Wednesday, July 10, 2013

The Riddle of the Labyrinth

The Riddle of the Labyrinth: the quest to crack an ancient code

Harper Collins, 2013

In 1900, archeologist Arthur Evans discovered a series of tablets on the island of Crete. The tablets dated from 1450 BCE, almost 700 years before the Greek alphabet was developed. The tablets were written in an unknown script and in an unknown language, referred to as Linear B. The Riddle of the Labyrinth tells the story of how Linear B was decoded, and the contributions of the three major players, Arthur Evans, Alice Kober and Michael Ventris. The process took 53 years. The work was done before computers were available to private citizens and when paper was in such sort supply that Kober had to cut her own index cards from church flyers and greeting cards. 

From reading this book, I learned that languages may be logographic where each character depicts an idea (Chinese), or syllabic where each symbol refers to a syllable (Japanese kana script) or phonetic where each character stands for a sound. “By some estimates, only 15 percent of the roughly six thousand languages spoken around the globe have written forms.” 

I recommend this book for anyone who is interested in codes, the development of language or history.


Wyman Stewart said...

Maybe my library has a copy.

Another book someone should write, if not written already, is on disappearing spoken-languages. Many languages spoken at the beginning of the 20th. Century are now extinct. Today, some languages are more endangered than plants and animals!

Thanks for the message about The Riddle of the Labyrinth. This had to be a work of love. Making the NY Times bestseller list would be a miracle, despite the amazing topic. However, with word of mouth marketing,you never know.

Ann Finkelstein said...

Wyman: Absolutely. It is even more difficult to keep a language alive if there is no written form.

Margalit Fox has also written a book about a culture that speaks only with signing. I might look that one up too.

Wyman Stewart said...

Thanks! Never heard of a signing culture, as far as I know. Margalit Fox sounds like a fascinating lady. Will look her up.

Holly said...