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Thread: Ancient languages

  1. #1 Ancient languages 
    Forum Professor Zwirko's Avatar
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    Does anybody on TSF have experience in learning ancient languages? I've been learning Middle Egyptian for over five years (on and off) and I have to say it's probably the hardest thing I've ever attempted to learn - if you want to know what it feels like to have your brain explode then give it a try.

    Anyway, I repeatedly read various experts that say that learning a language like this is next to impossible without professional instruction. Teaching yourself via books can only take you so far, apparently. Sometimes I'm inclined to agree and feel like giving up completely. Learning individual hieroglyphs is easy, as is building a vocabulary; it's the grammar that is the major stumbling block.

    Does anybody here know a long-dead language? If so, how long did it take for you to feel comfortable reading an ancient text? Did you teach yourself or did you learn it through a university level course in ancient history?


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  3. #2  
    Time Lord
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    I don't know what to tell you for sure, because I've never tried any dead languages, and the only foreign language I've ever mastered via formal study is Spanish, which most scholars rate as being among the easiest ones on Earth to learn. (I'm not bi-cultural, just studied it because I thought it would be useful.) Two things I learned about language study:

    1) -Don't waste a lot of time on vocabulary until you've got the grammar down. That's like building a house without a frame.

    2)- If you can, find a book you're very familiar with in English, and which has been translated into the language you want to learn to speak, and read it in your new language - Probably not very easy for dead languages. Maybe you could get really familiar with something that has been translated from it first?


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  4. #3  
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    anybody know where to find a new american book of the dead? that's the only book out of ancient egypt that i'm aware has been translated into english.
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  5. #4  
    Forum Masters Degree Twit of wit's Avatar
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    Ancient langues are troublesome, because you can't hear them, except some made up pronunciation. That makes the words very hard to remember. When you hear a living language, hearing it often will help with memorizing and automatizing it's words and gramar. This is not possible with ancient languages.

    Quote Originally Posted by kojax
    1) -Don't waste a lot of time on vocabulary until you've got the grammar down. That's like building a house without a frame.
    Grammar is almost impossible to master with formal study unless it's very similar to your native language. With very distant languages, even vocabulary becomes troublesome.
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  6. #5  
    Forum Radioactive Isotope skeptic's Avatar
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    At High School, I studied Latin and French. The dead language was a lot easier.

    Apart from anything else, when you study a dead language, you do not need to worry about nuances of pronunciation! Near enough is good enough. Reading and writing another tongue is a lot easier than speaking and understanding what is spoken.

    Mind you, I have never tried an old Egyptian tongue. Sounds difficult!
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  7. #6  
    Forum Professor Zwirko's Avatar
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    Regarding the points about pronunciation: luckily this is not an issue for Middle Egyptian. The written language of the Egyptians had no vowels, not even diacritical marks to indicate how a word should be spoken like in Arabic. Hieroglyphs basically transliterate in to a series of consonants which you then translate (esp. if you want to get the grammar correct). What was between those consonants is pretty much a mystery (except for a few words here and there that were written down in other languages that were contemporary with Middle Egyptian). Most people just stick an "e" after a consonant if you want to vocalise a word in your head.

    I do have the two best books available:

    Middle Egyptian: An Introduction to the Language and Culture of Hieroglyphs by James Allen and Gardiner's somewhat antiquated Egyptian Grammar. The going gets tough in both these books after about a quarter the way through.
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  8. #7  
    Forum Masters Degree Twit of wit's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by skeptic

    Apart from anything else, when you study a dead language, you do not need to worry about nuances of pronunciation! Near enough is good enough. Reading and writing another tongue is a lot easier than speaking and understanding what is spoken.
    If this is your learning style, ancient langueages may be good for you, but I need to hear the sound to remember it. I know that some poeple learn by letters, their pronounciation and understanding of spoken language is usually poor, often to the point of trouble understanding simple sentences, but their writing skills are often much better than mine.
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  9. #8  
    Forum Radioactive Isotope skeptic's Avatar
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    Twit

    I understand your point. I am only a little different. I like to speak words also. However, it helps a lot if you can speak those words and not have to worry about how they sound. When I was in Paris a couple years ago, I drew on my schoolboy French to communicate. Big mistake! They could not understand me, and I certainly could not understand them. No problem reading a French newspaper. No problem writing down an order at the cafe. Speaking and understanding their speech - uh uh!

    With Latin, I might voice the words, but no-one is required to understand my speech.
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  10. #9  
    Forum Masters Degree Twit of wit's Avatar
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    You are obviously the second group. It does not mean you hate speaking, only that you remember the words differently.
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  11. #10  
    Forum Radioactive Isotope skeptic's Avatar
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    Actually, it means I cannot handle the pronunciation. And the bloody French people kept talking too damn fast!
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  12. #11  
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    the language of Akkadia/Sumeria, which is now modern day Iraq
    they invented the cuneiform language
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  13. #12 Re: Ancient languages 
    Forum Cosmic Wizard SkinWalker's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Zwirko
    Does anybody on TSF have experience in learning ancient languages? I've been learning Middle Egyptian for over five years (on and off) and I have to say it's probably the hardest thing I've ever attempted to learn - if you want to know what it feels like to have your brain explode then give it a try.
    I've been considering learning to translate Egyptian hieroglyphs and one or more of the languages that use cuneiform (perhaps Akkadian) but I haven't had the opportunity. I have an online acquaintance who has the experience you're asking about, however. His name is Duane and he blogs at Abnormal Interests. When you visit the link, click the Akkadian link on the right side-bar.
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  14. #13  
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    It seems like you are always interested to learn new languages. How many languages are you familiar with?
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  15. #14  
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    The resurrection of Hebrew still blows my mind, but it has eclipsed Yiddish and Ladino and other similar once-common languages, with rich literary traditions. Unintended consequences strike again.

    The Basque language is supposed to feature a staggering amount of literature vs the number of speakers, any notion why?

    Robert Oppenheimer was supposed to have been fluent in Sanskrit, but I have not learned how or why this came about.

    Very cool thread, my compliments. :-D
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