Hot answers tagged

158

By comparisons with known languages. Let's take the example of Egyptian hieroglyphs. It is well known that the ancient Egyptian script was decoded thanks to the Rosetta Stone, which recorded an identical passage in Ancient Greek, Demotic, and hieroglyphs. The ancient Egyptian language, and hieroglyphs, were thus deciphered through comparison with the ...


110

Louis-François Pinagot He was an illiterate shoemaker in western France in the 19th century. French historian Alain Corbin picked Pinagot at random on a town registry, and wrote his biography as a way to describe the social environment of 19th century France, collecting as much data as possible about Pinagot, his family, his village, etc. The result was ...


108

No, there is no known record of that kind of native linguistic script analysis in pre-modern China, although its quite possible it came up and was rejected, for reasons I'll outline below. The main issue here is that the mostly-logographic system China uses has historically been covering up for the fact that quite a few Chinese "dialects" are not mutually-...


65

The short answer is that we don't. The pronunciations we use today are our best guess at how the ancients pronounced their words. For your two examples. We know that Sumerian had an immense influence on the Semitic language Akkadian. Because Akkadian was a Semitic language, and we have a wealth of data about how related Semitic languages were pronounced, ...


49

Yes, but neither by the Chinese nor only for Chinese. Kublai Khan ordered the Tibetan Sakya trizin Phagpa to create a universal alphabet to be used by the languages of his empire. It's usually known after him as 'Phags-pa Script'. Because he wasn't interested in marking tones, Phagpa differentiated Chinese syllables by recourse to outdated pronunciations ...


43

Victor Henry Mair is an American Sinologist and professor of Chinese at the University of Pennsylvania, and this is what he wrote (emphasis mine): An English language report in The Quarterly Bulletin of Chinese Bibliography states that, on October 4, 1935, the government “authorized” the use of simplified characters in official and private documents. In ...


38

It's a pounce pot, being used to dry the wet ink without having to blot it. As noted here, the pounce itself could be made from any of powdered gum sandarac; crushed pumice (origin of pounce I believe), cuttlefish bone, or eggshell; or allum mixed with resin. This was used both to size the writing surface as well as to dry the ink after writing, and the ...


32

Two reasons: to increase literacy by simplifying the language, and to cut ties with the past (ie. the Ottomans) and forge a new secular Turkish identity. The Ottoman Turkish alphabet, a variant of Arabic, was not well suited to Turkish words and phonemes making it very hard to learn and use. In particular, Turkish has eight vowels, but vowels in Arabic are ...


30

I think you may look into biographies of war heroes. War is an opportunity for a person to do something notable to attract biographers’ attention and still stay just one of the many. For example, The story of a real man, a novel by Boris Polevoy, is a biography of Alexey Maresyev (Meresyev in the book), a Soviet pilot who was shot down behind the frontline, ...


28

The Merchant of Prato by Iris Origo (1957) is a biography of Francesco Datini a 14th-century merchant banker. The only distinguishing factor of Datini is that by chance a huge stash of his written accounts and letters had been preserved and discovered in 1870.


25

TLDR: Phonetic scripts won't work because of how the Chinese languages are structured. So it never really came up before Europeans arrived. Language Issues: There are several ways to answer this question; before I get into the history, it is important to ask: Is it possible to represent Chinese in a phonetic script? According to my first Chinese language ...


23

The oldest hieroglphs The earliest known Egyptian hieroglyphic writing so far discovered was found in tomb U-j at Abydos, dating to about 3250 BCE. The tomb was excavated in 1988 by Günter Dreyer and his team, and the results published in Umm el-Qaab I: das prädynastische Königsgrab U-j und seine frühen Schriftzeugnisse. They concluded that tomb U-j was ...


23

Not a book, but there is a long-running documentary film series in the UK following the lives of ordinary people with a film every seven years from the first when they were seven years old. The latest, '63 Up', has just shown. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Up_(film_series)


22

The short answer is no. Although the origins of hieroglyphic writing are disputed to some extent, modern scholarship leans towards the idea that it developed independently in Egypt, and "no definitive determination has been made as to the origin of hieroglyphics in ancient Egypt". In Middle Egyptian: An Introduction to the Language and Culture of ...


17

A runic alphabet works like other alphabets: one rune corresponds to one or more specific sounds. Runes only really have one significant difference: they are designed to be carved in wood, which means that they usually have vertical or slanted straight lines, but no or very few horisontal and curved lines. However, as the Younger Futhark was specifically ...


15

Thucydides has been widely read and cited since ancient times, though not always to same extent in different periods. Martin Hammond, in his translation of The Peloponnesian War, observes: Thucydides was not as widely read in the fourth century and the hellenistic period as the more obviously attractive Herodotus and Xenophon, but he was far from ...


14

Xenophon gave specific reasons for some of his works but for others he did not. Xenophon (about 431 BC to 354 BC) produced a very wide range of work during his lifetime: historical, biographical, philosophical, instructional. He never stated a primary purpose for all his works and we can deduce that some of what he wrote was aimed at specific audiences. ...


12

One of my favorite historical accounts is The Cheese and the Worms by Carlo Ginzburg (an Italian historian). https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Cheese_and_the_Worms It's an account of the life and trial of a sixteenth century miller brought before the inquisition twice, tried, and eventually executed. Quite excellent. "The study examines the unique ...


11

This question is a bit tricky. Mundane every day facts like descriptions of writing tools tend to be poorly documented because most people find them uninteresting. However, first to disabuse you of the idea that lead can't write. Have you ever handled lead yourself? It is remarkably soft and malleable, and easily makes marks on hard surfaces, although not ...


11

You're looking at a scribal abbreviation for "-rum". That is, the word is actually philosophorum, but with the last three letters replaced with ꝶ. Here is a screenshot of the enlarged character from the graphemica page: The colon is probably a punctus elevatus which is sometimes written without its tail, i.e. like a colon. It's basically like our modern ...


10

Not in the way you would think. The Romans did not use furniture unless they were very rich. Even items like the curule chair which magistrates used were very simple with only a small amount of wood. Of course, desks did exist for secretaries to the emperor and people like that, but a modern desk would have been very expensive in Roman times. Ordinary ...


10

The furthest back I've gotten so far isn't very far back at all. From a court transcript in 1877 or 1878: Q: Place upon the blackboard the signs that you used in applications for insurance. A: For what? Q: Certain stenographic signs? A: Yes, sir; there was the ordinary tick mark. Q: Go and make them please; show what meant yes and show what ...


10

The novelist Vikram Seth wrote Two Lives: A Memoir, which is a biography of his uncle and aunt. His uncle was a dentist, originally from India, who studied dentistry in Germany. His wife was Jewish, from Berlin. They left Germany and settled in England shortly before World War II. The part of the book that I remember best describes the effect of World War ...


9

Several reasons added up to prefering the recto side: As long as the roll was the preferred form for books (yes, you can fold papyrus and yes, it was done quite a lot when using it for codices, 2./3. century AD): You had to choose one side because the form of the medium(*) made it highly impractible to use both sides for one text. The scripture was done on ...


8

... the difference between the two sides of the sheet ... stems from the strips being at right angles to each other. The recto side, on which the strips run horizontally, was the side generally preferred for writing, while the verso, which had vertical strips, was less frequently used. - Etherington & Roberts, Bookbinding and the Conservation of Books: A ...


8

TL;DR: There is no good answer to this question, because (1) we are missing reliable sources, (2) because there was no market price for any certain commodity, not for one and the same time and certainly not across four centuries. Evidence points to a price between 2 drachmae and 5 drachmae per roll (seems to be 10000 cm²) of papyrus, whatever that may mean. ...


8

The Manchu alphabet The Qing dynasty (ruling China from 1644-1912) was founded by a clan of Manchuria, who spoke the Manchu language, written in the Manchu alphabet. Prior to the Qing dynasty defeating the Ming dynasty, Manchu leader Nurhaci decided to convert the Mongolian alphabet to make it suitable for the Manchu people. He decried the fact that ...


8

In a specific case, his work was clearly intended as instructional manual for others: His work On Horsemanship addresses cavalry officers and others either involved with the training of horses or the leading of mounted troops. Thus sitting "between" your two positions of "for future generations" and "for own satisfaction". The twist being that he almost ...


8

You could try A Distant Mirror: The Calamitous 14th Century by Barbara Tuchman. Strictly speaking, it's not a biography, as much as a tour of the 14th century in France, with sections on all the important events of the day: the Black Death, the Hundred Years' War, peasant revolts, the papal schism, and such. But most of the narrative is structured around ...


8

To ameliorate some of the western bias among these answers, there's an entire genre of Lei Feng biographies based on his purported diary and others' remembrances of him that have been read by far more people and been far more important to more people than any of the others mentioned here. A billion plus Chinese kids have been raised reading about him as a ...


Only top voted, non community-wiki answers of a minimum length are eligible