeciphered languages

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The World's Writing Systems
by Peter T. Daniels, William Bright
Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars
Hardcover (01 February, 1996)
list price: $175.00 -- our price: $175.00
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Reviews (6)

5-0 out of 5 stars Best all around reference on scripts I've seen.
For many years, I thought I was interested in languages. I suppose I am since (before a brain tumor) I was literate in 8 and could pass in another 8 or so. It wasn't the languages that interested me so much as the writing systems. This is the book that made me realize that several years ago.

Most people would consider this to be a refference book. So it is but anyone intersted in the different types of scripts will enjoy reading it straight through. It enumerates and explains almost all writing systems of note including both those that are extinct and those that are extant. For each, the system by which sounds are transmitted to a graphic medium are explained. This necessitates some basic linguistics but the text provides all that is needed.

Scripts of historic interest are explained in the same manner and so is the method of their decipherment. This alone would make it an interesting book to me but there is so much more.

A person who is interested in writing and writing systems would be hard pressed to find a better book.

5-0 out of 5 stars Exceptional reference work and coverage
Exceptionally well researched, documented, illustrated, and well-written reference work on 80 of the world's writing systems. I don't know if they're all here, but they include extinct languages such as Egyptian and Gothic, as well as modern ones that are still alive. Alphabets as diverse as the Cree syllabary and Korean phonetic alphabet are discussed, as well as phonographic and ideographic systems such as Egyptian and Assyrian cuneiform.

Much of the information in this book relating to the history and development of various writing systems can be found inEncyclopedia Britannica and Encarta articles on various languages and language groups, but the actual writing systems are usually not shown, which is where this book comes in. This book lays them all out under one cover. However, the Britannica articles are especially impressive from the standpoint of the comparative philology and historical linguistics, so you might want to consult those articles too for that information, especially as the Britannica CD is only a fraction of the cost of this book.

In addition to the real languages covered, this book even covers musical notation, body movement, and Tolkien's invented language for Middle Earth. Despite the cost, this is an extraordinary reference work on writing systems that will probably become the definitive work in its field.

5-0 out of 5 stars Beautiful and useful
This book belongs to a rare category: Reference Works of Art. This massive volume not only brings together an amazing mass of information, but does so in a fantastically attractive manner.The coverage is comprehensive: general articles on the relationship of writing to language, linguistics, decipherment, etc. accompany page after page devoted to every script extant from Egyptian and Chinese scripts to Ogham, Cree, and Mandain. If that were not enough, the book goes on to explore other systems for conveying information in written, symbolic form, such as mathematical and musical notations. But enough with the table of contents. I've only used the book for browsing thus far, but this even is a rewarding experience. The price on this book is quite high, but is in proportion to the quantity and quality of the material it contains. If all books were so well done, there would be very little to debate in terms of the effort put forth by writers and the taste exercised by editors. It doesn't get any better than this. ... Read more

Isbn: 0195079930
Sales Rank: 204760
Subjects:  1. Alphabet    2. Graphemics    3. Language Arts / Linguistics / Literacy    4. Linguistics    5. Linguistics (Specific Aspects)    6. Reference    7. Writing    8. Palaeography (history of writing)    9. Reference works   


The Story of Decipherment: From Egyptian Hieroglyphs to Maya Script
by Maurice Pope
Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars
Paperback (01 June, 1999)
list price: $19.95 -- our price: $13.57
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Reviews (1)

4-0 out of 5 stars A very nice overview of the decipherement of languages
How do people decipher old scripts? As a person with very badly legible handwriting I have always been interested in how scripts are deciphered. For the case of my handwriting I learned about how it is done from people who told me. Assume a letter has to be deciphered. First of all, thelanguage I use is known to people who try to read the letter. I was toldpeople usually start with words they can read or words which are obvious.From those, they seem to get an understanding of how characters arewritten. The knowledge of these characters then helps them to decipherother words and to learn more and more characters. Quite obviously,deciphering Egyptian or Maya script is somewhat different from this. Apartfrom the fact, that my hand writing is not nearly as beautiful as, say, oldMaya script, there seems to be the language problem: The person who triesto decipher Maya script does not speak the language of the Mayas.

Or so Ithought. However, after reading this book I was amazed about how similarthe decipherment of my handwriting and of, say, Maya script is. As it turnsout, the language of the script has to be known! That came as a surprise tome when I started to read the book. How would anybody know the language ofancient Egypt? As it turns out, in many cases, old languages survived orare the progenitors of languages known today. In the case of Egyptian,there is a language called Coptic which is still spoken today and which isvery close to ancient Egyptian. In addition, the decipherment is very oftenmade much easier by documents which contain the same text in more than onelanguage. Pope's book explains in very nice details how the knowledge ofCoptic and the existence of the so-called Rosetta Stone made thedecipherement of Egyptian hieroglyphs possible. In a similar fashion, hetalks about many other old scripts like Linear B, Cuneiform etc.

In myopinion, the book has a few small flaws, though. First of all, the firstchapter which deals with older ideas of what Egyptian hieroglyphs mightmean is incredibly boring because it is so repetitive. In addition, Popementions many and in fact too many contributors of the decipherement of anyof the language so that the reader (or at least me) is left somewhatconfused about who did what etc. But these flaws are really only minor andif I could I'd give this book 4 1/2 stars out of 5. ... Read more

Isbn: 050028105X
Sales Rank: 516808
Subjects:  1. Alphabet    2. Archaeology    3. Archaeology / Anthropology    4. Extinct languages    5. History    6. History and criticism    7. Inscriptions    8. Social Science    9. Sociology    10. Translating & Interpreting    11. Writing    12. Archaeological methodology & techniques    13. Archaeological theory    14. Palaeography (history of writing)   


Extinct Languages
by Johannes Friedrich
Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars
Hardcover (01 March, 1984)
list price: $6.96
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Reviews (2)

5-0 out of 5 stars Popular Style - Solid Science!
This is by far the best book I have read (and keep re-reading) on ancient languages and their decipherment. Johannes Friedrich is obviously a master of his subject, and yet he and his gifted translator - Frank Gaynor - put that deep learning into easily accessible prose. The book is hard to put down, even on a second or third reading, and yet it does not achieve such readability by over-simplification or omission. It is more than a book on antique languages, it is an opportunity to visit with a very great mind.

4-0 out of 5 stars Tales of archaeological decipherment
Originally translated from the German in the late 1950's, this book leads off with the tale of the great decipherments of the nineteenth century: Egyptian hieroglyphs, the various languages using cuneiform, and the Hittite/Luwian native script.

It goes on to give a glimpse at some texts in languages which had not yet been fully figured as of the date of its writing, including languages for which much progress has been made, like Carian, and languages that still baffle readers, like the Rongo-Rongo script of Easter Island.

The information here is dated, but its chief value is to whet one's interest in the intriguing world of archaeological decipherments.It's no wonder it went through many reprints and is relatively easy to find. ... Read more

Isbn: 0802205461
Sales Rank: 984699
Subjects:  1. Bargain Books   

Origin and Early Development of the Chinese Writing System/Volume 78 (American Oriental Series)
by W. Boltz
Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars
Hardcover (01 August, 1994)
list price: $47.50
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Reviews (1)

5-0 out of 5 stars scholarly treatise on grammatonomic (not graphic) evolution
A fascinating scholarly treatise on the theory behind title subject, with a grammatonomic approach, emphasizing the internal, or linguistic processes, rather than the external, or material aspect (graphic structures). Explains the motivations for and problems resulting from the borrowing of characters for other, spoken words, in a four-step model of the development of writing systems, from 1) logographs, to 2) two kinds of loans, semantic loans resulting in po4yin1zi4 (polyphony) and the resultant phonetic ambiguity; and phonetic (rebus) loans resulting in semantic ambiguity; 3) determinatives added to resolve ambiguity; and finally (in other languages but not Chinese) 4) desemanticization of the logographs, resulting in a purely phonetic system of writing.

Boltz patiently guides the reader through the kinds of reasoning needed to infer etymological processes. Particularly interesting is the reasoning on how to infer that some currently monophonic characters must have once been polyphonic, inferring polyphony for the components of a number of supposed hui4yi4 (logical aggregate, compound indicative, or associative compound) characters such as an1 'tranquility' and hao3 'good', thus dispelling mythical etymologies like "woman under roof represents tranquility". Boltz explains how to determine whether the role of a particular component is as an original semantic or phonetic one (or both), or instead as a determinative resolving phonetic ambiguity of a polyphonic character or semantic ambiguity of a parasemantic or polyphonic graph.

Perhaps too scholarly for the average beginning student of Mandarin, and not arranged or indexed to be an etymological reference works, but certainly worthwhile reading for the "hardcore" amateur sinologist and intermediate to advanced Chinese major. ... Read more

Isbn: 0940490781
Sales Rank: 1524434
Subjects:  1. Chinese    2. Foreign Language - Dictionaries / Phrase Books   

Breaking the Maya Code
by Michael D. Coe
Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars
Paperback (01 October, 1999)
list price: $18.95 -- our price: $12.89
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Reviews (23)

5-0 out of 5 stars A fascinating telling of a centuries long detective story
When I first saw Mayan characters I couldn't even formulate a clue on how to look at them.I could pick out some faces, dots, and a vast array of images I could not make anything of.This book takes us on the long trail of decipherment that began centuries ago, but the breakthrough came in 1952 in the Soviet Union.The thirty year old Yuri Knorosov took up the research because it was a safe topic in the USSR and the story of what he accomplished is stunning.

This fascinating book begins with the story of how ancient scripts have been decoded throughout history.Cuneiform, Egyptian Hieroglyphs, and even Chinese and Japanese have all presented challenges that have been solved.Several scripts remain unreadable.Michael D. Coe shows us how the early discoverers of the Maya worked on trying to read the characters they saw on the monuments and buildings the dug out the jungles of Central America.Their guesses and surmises about the writing actually held up decipherment because the fundamentally misunderstood how the script worked.

The author also shows us how to read the writing.It is a fascinating process.Of course, what we read is still Mayan, but he provides translations for us.It is also interesting to note how the same character varies in appearance in different places and at different times.After a bit of practice, you can pick up the knack of seeing the similarities and recognizing what you are seeing.

There are many helpful photos, drawings, and tables as well as an index.

Simply cool.

5-0 out of 5 stars The story of an incredible intellectual quest
It took a long time before Maya script could be read in a coherent way. Up to the 1950s, no one was able to decipher the inscriptions chiselled into the Maya temples and palaces in the jungles of Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras and Belize. Although many attempts at decipherment had been undertaken in the 19th and early 20th century by a number of - in some cases rather quixotic - Maya enthusiasts, they all lacked the linguistic training and the touch of genius that might have led them to a breakthrough. Thus, by the middle of the 20th century the generally accepted view among Maya scholars was that those glyphs represented neither words nor syntactical constructions but rather that they were to be interpreted as purely mythological allusions. The undisputed leader of this school of thought was Eric Thompson, Maya expert at Washington's Carnegie Institution.

Opposing views of the Thompson school had occasionally been heard before, but only in 1952 did there arise an opponent formidable enough to effectively challenge the established opinion on the Maya glyphs. That year, Yuri V. Knorosov, a researcher at then Leningrad's Institute of Ethnology published his view that the Maya script was logographic, meaning that it consisted of a. logograms that express the meaning of words and b. phonetic-syllable signs (comparable to modern Japanese). Although the ensuing dispute between followers of Thompson and supporters of Knorosov continued for many years, today it is the Knorosov apporach that is being recognized as having given the decisive impetus that led to the decipherment of most Maya glyphs. Over the years, Knorosov's method was refined by generation after generation of gifted Maya scholars, among them Michael Coe, the author of this book and now professor emeritus of Anthropology at Yale University. Having favoured the Knorosov approach from the outset, Mr Coe understandably is critical of the Thompson school, but his verdict on his former rival is always fair, never degrading.

The story of expert dispute over the meaning of the glyphs, however, takes up only about half of the book - after all, factional fighting is a frequently observed phenomenon in all fields of academia. The other half is dedicated to the history of discoveries that took place once the Knorosov approach had been accepted as the signpost to follow. Here, Mr Coe excels in depicting the various people who got hooked on the Maya glyphs and who dedicated their working life to the continuing decipherment of the Maya script. All in all, "Breaking the Maya Code" proved to be a delightful read and, this being the mark of every good book, it made me want to read more on the subject. I am now in the mood to pick up a book on how to read Maya glyphs or to have a closer look at one of the four codices, the surviving Maya books. Highly recommended!

3-0 out of 5 stars Literature or Research?
If you are new on the Maya path, you will find this book very interesting, easy to read and capturing.But, if you are a mayanist aficionado, better try another book, like Montgomery's, about Mayan writing, of David Drew's account of it.Coe, even when he made important apportations to mayan studies, is one of that scholars (like Thompson, his nemesis) that put the personal view on his research.So, this account is full of biased information and emotional catarsis.However, it is very readable, keeping you reading until the end, like a good mistery or detective story.Enjoy the reading, but if you want something serious, he is not the guy. ... Read more

Isbn: 0500281335
Sales Rank: 70381
Subjects:  1. Archaeology    2. Archaeology / Anthropology    3. Central America    4. Ethnic Studies - Native American Studies    5. History    6. Linguistics    7. Mayan languages    8. Mexico    9. Native American Anthropology    10. Paleography    11. Social Science    12. Sociology    13. Writing   


The Decipherment of Linear B (Canto)
by John Chadwick
Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars
Paperback (13 September, 1990)
list price: $16.99 -- our price: $11.55
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Reviews (10)

5-0 out of 5 stars Good summary of the decipherment story
I really liked this book as an outline of the method used to decipher the Linear B script found at Crete and a few locations on mainland Greece.The author is very well qualified to comment on the decipherment given that he was a key collaborator with Michael Ventris.I found the level of detail to be just right to show the outstanding scholarship achieved by Ventris who was a professional architect, not a Greek Classics college professor; but not so much detail as to detract from the readability of the story.

5-0 out of 5 stars AEurekamoment
Michael Ventris was an architect whose knack for languages, both oral training and excellent visual memory, provided the foundation for his avocation, decoding the Cretan script.Archaeology of the pre-hellinic age supplied the material.Among many scholars in Athens in the 1890's to see the Schliemann treasures was Arthur Evans.Based on evidence of the wealth of the civilization, Evans was led to search for prehistoric writing.In excavation at Knossos, Crete he found that the civilization was in his estimation incomparably older than that of Greece.

Early Greek was composed of Greek dialects.Evans found Minoan writing.It is now possible to see that Linear B resulted from adapting the Minoan script to Greek writing.Classical Cypriot writing was seemingly related to Linear B; but the signs can stand for different things and it was too readily assumed that Linear B followed the spelling conventions of Cypriot.Evans concluded that the Minoan language was totally different from that of Mycenaen Greek.The influence of Evans was immense.

Ventris's proof that the people of Knossos spoke Greek was electrifying.Decipherment requires adequate material. From 1950-1952 Ventris was fixated by the idea of Etruscan as the language of Linear B.The code is designed to fool the investigator in cryptography.The script derived from ancient material is only baffling by accident.The Minoan script was a case of an unknown script in an unknown language.In theory any code can be broken.The idea is to grasp the underlying pattern.Classical Greek in general is the dialect of Attica.Ventris pursued the matter by comparing similar signs and coming to the realization variances represented word endings of an inflected language.He saw some Greek solutions for names and eventually came to see a Greek solution was inevitable.Initially he did not understand how archaic the language was that he was dealing with in Linear B.

Cryptography is a science of deduction and controlled experiment.After Ventris did a radio broadcast and mentioned his supposition that the language of Linear B was Greek, the author arranged to be put into touch with Ventris.He, a specialist in Greek dialects, became convinced after a few days that the identifictions were sound.Ventris indicated he did need the assistance of a philologist.Chadwick and Ventris formed a partnership that lasted for four years.The first paper was a joint work, Ventris felt it would have more chance of being published that way, and was termed "Evidence for Greek Dialect in the Mycenaen Archive."In other words, claims of decoding the text were avoided purposely.Linear B is no Domesday Book.It does not yield riches of detail of Mycenaen life.

4-0 out of 5 stars Good book
I enjoyed this book very much.I recommend this book as well as the other book on the decipherment of linear b.It's an amazing story. ... Read more

Isbn: 0521398304
Sales Rank: 31736
Subjects:  1. Ancient Languages - Classical Greek    2. Bible - Language Studies    3. Classical Archaeology    4. General    5. History    6. History: World    7. Inscriptions, Linear B    8. Paleography    9. Reference    10. Religion - Biblical Studies - Language    11. Ventris, Michael    12. Ancient (Classical) Greek    13. Ancient Greece    14. Classical Greek & Roman archaeology    15. Language & Linguistics    16. Language Arts & Disciplines / General   


Deciphering the Indus Script
by Asko Parpola
Average Customer Review: 3.0 out of 5 stars
Hardcover (08 September, 1994)
list price: $109.95
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Reviews (6)

1-0 out of 5 stars Methodologically weak!
Parpola's theories have set back the cause of the study of the Harappan script by 2 decades. All the archaeological evidence that has come in since he proposed his ill-conceived model has weighed in against it.

5-0 out of 5 stars Treasure trove of information about the Harappan script.
Every chapter was fascinating reading. While the book contains a wealth of information, it is presented so that even an amateur can appreciate it. The author is balanced in his treatment of work done on the script even thoughhe might disagree with the work of other scholars. He certainly does notclaim to have deciphered the script but presents his arguments clearly forthe reader to decide whether they have merit. He also presents ideas aboutfruitdul avenues to pursue. The only possible negative comment is thatthere is too much to absorb in this book.

5-0 out of 5 stars Excellent summary on Indus valley culture
Summarizing four decades of research to decode the Indus valley culture as Dravidian.

The Indus valley flourished before the arrival of Aryans in Punjab ... Read more

Isbn: 0521430798
Sales Rank: 2252345
Subjects:  1. Antiquities    2. Archaeology    3. Foreign Language - Dictionaries / Phrase Books    4. Harappa Site (Pakistan)    5. Indus civilization    6. Indus script    7. Miscellaneous    8. Pakistan    9. Paleography    10. Social Science    11. Sociology    12. ASIA    13. Indic, East Indo-European & Dravidian Languages    14. Palaeography (history of writing)    15. Social Science / Archaeology   

Rongorongo: The Easter Island Script : History, Traditions, Texts (Oxford Studies in Anthropological Linguistics, 14)
by Steven Roger Fischer
Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars
Hardcover (01 December, 1997)
list price: $240.00 -- our price: $240.00
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Reviews (1)

5-0 out of 5 stars A truly amazing book
This is a truly amazing book. By its contents, its style, and ... its price. The author affects a convoluted, turgid style where archaisms abound (erstwhile outnumbers former by two to one), where few words will notdo when many can (in March 1865 becomes at the very end of the AmericanCivil War in March 1865), where speculations and misrepresentations arehanded down as God's Truth.Three pages on Father Sebastian Englert, whospent most of his life on Easter Island, would alone justify buying thisbook if it were not so expensive. They are a torrent of venomous,defamatory abuse opening witha mild Sebastian Englert (1888-1969) wasperhaps personally the most remarkable-and academically the mostoverrated-figure, soon waxing to the German Capuchin father distilled ayarn as far removed from the historical truth of rongorongo's erstwhile useas one can imagine.For if Englert genuflected to any dogma it was to thatof the almighty Oral Tradition... His claim that the inscriptions were readalternately left to right and right to left, without mentioningboustrophedon or the need to rotate the artefact while reading, shows infact just how limited his knowledge of the subject was...Even in hisposthumously published Island at the Centre of the World - New Light onEaster Island (Englert, 1970: 73-81)- regarded today on the island, in theSpanish edition, as "Scripture"-Padre Sebastian only reiteratedthe superannuated posture toward rongorongo of the 1930s and confused itsscientific discussion with sophomoric inaccuracies... ignoring in lateryears all scientific advances made by Thomas Barthel or the Russians...and concluded with Unscientific but remarkably well-read, Padre Sebastianwas long on words-but short on substance.The fascinating thing there isthat those claims are never substantiated by, say, a direct quote, or aprecise reference. Even more fascinating is that any reader who bothers tolook up pages 73-81 of Englert "Island at the Center of the World" willdiscover that Fischer's claims are all outright misrepresentations. ThereEnglert wrote: According to the tradition, Hotu Matua brought with himfrom Hiva sixty- seven of these inscribed tablets...The sequence of thewriting is a rare and curious one called reversed boustrophedon that is,each line of script when it reaches the edge of the board turns back upsidedown to form the next line. This means that to read the script one mustturn the board around at the end of each line...The most complete workdealing withthe problem up to the present time is Grundlagen zurEntzifferung der Osterinselschrift (Foundations for the Decipherment of theEaster Island Script) by Thomas Barthel... A group of Russian scholars...have spent some years studying the problem. Englert having died in 1969,the editorial board of Clarendon Press must have felt it was safe topublish this libellous material. Fischer's aim becomes clear when hemistranslates Thomas Barthel's Grundlagen zur Entzifferung derOsterinselschrift as Rudiments Toward the Decipherment of the Easter IslandScript (p. vii). The message is clear: Barthel's work was rudimentary,only awaiting the coming of Fischer's. The mistranslation is systematicallyrepeated to ensure that the reader gets the point. What then, of Fischer'soffering? The corpus of inscriptions is given as free- hand linereproductions of the hieroglyphic texts, falsely claimed to be computer-drawn (p.404). Those drawings are vastly inferior to Barthel's and containglaring errors. Where Barthel had further provided alphanumerical transliterations to helpanalyze the texts, Fischer gives none. There are photographs, but soreduced thatthe signs, already tiny (10 to 15mm tall), become quitemicroscopic. A truly amazing book, hailed as the first study ofrongorongo in any of the world's languages that comprehensively addressesthe classical Rapanui scripts full history, traditions, and texts by itsauthor, who has himself modestly described elsewhere as the greatestdecipherer to have ever lived. ... Read more

Isbn: 0198237103
Sales Rank: 1511619
Subjects:  1. Anthropology - General    2. Easter Island    3. History    4. History - General History    5. Language    6. Linguistic Anthropology    7. Linguistics    8. Oceania    9. Paleography    10. Prehistory    11. Rapanui language    12. Rongorongo script    13. Social Science    14. Writing    15. Palaeography (history of writing)   


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