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Thread: Oldest American script yet found

  1. #1 Oldest American script yet found 
    Forum Professor Pendragon's Avatar
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    Nice article at NewScientist.com

    A stone found in Mexico contains a whole set of hierochlive-like characters, belonging to the oldest script yet of the America's (about 1000BC). But ofcourse it's really hard to say what it actually means.

    It seems to be especially hard to decypher languages from the America's, compared to Euroasian ones. Maybe they just produced less material, or stone was/is a less favoured material among American natives? Or maybe their scripts are more complex, this one looks quite abstract compared to Egyptian hieroglives.


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    Neato


    :-)
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    The languages of the Americas are especially hard to decipher for a few reasons.

    1. Many american languages are dead. Many didn't survive the influx of Europeans, and many simply died on their own. This brings us to reason #2

    2. American languages are not closely linked. There are a number of native american languages still alive in the US alone. Adding Mexico to the mix makes it an eve larger pool. Most native languages are very different from each other, making it hard to trace this ancient script to any modern tongue. The ancient script may have been from a language that simply died on its own and left no relative languages, or may have left languages that dided rather recently, and are lost forever.

    This is in contrast to European languages which we know much about. The majority of languages in Europe are from a language family known as Indo-European. This includes the Germanic languages (English, German, Swedish, etc.), Italic or Romance Languages (Latin, Spanish, French, Romanian, Portugese, and Italian), Slavic (Russian, Polish, Belorussian, etc.) and a number of other groups including Persian Farsi, and Hindi. Therefore most of the modern languages have deep rrots throughout the rest of the continent. This makes it much eaisier to trace languages back, when you have so many well studied, closely related languages. Native American languages are very fragmented, and the written record is very poor, making it hard to use historical or comparative linguistics to decode ancient texts. The base of knowledge is small for american languages, and the relationships to modern languages are weak.

    3. There is no "rosetta stone" or the like. European, and mid-east cultures traded extensively with each other, and learned each others language. They would often write in both tongues and we have these written records to decifer previously unknown scripts. Without the rosetta stone we would know very little about how to read egyptian heiroglyphs. There is no rosetta stone for native american languages...at least none found yet.

    So imagine somone hands you a text in a language and script you have never seen before, and there are NO known relatives of this language that you can us to decipher it. If someone handed you an old english text you could (if you have the time and patience) compare modern english and german, and old german, norse, and dutch text in order to get a basic translation. You can't do this when you have an isolated language. This is the same problem that linguists have with a language and script like Linear A. We can't find any relatives to compare it to. Without comparison...you can't make a translation.
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    I guess they have numbered it the way they have bescause it gets a little crowded towards the 'bottom' and there are some 'lines' off characters. Also because the 'animal' is shown 'head up'. Yes, very interesting.
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    Interesting, so there must've been far less contact between native cultures in the America's compared to Eurasian ones. Otherwise they would've used a lingua franca or produced 'Rosetta-stones'. Maybe this could partly be explained by a lower population density in the America's, with cultures living in relative isolation.

    Or maybe native American cultures made more use of non-verbal communication and symbolism then their Eurasian counterparts when meeting foreigners.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Pendragon
    Interesting, so there must've been far less contact between native cultures in the America's compared to Eurasian ones. Otherwise they would've used a lingua franca or produced 'Rosetta-stones'. Maybe this could partly be explained by a lower population density in the America's, with cultures living in relative isolation.

    Or maybe native American cultures made more use of non-verbal communication and symbolism then their Eurasian counterparts when meeting foreigners.
    Native American cultures and languages were simply more diverse than Eursian ones. We see that Hindi from india and English from England, though geogrphically far apart, are both members of th same family of languages. We don't see this with native american languages. They are much more diverse in their origins, therefore it is hard to recontruct them, becuase there are few related tongues to compare it to.
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    Quote Originally Posted by UBigBobby
    Native American cultures and languages were simply more diverse than Eursian ones.
    This is descriptive, not explanatory.

    There is no obvious reason why the Native Americans should have produced such diverse languages. Culturally, they were no more diverse than the Europeans. (SW, correct me here if I'm wrong.) There are no obvious barriers to communication. It seems strange.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Ophiolite
    Quote Originally Posted by UBigBobby
    Native American cultures and languages were simply more diverse than Eursian ones.
    This is descriptive, not explanatory.

    There is no obvious reason why the Native Americans should have produced such diverse languages. Culturally, they were no more diverse than the Europeans. (SW, correct me here if I'm wrong.) There are no obvious barriers to communication. It seems strange.
    The majority of Eurasian languages evolved out of one parent language we call Proto Indo-European. We have no evidence of this being the case with native American cultures. There are many non-related language groups within the Americas. The reason? One theory is that native american groups were more disconnected from each other. I don't buy this as we know that trade was quite extensive throughout native american people. We find chert (flint) from the West burried in Western New York from as far back at 12,000 years ago to demonstrate this.

    What we do know is how Indo-European spread throughout Europe. It spread through trade and conquest. As one group that spoke one variation moved on the territory of another group that did not speak that version, a new variation would be produced over time. A good way to study the spread and change of indo-european into the modern Eurasian languages of today is to look at how English came into being and changed to what it is today. It grew out of one parent tongue and then morphed based on the conquests and contacts of speakers of other tongues, such as the Vikings who spoke Old Norse, and the Normans who spoke French.
    I can't comment on why this uniformity among languages did not happen in the Americas becuase I unfortunately know much more about Europe than the Americas. This is an area of study that needs many brave souls though.
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  10. #9  
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    Quote Originally Posted by Ophiolite
    Quote Originally Posted by UBigBobby
    Native American cultures and languages were simply more diverse than Eursian ones.
    This is descriptive, not explanatory.

    There is no obvious reason why the Native Americans should have produced such diverse languages. Culturally, they were no more diverse than the Europeans. (SW, correct me here if I'm wrong.) There are no obvious barriers to communication. It seems strange.
    the American Indian tribes, were territorial tho not aggressive and regarded privacy almost sacred. when this privacy was disturbed, the outcome would be vicious and total to one or the other. the languages were not complex, but differed for security and independence. even today an Apache cannot understand a Cherokee, but can almost communicate by motions w/o words.

    some has been written on the effects of inter breeding in such groups and the results over generations. this may imply reasons for simple language and contentment with what was, which prevails to this day. i am not sure
    of the north eastern natives- 1. some suggestion of euro influence well back 2. not likely from same back ground of western US and Mexico tribes. the native Alaskans, have little similarities to either and probably of later Asian influence.
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