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Newbie... how did we get our knowledge of the language?

 
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MrCrowley
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PostPosted: Mon Mar 27, 2006 6:17 pm    Post subject: Newbie... how did we get our knowledge of the language? Reply with quote

Hi all,

I only recently been interested in the egyptian history, so it is my first time here. I am still beginning to understand the basics...

Like everybody else, I know of Champollion and the Rosetta Stone, so I have an idea on how we achieved our decypherment of hieroglyphs. I still need a piece of the puzzle though to perfect my understanding of the matter.

I have read in many places the way associations have been made between the names of persons on the Rosetta stone, to understand that hieroglyphs could be used phonetically. I also read that Champollion himself made about 80 associations of cartouches with the name of their owners, so that he was able to get more associations between characters and sounds than were available on the stone.

What I do not know is our understanding of the language itself. Where does it come from? Even if somebody in the 19th century was able to read each and every sound meant by the hieroglyphs in a complete text, how did they know the meaning of these sounds? Was ancient egyptian still a "known" language when the hieroglphs were decyphered? In fact, I suppose that it was not, since it is mentionned in most of the texts I have read that we can only guess what the pronunciation of vowels was. So, while I have an idea on how the written characters were translated to sounds from the Rosetta stone, I have no idea on how we know the meaning of these sounds... From where do we know that "pr" means "house"?

Thank you to help me better understand!!
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Daughter_Of_SETI
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PostPosted: Mon Mar 27, 2006 7:27 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

This site might be helpful:

http://www.touregypt.net/featurestories/champollion.htm

After reading from that site, I beleive that because Champollion could read and speak Coptic (I think the last known language spoken in Egypt), he began to see similarities between Coptic letters and the Demotic script, so I think this is the basics of the translation. (honestly though I'm only guessing).

I suppose the reason why they knew the meaning of the sounds is because they were the same in Coptic. I remember seeing a documentary that said 'Re' was Coptic for sun, like in Ancient Egyptian. The diminutives were also helpful in guessing the meaning of a word.

Someone else on the forum probably has a much better idea though, as I'm only really a beginner. I just thought I'd welcome you to the forum. Very Happy

Hope you enjoy the forum MrCrowley.

#Newbie
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PostPosted: Mon Mar 27, 2006 10:44 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

I think the names were the key.

The assumption is that the names and pronunciation of some of the egyptian kings were known because of reference to them in overseas communications in other languages.

Once the Rosetta stone was discovered (with the same information in three languages) it was relatively straightforward to see which glphys represented which names and therefore attach pronunciation to those glyphs.

As I understand it we still aren't entirely sure about vowels, though.
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anneke
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PostPosted: Mon Mar 27, 2006 11:02 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Mr.Crowley wrote:
What I do not know is our understanding of the language itself. Where does it come from? Even if somebody in the 19th century was able to read each and every sound meant by the hieroglyphs in a complete text, how did they know the meaning of these sounds?


I think this is where the Rosetta stone was also helpful. The stone contains several cartouches that allowed people to assign the sounds to (at least some) the glyphs, but the translated text also allowed people to match words and expressions.
This is probably what allowed people to recognize expressions such as nb twy (New-tawy) which means Lord of the Two Lands.

I don't know how they have found the meanings of all the known terms, but it must be somewhat like other languages and writing systems. Some of it by comparative linguistics (comparisons to Coptic) and some from context?
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kmt_sesh
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PostPosted: Wed Mar 29, 2006 2:08 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Others have mentioned the language of the Copts, and that was key. From early on Champollion seemed to understand intuitively that Coptic and ancient Egyptian were connected, but many years would pass before he would "crack the code."

At first Champollion was laboring under the same misconceptions that had stymied so many other scholars before he came along: specifically, that since hieroglyphs were formed from little pictures, each of those little pictures must mean what they depict (mouth means mouth, vulture means vulture, outstretched hand means...well, you get the idea).

The importance of the Rosetta Stone has been somewhat overblown in the popular literature. Other scholars like the doctor Thomas Young had managed some limited success from it, but no one could get past the names (those were simple enough to recognize, but the remainder of the text could not be deciphered). Champollion was eventually a respected and noted scholar in France, but the English had wrested the Rosetta Stone from the French soon after it was found, and Champollion never managed to get a decent copy of the text on the Stone.

He relied much more on the inscriptions friends and colleagues had carefully copied on trips to Egypt and brought back for him, and of course on the volumes the French scholars and historians were still in the process of assembling after the failed French invasion of Egypt. And in fact, the very first word Champollion successfully translated from hieroglyphs was the name rmss--Ramesses II. I believe it was from an inscription found at Abu Simbel. He was so excited when that lightbulb went off (inside joke Very Happy ) that he rushed to his brother's office to tell him of his success...and fainted dead away.

Champollion finally realized that the language was indeed not pictographic but phonetic and consonantal, like so many other written Afro-Semitic languages of the Near East in those ancient times. Ancient Egyptian can be idiogrammic in many instances (a mouth can indeed mean mouth, for example), but there are specific ways to indicate that in the script.

It should be noted that Champollion has perhaps been given a bit too much credit for the deciphering of hieroglyphs. He took up where many before him left off, and plenty of people today (especially you Brits Very Happy) feel that the work of Thomas Young didn't receive enough acclaim. Champollion definitely didn't do it all on his own, but he unquestionably succeeded where all others had failed. And to his credit Jean-François was a friggin' genius--this was a guy who could fluently speak and read and write several foreign languages even before he reached puberty.

It was another 20 years or more before anyone could read a simple sentence of hieroglyphs, but Champollion devoted the rest of his life to the study. And he had been correct all along about Coptic. This now-liturgical language of the Egyptian Christians is the descendant of ancient Egyptian. Later linguists and philologists were able to delve more deeply into Coptic to strip away the centuries of influence from Greek and other foreign tongues to arrive at a pretty reliable approximation of how ancient Egyptian must have sounded, though we can never be 100% sure.

Until someone invents a time machine. I'm still waiting for that, people. Very Happy
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Daughter_Of_SETI
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PostPosted: Wed Mar 29, 2006 6:39 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

kmt_sesh
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and plenty of people today (especially you Brits Very Happy ) feel that the work of Thomas Young didn't receive enough acclaim.


Hello! I'm from the UK and I believe that Thomas Young got more than enough acclaim, after all Champollion's methods for translating the glyphs were much more admirable Cool - It could be just me who thinks that though, I'm not speaking for the whole of England. Thomas Young's ideas of using mathematics to decipher the Rosetta Stone, seems like he wanted to translate the Stone, but not necessarily understand its meaning (if you get my meaning). Smile
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PostPosted: Wed Mar 29, 2006 8:38 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Champollion's decipherment required a multifaceted approach. This is how he found the name Ramesses, which showed that Egyptian names as well as foreign ones were written phonetically.

He had previously found the phonetic sign for s, and he had a cartouche which started with a sun sign and ended with a double s. He knew the Coptic for sun was Re. So he asked himself what pharaohs had a name like R(e)-?-ss, and came up with Ramesses. Hence he gave the sign in the middle (three foxes tails) the value m. (We now know that it's actually a biconsonantal ms.) He then looked at another cartouche which had the same sign in the middle, an s at the end and an ibis at the beginning. Knowing that the ibis was a symbol of Thoth, gave this the value of Thothmes (Manetho's Tuthmosis). Finally he went back to the Rosetta stone and found the m sign and the s sign where the Greek translation was 'birth day'. This fitted because the Coptic word 'mise' means to give birth. Thus his guess was confirmed.

He went on to decipher the part of Ptolemy's cartouche which translated as 'living forever, beloved of Ptah'. Figuring that the final sign on its own meant beloved, he was able to give this the approximate value mer because he knew that the Coptic word for love was 'mere'.

Thomas Young made significant contributions to the decipherment of Demotic. He was able to publish an alphabet and successfully deduced the meanings of many words on the Rosetta stone. He was also the first to notice a correspondence between hieroglyphs and demotic signs and hence deduced that Demotic was written in a combination of logograms and phonograms.

(Information from Lost Languages by Andrew Robinson)
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kmt_sesh
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PostPosted: Wed Mar 29, 2006 8:58 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

I have that book Robinsons and very much enjoyed it.

Thanks for the interesting details on Champollion, Nekht-Ankh. I'd completely forgotten about Young's contributions to our understanding of Demotic (my bad), so thanks especially for that. I doubt I'll ever have a go at Demotic myself, so I'll be leaving that to more astute minds. Wink
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PostPosted: Wed Mar 29, 2006 9:03 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

toothy7

I just want to say that if my last post sounded offensive, I didn't mean it to. SORRY

Sad
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PostPosted: Wed Mar 29, 2006 10:03 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Daughter_Of_SETI wrote:
I just want to say that if my last post sounded offensive, I didn't mean it to.

Not at all. You're entitled to your opinion of the merits of Young's contribution.

kmt_sesh wrote:
I have that book Robinsons and very much enjoyed it.

Yes, it's a very good read. For those who haven't read it, the book surveys about 10 different scripts and the varying degrees of progress made in deciphering them. I thoroughly recommend it.
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PostPosted: Thu Mar 30, 2006 3:07 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

I'd have to recommend that book myself. Another book I enjoyed is Mysteries of the Alphabet: The Origins of Writing, by Marc-Alain Ouaknin. This one is just fun to page through to see how the modern Western alphabet evolved, and it contains a lot of interesting facts.
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MrCrowley
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PostPosted: Fri Mar 31, 2006 8:53 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Thank you all for your replies. I might be getting Robinsons' book.
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PostPosted: Sat Apr 01, 2006 11:54 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

I might also have added that one of the scripts considered by Robinson is Meroitic.

kmt_sesh wrote:
I'd have to recommend that book myself. Another book I enjoyed is Mysteries of the Alphabet: The Origins of Writing, by Marc-Alain Ouaknin.

Thanks, I'll look out for that one. You might also enjoy Empires of the Word by Nicholas Ostler, which looks at how languages evolve and how some languages survive while others die out. It takes as case studies many of the world's major languages from Sumerian onwards. It's quite interesting reading, although it did take me a while to get all the way through it.
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PostPosted: Sun Apr 02, 2006 6:07 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Thanks, Nekht-Ankh. I'm not familiar with that one and it looks interesting. I'm adding it to my list. Wink
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PostPosted: Thu Feb 14, 2019 7:10 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

It was briefly mentioned, but the Greek writing on the Rosetta Stone helped a lot as well. If all the parts of the puzzle were not there, it would be much harder to decipher.
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