Indo European hieroglyphs?

January 16, 2011 § Leave a comment

For most English speakers the term hieroglyph transports us to the Nile or to classical Meso-America, but languages a little closer to home, linguistically speaking, have also deployed the ideographic approach to literacy. Luwian is a long extinct language of the Anatolian region, i.e., Turkey. Along with all its sister languages this subgroup of Indo-European became extinct before the common era. Some of them, such as Hittite, were prominent languages of this part of the world for some time. Hittite was used for the textual records for the empire that in modern times has been given the same name. Its capital, excavated only in the early 20th century, contained a hoard of official records written in the cuneiform system. This system had been decoded for a number of ancient languages that had aquired this system, but it was soon apparent that this was something new. Bedrich Hrozny, one of the few famous Czechs outside of tennis (!!) was the first to decode the ancient texts leading to the discovery that Hittite was the oldest written Indo-European Language found so far. Not only that, but the oldest known international peace treaty was written in the language of the two treaty participants, original it was inscribed on silver and stored in the Egyptian and Hittite capitals. Fittingly a copy? or a photo? of this peace document is  displayed in the United Nations.

However, Luwian is particularly interesting as over the course of Hittite archaelolgy and linguistics it became clear that two different scripts were used at different times. Below is a transcription of a Luwian monument using hieroglyhs:

image from this fantastic Hittite site

Click on it to enlarge.  The hieroglyphic system of Luwian deployed syllabic signs and logograms just like most hieroglyphic systems.

Using the syllabary and the mini-lexicon from, you should be able to idenitfy some of the signs in this text.

Think of it as a kind of  ancient jigsaw puzzle …


we’re back and beyond

January 12, 2011 § Leave a comment

*b-ling* is back for 2011. After a brief hiatus, we’re here to bring you assorted linguistics treats for another year. Some of you might have ventured away for the holiday season. Down to the beach or perhaps from the madding crowd?

English has a number of terms for remote rural regions and some of them have some interesting origins. Out in the sticks is a derogatory expression for such areas implying a lack of sophistication in  a  sparsely setlled area. The boondocks, shortened to the boonies apparently from Tagalog bundok ‘mountain’ is said to have entered English via American soldiers stationed there in the 1940s. One of the most distinctive Australianisms is woop woop. Modelled on mock Australian languages where reduplication is a frequent feature, this form seemed to have emerged in the early twentieth century and is even included in the a poem drama, Sheakespeare on the Turf (1923) by the great Banjo Paterson of the man from snowy river fame:

Enter an Owner and a Jockey
OWNER: ‘Tis a good horse. A passing good horse.
JOCKEY: I rose him yesternoon: it seemed to me
That in good truth a fairly speedy cow Might well outrun him.
OWNER: Thou froward varlet; must I say again,
That on the Woop Woop course he ran a mile
In less than forty with his irons on!
JOCKEY: Then thou should’st bring the Woop Woop course down here.
OWNER: Thou pestilential scurvy Knave.
Go to!

New Zealand’s contribution to the derision of the remote and rural is boohai, most often heard in the phrase up the boohai. This seesm to be a deformed version of Puhoi, a region not too far north of Auckland. Some sources suggest that the settlement on Bohemians here helped remodel the Maaori toponym

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