Every so often a news article will make the rounds of the internet – or, for that matter, a paper will be published in an academic journal – presenting a new ‘decipherment’ of an undeciphered ancient writing system. Obviously, such decipherments have taken place in the past – probably most famously that of Egyptian hieroglyphs – and it’s certainly possible that more will take place in the future; but when it comes to the undeciphered writing systems of the Bronze Age Aegean, at least, there’s good reason to be extremely sceptical about any such claims of decipherment. This post is a quick guide to some key facts about the various related writing systems found in Bronze Age Crete and mainland Greece, starting with the one deciphered writing system, Linear B, and then surveying the undeciphered ones roughly in order of how much we know about them, looking very briefly at where and when they’re from, what kinds of documents exist, and how much (if anything) we know about the writing system or the language it represents. Continue reading “A very short introduction to the undeciphered Aegean writing systems”
It’s going to be a busy time for linguists in the Classics Faculty in March – not only is there the conference I’m organising on “Diversity of Writing Systems“, but there’s also going to be another conference about writing, this one on “Exploring the Social and Cultural
Contexts of Historic Writing Systems“. Organised by my colleagues in the CREWS Project, it looks like a wonderful programme, and I’m looking forward to attending (and chairing a session)! Programme and registration details here:
I’m very pleased to now be able to share the programme for the Association of Written Language and Literacy’s 12th International Workshop on ‘Diversity of Writing Systems’ (AWLL12), taking place in the Cambridge Faculty of Classics on March 26-28th 2019. It’s been very exciting putting together such a wide-ranging programme, and I’m really looking forward to the conference! All the information on how to register for the conference is also available via the AWLL12 website:
Last year saw the publication of the first ‘Understanding Relations Between Scripts‘ conference, which focused on the Aegean and Cypriot writing systems – I’m now pleased to be able to make the pre-print of my chapter, ‘Processes of script adaptation and creation in Linear B: the evidence of the “extra” signs’, available online. In it I talk about the group of Linear B signs which can be used to replace some of the syllabary’s ‘core’ signs in certain circumstances – for instance, the writing system doesn’t normally represent the sound /h/, so the core sign a could represent either /a/ or /ha/, but there’s an extra sign a2 that can used specifically for /ha/. I look at the wide range of different reasons why these signs exist in the first place – some were inherited from Linear B’s parent script Linear A, but many of them seem to have been specially invented within Linear B because they would be particularly useful for the kinds of administrative records that it was used to write. If you want to find out more, you can read the paper! It’s freely available in the Cambridge online repository, and also on my academia.edu page. Also, abstracts are currently being accepted for the third Understanding Relations Between Scripts conference, ‘Exploring the Social and Cultural Contexts of Historic Writing Systems’ – any interested researchers should check out the CfP here!
It’s a tradition for the Cambridge classical linguists that in Easter (summer) term, instead of our usual research seminars, we all get together to learn a bit about an ancient language that most of us don’t usually study, and to try to read through a few inscriptions. It’s become equally traditional that I provide refreshments for these reading classes in the form of an inscribed cake. This term, my colleague Robert Crellin from the CREWS Project has been teaching us all some Middle Egyptian, and so I’m pleased to present my latest linguistic baking project, Egyptian hieroglyphic cake:
Last year I wrote about attending a conference in Japan organised by the Association for Written Language and Literacy – I’m now excited to be able to announce that I’m co-organising the AWLL’s next conference, to be held in Cambridge in March 2019 on the theme of ‘Diversity of Writing Systems: Embracing Multiple Perspectives‘. It’s open to researchers working on writing in any academic discipline – not just linguistics, but psychology, education, sociology, archaeology, digital humanities, computer science and technology, and any others I might not have thought of! To give some idea of the range of topics we’re aiming to include, our two keynote speakers are Kathryn Piquette from UCL’s Centre for Digital Humanities, who works on Egyptian and ancient Near Eastern writing and art and on developing and applying digital imaging techniques, and Sonali Nag from the University of Oxford, whose research focuses on literacy acquisition and language development, particularly in South and South-East Asian writing systems and languages.
If you’re a researcher working on any writing system from any perspective, please head over to the conference webpage and check out the call for papers – I’m already looking forward to seeing what a wide range of abstracts we’re (hopefully) going to receive!
A couple of years ago Johanna Hanink, a classicist at Brown University, wrote an excellent essay entitled ‘On not knowing (modern) Greek‘, discussing the fact that very few scholars of ancient Greek ever learn modern Greek; the average classicist studying ancient Greece is more likely to study French, German, and/or Italian than to learn the modern language of the country they study. Hanink argues very persuasively that this privileging of other modern European languages over Greek is effectively a continuation of 19th-century colonialist attitudes towards contemporary, as opposed to classical, Greeks:
…why does Modern Greek still not have a seat at the classicists’ table?
This is, bluntly put, largely because our discipline continues to take a colonialist view of, among other things, Greece, Greeks, and (Modern) Greek. Historians and anthropologists who work on Greece have been much more willing than classicists to acknowledge the country’s legacy of metaphorical colonization: not by the Ottomans, but by the early European antiquaries and travelers who planted their flags in the ruins of Greek antiquity…Viewed through the lens of the present, the people who undertook this more “symbolic” colonization of Greece look a great deal like early versions of classicists.
One of the story’s many legacies is that classicists trained in the “Western” classical tradition tend to disregard Modern Greek as a scholarly language, while Greeks who want to participate in the tradition — to have their voices and ideas heard abroad— earn degrees in other countries and publish their research in English, German, or French. Granting Modern Greek a more valued place in the professional conversation would be a positive step for a field that, on the point of colonialism, has a lot to answer for.