The Evolution of the Rosetta Stone

The Rosetta Stone is iconic, to say the least. Discovered in Egypt in 1799, it is easily one of the top three most valuable excavations in the history of the world. It is the single biggest source of earliest writing and contains three separate scripts, including both alphabet and hieroglyph based, within the pieces that survived. Not only is the stone a landmark historically, but has become something of a pop culture icon.  The following will be a brief history of the Rosetta stone and what it means in contemporary society – how it has been revitalized for this generation.

Egypt is credited with the invention of cuneiform and, consequently, the origins of writing. In The Story of Writing David Robinson reports the language founded by the Egyptians seemed to be based on significance rather than syllables, meaning a symbol of a hawk would imply anything of swift movement, including but not limited to a hawk, and rendering the language indecipherable to Greek and Roman scholars of the time (Robinson 21). Most translations of hieroglyphs did not appear until approximately the 15th century. It was not until the 17th century that Athanasius Kircher, a Jesuit priest, began successfully deciphering hieroglyphs.

The heavy interest in linguistically cracking the Rosetta Stone spawned from the Enlightenment, when everything was called into question, even the questions of questions. The conclusion was drawn that hieroglyphs fell into several categories, two of which included signs evolved from pictures and signs representing phonetic sounds (like an alphabet). Shortly after the Rosetta Stone was obtained from the village of Rashid (“Rosetta”) a few miles from the sea (Robinson 24). The simplest discovery upon investigation of the stone was that there were three scripts inscribed on it, each visually distinct from the other.

The top script was Egyptian hieroglyps with cartouches, the middle unknown, and the bottom Greek.

The middle script “clearly did not resemble Greek script, but it seemed to bear some resemblance to the hieroglyphic script above it, without having cartouches” – what is now known as demotic, a cursive form of hieroglyph script (Tobinson 26). A significant discovery in breaking the Rosetta Stone code was that hieroglyphic and demotic names had alphabetical spelling. As time went on, the decipherment achieved several breakthroughs, one of which will (hopefully) be shown below/later.

Clearly, the Rosetta Stone is detrimental to forming any sort of history of writing and the constant research and continual flow of results keep the significance of the project relevant in today’s society. It is no surprise that given the difficulty of interpreting the stone it has become a symbol of breaking the code of any language.

This program, developed in the 1980s and released 1992, is a proprietary computer-assisted language learning (CALL) software that aids users in learning a new language. Most of their publicity comes from television ads (like the one below), but the idea is that the Rosetta Stone is the key to knowledge and it has been unlocked; you [the user] can have the key and can also unlock a world of possibilities with relative fluency in the language of your choice.

While the results of this program will differ from user to user depending on the user’s personal schedule, interest, work ethic and dedication, it is usually a very basic course that allows you to interact with the software as you learn before emptying out that last bit of cash in a last ditch attempt to learn Spanish before traveling to Spain. The Rosetta Stone was and is universally recognized as a key to knowledge and, linguistic efficiency.


Works Cited

Robinson, Andrew.The Story of Writing. 2nd Edition. London: Thames & Hudson, 2007.


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