[Maya rabbit scribe]

DECIPHERING ANCIENT LANGUAGES

Linguistics (Division 423) 102, Section 003 -- Fall 1999
Instructor: William Baxter


| Home page | Course outline | Problem sets | Other resources |


Course Outline

TopicClassesHighlights
0. Introduction to the course Class 1, TH Sept 9 Getting acquainted
1. Preparation and warmup Class 2, TU Sept 14
Class 3, TH Sept 16
Class 4, TU Sept 21
Getting our bearings
preliminary exercises, background information, and basic issues:
  • What is writing for?
  • What is decipherment?
  • How is it different from ordinary reading?
  • What makes it possible?
2. Cuneiform: Old Persian, Akkadian, Sumerian Class 5, TH Sept 23
Class 6, TU Sept 28
Class 7, TH Sept 30
Class 8, TU Oct 5
The decipherment of cuneiform scripts
  • Old Persian, language of the Persian Empire (7th to 4th centuries BCE)--largely deciphered from the trilingual inscription at Behistun (modern Bisitun, Iran)
  • Akkadian, major language of Mesopotamia, recorded about 2400 BCE to 100 BCE (so, having a written history twice as long as that of English)
  • Sumerian, the first written human language, beginning around 3000 BCE
TEST 1 Class 9, TH Oct 7 Our story so far--including a map test on Middle Eastern countries
3. Egyptian hieroglyphics Class 10, TU Oct 12
Class 11, TH Oct 14
Class 12, TU Oct 19
Class 13, TH Oct 21
The first great decipherment:
  • The Rosetta Stone and its history
  • Champollion, the decipherer
  • The Afro-Asiatic language family: Egyptian, Berber, Hausa, and other African languages, plus Semitic
4. Linear B Class 14, TU Oct 26
Class 15, TH Oct 28
Class 16, TU Nov 2
A lost script of Greece:
  • Decipherment with no bilingual text
  • Greece before Homer
  • The nature of early writing
TEST 2 Class 17, TH Nov 4 Testing knowledge about all topics so far--and more maps
5. Maya hieroglyphs Class 18, TU Nov 9
Class 19, TH Nov 11
Class 20, TU Nov 16
Class 21, TH Nov 18
Class 22, TU Nov 23
The latest great decipherment:
  • Another decipherment with no bilingual text
  • Clues from modern Maya languages
THANKSGIVING RECESS Nov 25 - 28
STUDENT REPORTS
--oral and written
Class 23, TU Nov 30
Class 24, TH Dec 2
Class 25, TU Dec 7
Individual reports on unsolved decipherment problems or other approved topics, including
  • Meroitic, an ancient script from Nubia (modern Sudan)
  • Etruscan, the language of pre-Roman inhabitants of Italy
  • Indus valley script, script of an ancient civilization (about 2500 - 1700 BC), in what is now Pakistan and India
  • The Phaistos Disk, an inscription from the ancient Aegean
  • Linear A, a script of the Minoan civilization of ancient Crete, related to Linear B but still undeciphered
  • or other relevant topics (but check them with me first)
REVIEW and course evaluations Class 26, TH Dec 9
FINAL EXAM Tuesday, Dec 21, 8:00 to 10:00 am
Place: 3527 Frieze (our regular classroom)

University of Michigan | Program in Linguistics

This page was last updated Wed, Sep 8, 1999, at 11:32 PM.
If you have comments or corrections, please contact William Baxter (wbaxter@umich.edu).