Headline, April 09 2022/ ''' '' GREATEST INVENTION GRAPPLES '' '''


 GRAPPLES '' '''


FOR THE PAST 5,000 YEARS - WE'VE BEEN LEAVING each other text messages, but we don't always know how to read them. It's hard enough to reconstruct forgotten languages, but infinitely harder when you know neither the words nor the signs in which the words were recorded.

Even today, despite advances in artificial intelligence, there are plenty of undeciphered scripts, from India to Europe, tantalizing us with their ancient wisdom. {Of course they could be old shopping lists, but that would be interesting, too.}

Silvia Ferrar, a professor at the University of Bologna, has devoted her life to reading these unreadable messages. Her area of specialization is early Aegean inscriptions, found in Greece and the islands of Cyprus and Crete. 

Crete is home to two undeciphered scripts, Cretan Hieroglyphic and Linear A, as well as a mysteriously inscribed disk. In all three cases, we know neither the language nor the writing.

One method of cracking these codes involves cats. Both scripts utilized stylized images of the animal ''as if sketched by Walt Disney,'' Ferrara wryly observes. At first, the cats were taken for mere decoration. Enter Alice Kober, a chain smoking researcher working at Brooklyn College, who starting in the late 1940s helped to decipher a related script, called Linear B, filing her diagrammed note cards in empty strike cartons.

The cats, it turned out, also featured in that script, though in a slimmed-down, stylized form. Thanks to Kober, we know exactly what these Cretan cats say : meow. Or rather : ma. [Apparently, cats say the same thing in all languages, while roosters crow in wildly different idioms.]

Decryption is made doubly difficult by the cultural assumptions decoders bring to their task, as in the case of the quipu knots devised by the Inca. 

Some specialists still consider these series of knots made in cotton strings as mere mnemonic devices devices, like rosary heads, but Ferrara explains that they are a three-dimensional system of communication, and compares them to the tactile arrangements of buttons on your washing machine. They don't represent sounds, but you know how to use them.

Another impediment has been the alphabet, which, in the world of writing, is the 800-pound gorilla. Or, in Ferrara's words, the Maserati. While other systems rattled along with  hundreds or even thousands of signs, the alphabet, developed by Phoenician traders and Greek merchants, streamlined writing down to two dozen and pulled ahead.

The success of the alphabet got into the heads of those trying to decode Mayan signs, which they kept trying to read as an alphabet. It took researchers until the 1970s to realize that Mayan inscriptions, which look like ornamental heads, form an elaborate system involving hundreds of signs.

We shouldn't think of such scripts as inferior, Ferrara points out. No writing system is good or bad in itself but works as long as enough people use it. Witness China, which has resisted the Maserati and has proudly onto its own much more complicated writing system, the oldest in continuous use.

The title of Ferrar's book, ''The Greatest Invention,'' might sound bombastic, but the book isn't. One reason is Ferrar's conversational style, rendered into lively English by Todd Portnowitz. Ferrara says she wrote the book the way she talks to friends over dinner, and that's exactly how it reads.

Instead of telling a chronological history of writing, she moves freely from script to script, island to island. It can be a bit dizzying but also great fun, and she is constantly by our side, prodding us with questions, offering speculations, reporting on exciting discoveries [and on annoying colleagues : Please don't email her your theories about ancient scripts].

Ferrara also lets us in on engaging discussions with collaborators. Her project was funded by the European Union, which has been supporting research in the humanities on a scale unthinkable in the United States, where scholars mostly labor on their own.

The time of these loan thinkers, Ferrara says, is over, and her book doubles as a manifesto for collaborative research.

The Honour and Serving of the Latest Global Operational Research on The History of Writing, from script to script, continues. The World Students Society thanks review author Martin Puncher.

With respectful dedication to History and Past, and then Students, Professors and Teachers of the world. See Ya all prepare and register for Great Global Elections on The World Students Society - for every subject in the world : wssciw.blogspot.com and Twitter - !E-WOW! - The Ecosystem 2011 :

Good Night and God Bless

SAM Daily Times - the Voice of the Voiceless


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