It’s 220 years since the discovery one of the world’s most important linguistic artefacts, the Rosetta Stone. This incredible piece of ancient history helped to unlock the secrets of the Egyptian language and, two centuries later, to inspire our founder, Allen Stoltzfus to revolutionise learning with the first widely available home-computing language software.
A long forgotten proclamation from the Egyptian king Ptolemy, the Rosetta Stone was spotted by Napoleon’s soldiers during an a ill-fated campaign in the region. Following defeat by Nelson in 1801, the French were forced to give up all their newly acquired treasures and the Rosetta Stone ended up in the British museum where it remains one of the top attractions to this day.
What makes this piece of volcanic rock so special is that it contains the same pronouncement written out in three different scripts. One of them is ancient Greek, one of them is a native Egyptian script, but the third was written in ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics. For centuries after the conquests of Alexander the Great, Egypt was ruled by a Greek, ‘Ptolemaic’ dynasty. Like many a future imperial power, learning the local language was not top of the Ptolemaic agenda. So when King Ptolemy V had his pronouncement carved out in 196 BC, he needed to write it in Greek and Egyptian so all his subjects could understand it.
It embodies the idea that you can understand another cultureRichard Parkinson, Professor of Egyptology. Speaking on ‘In Our Time’ about the Rosetta Stone
This was a piece of luck for 19th century scholars who used the stone to help them decode the previously impenetrable Egyptian hieroglyphics. The content of the Rosetta Stone is actually pretty dull, largely concerning the tax exemption rights of religious leaders, but its discovery nearly two thousand years later has had dramatic consequences for our modern understanding of the rich and very ancient culture of Egypt.
Rosetta Stone ltd has taken the ancient symbol to its heart, still referencing the stone in our lozenge shaped logo with three stripes for three languages.
Rosetta Stone’s intuitive method also reflects the spirit of the original discovery, but in reverse, with images and symbols being used to help our learners understand the sounds and scripts of modern languages. You look at the pictures and then see the words and hear the sounds that describe what is going on.
With the new ‘Seek and Speak’ feature on the iOS app (currently available for iPhone/Apple users only – coming soon for Android), Rosetta Stone users can now learn the words and sounds that describe everyday objects all around them. Point at an apple and the phone will identify that object and teach you the word for it in your new learning language.
Language learner, teacher and contributing author to the Rosetta Stone magazine
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