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Champollion, Jean-François


Subject Linguistics

DOI: 10.1111/b.9780631214816.1999.x


Extract

(1790-1832) The decipherer of Egyptian hieroglyphics. Champollion had an interest in Egyptian palaeography since his early youth ( figure 15 ). He studied oriental languages and became an expert in Coptic, which turned out to be the key for the decipherment of Egyptian since Coptic is the final developmental stage of the Egyptian language written in Greek letters. He received in 1808 a copy of the bilingual inscription on the Rosetta Stone (for illustration see bilinguis ), but it was not before 1821 that it occurred to him to count and compare the number of signs in the Greek and hieroglyphic texts. Since there were 1,419 signs for 486 words, and since the 1,419 were made up by only 66 different signs, he was led to conclude that the Egyptian script was partly at least a phonetic one. His first success was the identification of King Ptolemy's name in a cartouche to which he was soon able to add the names of other royalty such as Cleopatra, Alexander and Ramses from other inscriptions ( figure 16 ). It took him some time, however, to realize that the phonetic use of hieroglyphs was not a special ancillary code restricted to proper names, but the central element of Egyptian writing. In 1824 Champollion published his Précis du système hiéroglyphique of over 400 pages including 46 plates. It is acclaimed as one of the greatest and most original works of modern scholarship. Figure ... log in or subscribe to read full text

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