Sunday, September 23, 2012

History: The Rosetta Stone

If you've ever watched the British television channel Dave you may be familiar with the company of the same name: they offer language-learning software and have some terrible commercials that make you feel racist. Two Asian girls with American accents speaking Spanish poorly... "estamos estudiendo español"... you'd think they'd have checked them for proper pronunciation!

What we're talking about today is The Rosetta Stone. An actual stone. The reason this stone is so important is because it is one of the oldest and best examples of translation to have lasted from ancient times. The stone has the same text (more or less) written in three different languages: Ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs, Demotic, and Ancient Greek. Over time, scholars were eventually able to decipher Ancient Egyptian (which hadn't been understood since before the fall of the Roman Empire) by using the stone.

Check out this sexy slab of granite.

The Rosetta Stone was rediscovered in 1799 by some French soldiers sent on an expedition by Napoleon. Through a series of events we won't go into (that undoubtedly upset the French!), it ended up in the British Museum in London by 1802, where it remains to this day. Several copies of the inscriptions were made and studied by scholars around the world for years, and eventually, the translated Ancient Greek and Demotic led to the deciphering of hieroglyphs in the mid-1800s.

We highly advise if you are as crazy about linguistics as we are, that you get to the British Museum to get stoned, Rosetta Stone-d, (not that we care either way... it's your life, we're not your parents). It's definitely our favorite stone. Our other favorites include Stonehenge, The Rolling Stones and Stone Phillips.