The Rosetta Stone

The Rosetta Stone

The Rosetta Stone is, in my opinion, one of the greatest contributions to languages and language learning in history. Before you get to asking, I’m talking about the black granite stone you see in the picture, not the app or computer software.

What is the Rosetta Stone and why is it such a big deal? The stone itself is a piece of a ancient stone marker, inscribed with the same text in three different scripts – Egyptian hieroglyphs, Demotic script, and Ancient Greek. At the time of its discovery in 1799, no-one could read the hieroglyphs – the Ancient Egyptian language had been forgotten for almost 1,800 years. But by comparing the hieroglyphs with the other inscriptions on the Rosetta stone, modern scholars were able to start deciphering the Ancient Egyptian symbols for the first time. This led the way to reading and understanding the hieroglyphs that had been found on temple walls, pyramids, and papyrus scrolls throughout Egypt.

The stone and its translations opened the world of ancient Egyptian history and culture. We can now read their words, their thoughts, and more. On a personal note, it was in 1978 that I first learned about the Rosetta Stone, and the hieroglyphic top section really caught my attention. Thus my love and passion for learning languages began.

Learning by Comparison

The way these scholars of the early 19th century worked hard to decipher the texts has shown there is a way to learn a foreign language just by comparing a foreign text with one in a known language. Want to try it? First, let me explain a little of how to do it.

There are books and websites out there that have dual texts – one in your own language and another in the language you’re learning. First, read the text in your mother tongue to get an idea of what the information is about. Then look at the foreign language text and see if you can understand anything. Compare words and phrases to see if you can get the meaning right. Use a dictionary to confirm your understanding if you need.

Try it here

This is a piece taken from a British intelligence test (Northumberland No. 1) designed by Professor Godfrey Thomson in the 1920s. take a look at both sides where you’ll see some words in bold type. By comparing the “foreign” text and the English, can you figure out what the foreign equivalents are of the bold type?

Kuch malai. – Some cream.
Kuch puri leoge. – Will you take some cake?
Misri leoge. – Will you take sugar?

It may take a few minutes to get it, but this exercise will help you understand how the translators of the Rosetta Stone worked to figure out the texts and get them right . You can find the answers at the bottom of this post.*

The Rosetta Stone opened up a whole new language to the world and changed the way languages are learned today, and with The Rosetta Stone Challenge and the Speak Up! language series, you can open up your own world to new languages, cultures, and friends.

Challenge Answers: Some= Kuch, cake = puri, Will you take = leoge

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