Trivia Teaser

With which sport do you associate the term 'slam dunk'?


The Rosetta Stone


By Christine Lovatt

I recently read that half of the 3,000 languages now spoken are in danger of extinction. It has happened many times in history that a language has gradually faded out of existence.

Sometimes, all the speakers were killed in a disaster. Other times, a local or old language may be overpowered by a metropolitan one or a new one and pressure is applied by authorities to neglect the ancestral tongue in favour of a more widely spoken one.

Children may be forbidden to use their mother tongue in the classroom, as happened with the Welsh, Irish and Aboriginal Australians.

When this happens, it’s a tragedy, not only for the speakers, separated from their native language, but also for the world. Every culture has much to offer other cultures, and both the spoken and written history, lifestyle and literature of each culture contains rich lessons for others.

When Egypt became Christianised, hieroglyphics were considered pagan and were strongly discouraged. After a time, they were no longer studied at all. The last hieroglyphic writings were made about 394 AD.

For almost 1500 years, nobody could read the hieroglyphic inscriptions on ancient tombs. Then in 1799, a French soldier discovered a stone sticking out of the desert sand, in a village called Rashid in northern Egypt, known to Europeans as Rosetta. It had  writing in two different languages, Egyptian and Greek and three different scripts – hieroglyphics, demotic and Greek. By comparing the Greek it was possible to decipher the hieroglyphics.

This stone, a black, basalt slab, was called the Rosetta Stone. It is believed to have been written in 196 BC, during the reign of Ptolemy V. It can now be seen in the British Museum.

A key to some undecipherable mystery is sometimes called the Rosetta Stone after this serendipitous discovery.


Happy puzzling!



1 Response to

The Rosetta Stone

September 27, 2007 at 11:22 AM


I understand your sadness at languages disappearing, but this has happened throughout our history as human beings. The English language is called a "Romance" language, together with, e.g. French, because a large part of it came from the Romans. If you look into a dictionary, the origins of words in English are Celtic, German, French, Spanish, Greek, to name just a few. Languages have always changed. Lately, of course, due to technonogy, the English language (as well as most other languages, both European and Asian, difinitely) are changing more rapidly and completely. So that every 20 years or so, there are words that the "oldies" may not even recognise, let alone understand. I have had my grandchildren explaining words impatiently. Haven't you found that?