Lost Languages Author:P. E. Cleator All languages undergo continuous change. Latin and Greek are typical examples of inflectional languages. In 1786 the common origin of English and Sanskrit was predicted. — The ancient Egyptians used a combination of ideograms and phonograms. The Greeks evolved the first true alphabet. The Etruscan alphabet had twenty six letters. The Romans borro... more »wed twenty one of them. Greek and Latin were brought to Egypt. The Egyptian language using an expanded Greek alphabet survived in its Coptic form because of its use by Christians.
Knowledge of hieroglyphic writing was lost from 400 AD to 1800. The Rosetta Stone changed the situation. Jean Francois Champollion and others guessed correctly that the hieroglyphic forms contained phonetic expression. The hieroglyphs were neither exclusively symbolic nor exclusively phonetic. For the most part Champollion's ideas happened to be right.
Cuneiform was used by the Semitic Accadians and by other Mesopotamian peoples. George Frederick Grotefend became interested in deciphering the cuneiform writings. He obtained phonetic values for twelve cuneiform signs. Henry Rawlinson found additional signs to raise the number to eighteen and wrote a paper on deciphering Old Persian cuneiform inscriptions. By 1850 Rawlinson had ascertained the values of 150 characters and 500 words of an unknown language, (Sumerian?), of the Behistun trilingual text. The other writings of the inscription were Elamite and Persian.
The book describes the work of Michael Ventris in the decipherment of the Linear B Text. The Etruscan language continues to baffle scholars. Knowledge of the Mayan glyphs was lost through whole sale destruction of Mayan records. The Mayan system is primarily ideographic. This is evident since illiterate groups still speak a Mayan language.« less