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Lost Languages: The Enigma of the World's Undeciphered Scripts (2002)

di Andrew Robinson

UtentiRecensioniPopolaritàMedia votiCitazioni
536833,153 (3.8)22
Whether it's the possibility of hearing the voices of ancient peoples or the puzzle solver's taste for the challenges posed by breaking codes, undeciphered scripts have long tantalized the public. Here, Andrew Robinson investigates the most famous examples, beginning with the stories of three great decipherments: Egyptian hieroglyphs, Maya glyphs, and the Minoan Linear B clay tablets.He then tackles the important scripts that have yet to be cracked. Perhaps the greatest challenge is the Indus script, the onl writing of the four "first" civilizations that cannot be read and a potential key to better understanding the impressive Indus Valley civilization. Then there are the Etruscans, builders of sensational tombs and the cultural conduit through whom the Greek alphabet reached Rome and the rest of Europe. Yet the language spoken by the Etruscans remains wrapped in mystery. And on isolated Easter Island, the Rongorongo script, inscribed on wood with sharks' teeth, has long been an irresistible magnet for ambitious scholars.The struggle to decipher these three scripts and six others--including the Phaistos disc of Crete and the Zapotec script of Mexico--is recounted with extraordinary depth and erudition in this wonderfully illustrated book. Lost Languages is an archaeological and linguistic detective story that will appeal to anyone interested in ancient peoples and the intricacies of language.Andrew Robinson's many books include The Story of Writing.… (altro)
Aggiunto di recente daibinu, dean, reddean, tally.bookman, micahammon, jawhite2401, Chica3000
Biblioteche di personaggi celebriTim Spalding, Theodore John Kaczynski
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    Le Chiavi dell'Egitto di Lesley Adkins (lorax)
    lorax: The Keys of Egypt is a detailed look at the decipherment of Egyptian hieroglyphics; Lost Languages covers more scripts, deciphered and not, in less detail.
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    timspalding: The decipherment of Hittite doesn't always get the same billing as Egyptian or Mayan—it's missing from Lost Languages, for example—but it's quite compelling even so. Ceram's account is great.
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    Alpha Beta: How 26 Letters Shaped the Western World di John Man (Ludi_Ling)
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I enjoyed this brief overview of many of the world's undeciphered scripts. Some of these I had not heard of, or had heard very little about, such as the Phaistos Disc and the Zapotec and Isthmian scripts. It was an easy read and the stories flowed well. I enjoyed Andrew Robinson's commentaries and opinions. At times he tells you to try to figure a problem out by looking at a picture or chart. (I never did spend time figuring any of it out, I just kept reading for the answers.)

Because of all the different scripts mentioned in the book, there isn't a lot of detail about any of them. It's a good introductory text. I have read several books about the Maya hieroglyphs (all reputable) and I might explore more books that talk about some of these scripts in more detail. I'll have to be careful - it sounds like there is a lot of information published about these scripts and not all of it can be trusted.

This book is copyrighted in 2002 and I'm curious to know if anything new has been discovered or if any more progress on decipherment has been made in the last 12 years.

I was disappointed in all of the typos in the book. That does not, of course, affect my rating, but it was frustrating to read a non-fiction book on language that was not adequately proof read! ( )
  Chica3000 | Dec 11, 2020 |
Andrew Robinson has written a book about lost languages and lost writing systems for the layman. After an excellent introduction which gives all the details needed to read and understand the rest of the book, he goes on to tell the stories of three systems which have been deciphered: Egyptians hieroglyphs, Linear B and Mayan glyphs. All three had numerous examples and could be matched to a known language. In the case of the Egyptian hieroglyphs, the Rosetta stone proved invaluable with its hieroglyph, demotic and Greek sections. Linear B was discovered in Crete and thought to be Minoan, but was actually an early form of Greek. The Mayan language is still spoken today. But, until the discovery and understanding of the Mayan calendar, it did not seem to match the language. Not all the glyphs have been indentified but enough to very some readings.

Then Robinson goes on to the undeciphered writings: among them the Etruscan alphabet (Is it pre-Greek?), Linear A (a relative of Linear B), Rongorongo from Easter Island, and the Indus script. He ends with the Phaistos disc from Crete which may be impossible to translate since there is only the disc and one vase which may or may not be in the same script.

Robinson's conclusions are that some of these languages and writings may be translated (at least partially) with more and more architectural findings and some may never be known. Surely over time, we will find more mysteries as well.

The book has a system in lieu of footnotes called notes and references but Robinson does a good job of citing sources in his text. He also gives credits for all of his numerous illustrations broken down by chapter in the back of the book. There also is an exhaustive bibliography and, for the interested layperson, books and websites for further study. The index is excellent and breaks down entries into bold type for major entries, regular type for mentions, and italics for illustrations, thus making it easy to go back and refer to a previously covered topic. And the language used in the text is easily accessible to all readers.

I can highly recommend this book to interested persons. ( )
1 vota fdholt | Jul 4, 2019 |
An overview of the world's most well known hard-to-decipher scripts, ranging from Egyptian hieroglyphics to the Indus valley script. Largely a history of the attempts, rarely successful, at deciphering. So, a lot of names, and oddball theories. Illustrated throughout with examples of the scripts, photographs of relics such as the Rosetta Stone, help make the book more accessible and relieve some of the strain from the name dumps. It also contains some history of areas that I was not that aware of, such as the Indus valley circa 400 BCE, the Elam culture, and Cush with its undeciphered Meroitic.
I'm not all that sure why I'm giving it three stars, when it contains so much that I like and it's presented so well. But it is fairly boring, as it's almost too thorough in describing unsuccessful attempts. Maybe I'm not as into this as I think I am.
3 stars oc. ( )
  starcat | Aug 11, 2014 |
I happen to have a thing about historical mysteries, and I also happen to have a thing about the history of writing. These two interests of mine seem to have come together admirably in Andrew Robinson's Lost Languages: The Enigma of the World's Undeciphered Scripts.

'Lost Languages' is a bit of a misnomer in this case. 'Lost Writing Systems' would've been a more accurate if less poetic title. While lost languages often walk hand in hand with lost writing systems, that isn't always expressly the case, as Robinson makes clear. For example, the famous case of the decipherment of Linear B showed that the Linear B tablets recorded a very archaic form of Greek. Likewise, ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs expressed a form of archaic Egyptian quite similar to Coptic, which was still a living (if only strictly liturgical) language. This isn't a book about the lost languages, it's a book about lost writing systems (in the sense that their meaning is largely lost to us), and about attempts at decipherment. What makes this book fascinating is how culture often seems to inform the decipherment of scripts. As such, Robinson throws in a lot about the history of each culture, as well as the technical details of decipherment. Robinson gives us a taste of the history of writing, bringing to live a human need that has spanned the ages.

This need is the need to organise, record and remember, and it is the single most fascinating thing about this book. People say we now live in an 'Information Society'; but I believe that we always have, just in ways that have been limited by the available tools and infrastructure around us. This desire to order and make sense of our world has led to the invention of many hundreds of different scripts, of varying degrees of complexity and efficiency (Robinson highlights the fact that Japanese is the most inefficient writing system in the world, yet Japan has one of the world's highest levels of literacy). Throughout time, human ingenuity has been funnelled into the activity of writing and recording, even if it means re-inventing the wheel again and again.

More of this review here:- http://digisqueeb.blogspot.co.uk/2012/03/from-shelf-lost-languages-by-andrew.htm... ( )
1 vota Ludi_Ling | Mar 21, 2012 |
Writing that I can't read has always fascinated and infuriated me. Reading this book made me feel like a child again, in the best possible way; page upon page of beautiful scripts, photographed and illustrated, their meanings only known to us in part, or not at all. It begins, rather prosaically, with the tales of three examples of ancient writing that have been successfully deciphered in the modern era; Egyptian Hieroglyphs, Mayan Glyphs and Linear B. The author's especial admiration is reserved for Michael Ventris, the architect and amateur Classicist who deciphered the latter and although he rather overplays his own association with John Chadwick, his erudite presentation of all three decipherments shows us, the reader, how it should be done.

But the real juicy stuff is in the second section of the book. Here be mysteries. There are squiggles and pictures, carvings and seal stones and all of them tempting archaeologists with hidden knowledge straight from the mouths of their precious ancient civilizations, if only they could be correctly interpreted. But it's also a lesson in folly, as Robinson recalls with some glee the number of failed decipherments from scholars and crackpots alike, arrogance or madness having led countless individuals sadly astray. What comes clear though is that those scripts which have been cracked were done so not by lone geniuses, but by the hard work of clever people working together from many different disciplines and sharing their work. And with a little bit of luck with regards to further finds, and a great deal of endeavour, the prognosis is hopeful.
4 vota gerundivalattraction | Mar 24, 2010 |
This richly illustrated book, which highlights the thrills of archeological sleuthing, recounts the many attempts at understanding ancient civilizations through the decipherment of their long-lost writing. Major breakthroughs, such as the Rosetta Stone and its key to Egyptian hieroglyphs, and continuing enigmas such as the undeciphered scripts of the Etruscans and Easter Islanders are explored with all the fervor of a contemporary news story.
aggiunto da Ludi_Ling | modificaPublisher's Weekly (Feb 18, 2002)
 
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Whether it's the possibility of hearing the voices of ancient peoples or the puzzle solver's taste for the challenges posed by breaking codes, undeciphered scripts have long tantalized the public. Here, Andrew Robinson investigates the most famous examples, beginning with the stories of three great decipherments: Egyptian hieroglyphs, Maya glyphs, and the Minoan Linear B clay tablets.He then tackles the important scripts that have yet to be cracked. Perhaps the greatest challenge is the Indus script, the onl writing of the four "first" civilizations that cannot be read and a potential key to better understanding the impressive Indus Valley civilization. Then there are the Etruscans, builders of sensational tombs and the cultural conduit through whom the Greek alphabet reached Rome and the rest of Europe. Yet the language spoken by the Etruscans remains wrapped in mystery. And on isolated Easter Island, the Rongorongo script, inscribed on wood with sharks' teeth, has long been an irresistible magnet for ambitious scholars.The struggle to decipher these three scripts and six others--including the Phaistos disc of Crete and the Zapotec script of Mexico--is recounted with extraordinary depth and erudition in this wonderfully illustrated book. Lost Languages is an archaeological and linguistic detective story that will appeal to anyone interested in ancient peoples and the intricacies of language.Andrew Robinson's many books include The Story of Writing.

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