LOST LANGUAGES.

I was startled to find an unexpected Amazon.com package in my mailbox today—it turns out a LH fan made use of the wish list linked in the right sidebar to send me a copy of Andrew Robinson’s Lost Languages: The Enigma of the World’s Undeciphered Scripts! I’ve lusted after this beautifully produced book, with its gorgeous illustrations of eleven ancient scripts (three deciphered, the rest still awaiting their Champollion or Ventris) ever since I saw it in St. Mark’s Bookshop several years ago, and I’ve already plunged in. You can read a detailed description at ill-advised; I’ll just offer my heartfelt thanks to whatever kind soul did this generous deed.
Actually, though, I will quote ill-advised’s mention of an odd aspect of the book that struck me as well:

This particular copy that I bought has another curious aspect: it isn’t the McGraw-Hill edition; it’s “A Peter N. Nevraumont Book” published by “BCA” (whatever that means) “by arrangement with McGraw-Hill [. . .] Created and produced by Nevraumont Publishing Company” and it doesn’t even have an ISBN, only a “CN” (I guess that would be some sort of catalog number internal to the publisher) of 106839. However, it is listed on amazon as having the ISBN 064169959X.

I thought all books had ISBNs these days!

Comments

  1. The book must have an ISBN if the publisher intends to include it in the “Books In Print”, THE database of all books, published in the US by the same agency which distributes the numbers themselves (a natural monopoly). From the point of view of distributors (and other publishers, retailers, libraries – the entire trade) if the book is not in there, it does not exist, but that is about all the ISBN is really needed for, apart from tradition.

  2. Actually, there is one more thing, at least in academia here in Slovakia: only publications with ISBNs count towards tenure. Anything else, no matter how scholarly, innovative and extensive simply doesn’t and, conversely, anything with an ISBN does. Some people even have ISBNs assigned to works they’ve published online for no other reason.

  3. SnowLeopard says:

    The ISBN on my copy is 0-965-42124-4; must be because it’s the paperback version. Haven’t studied it in detail yet, but I guess it would be too much to ask that they provide more comprehensive source materials to play with, too. Fortunately, texts for the only one I’ve looked for previously (Rongorongo) are available online, via Omniglot.

  4. A very minor and very pedantic point – but why is Etruscan considered an “undeciphered script”? We can read the script just fine, the problem is that no-one knows the language. Seems like the book could have had a better title.

  5. True, but I think titles are often imposed by publicity-minded publishers over the wishes of authors. (I dread the title under which my book of curses and insults might appear…)

  6. @LH: as long as it isn’t “This Is Shit” or “Utter Bullocks” you should be fine.
    (although it’s fun to try to come up with alternative titles for a book like that. Anyone?)

  7. “Utter bollocks” is kind of catchy, at least in the US where people aren’t likely to take offense.
    Speaking of curses, there’s another post at LL that has me a bit perplexed. Speaking of Imus’s recent rude remarks, and the problems translators face, the author asserts that “ho’s” is now basically the equivalent of “broads” and that it is unfair and misleading to translate “ho” as a synonym for “whore.” Maybe that’s true for a small segment of the American population but I think most people still view “ho” as a direct synonym for “slut, whore” -hence the outcry. Am I just old fashioned on this?

  8. I really doubt the word ho has become that benign, so I’m inclined to say your gut instinct is right.

  9. michael farris says:

    I’d say that ‘broads’ is too dated, but I agree that ho =/= whore (despite its etymology) and translating it as such is misleading. Just how to translate it is another question I won’t try to answer (I’d probably go with ‘baba’ in Polish).
    I’m very sure Imus did not mean to imply the young women were prostitutes (I actually think his original comment was likely intended as grudging almost admiration, but he was very, very stupid to think someone as old and rich as him could carry that particular phrase off and not have it sound horribly offensive).

  10. Here’s comic writer and former publishers Eddie Campbell’s fun account of his experiences with ISBNs.

  11. Andrew Dunbar says:

    I thought all books had ISBNs these days!
    Librarything: Using the tag no isbn

  12. I think most people still view “ho” as a direct synonym for “slut, whore” -hence the outcry. Am I just old fashioned on this?
    I certainly do, but then I’m old-fashioned too.
    ho =/= whore (despite its etymology)… I’m very sure Imus did not mean to imply the young women were prostitutes
    But it’s not that simple. “Whore” doesn’t equal whore either, if you look at it that way; people very frequently use the term of a woman without implying that she is literally a prostitute. That’s how insults work. It may be that ho =/= whore, but you’ll have to work harder than that to prove it.
    Librarything: Using the tag no isbn
    Well, whaddayaknow! OK, I’ll add the tag.

  13. Linear B
    There’s a story that while on site at Pylos the Great Man himself tossed a tablet to a grad student in search of a thesis topic saying, “This might prove interesting.” It began, “I am Jason, lord of ships…” Published in the Harvard Classical Review around 1960.
    Etruscan
    The golden Pyrgi tablet with Etruscan and Punic texts never proved to be a Rosetta Stone. Funerary inscriptions are formulaic and are easy to read: Turnus son of Tarquinius died aged 32, etc. The Etruscans received the alphabet from the Greeks and passed it on to the Romans.
    Phaistos Disk
    Until someone unearths an inscription bearing similar characters, the Phaistos Disk will remain a mystery. Crackpot theories abound…see sci.lang.

  14. “ho =/= whore”
    There is something about a white man using a black insult that gives it a rather ironical, jaunty air–or sinister, depending on how you look at it. This is what distinguishes it from “whore”, which is very straight-faced. To me “ho” is a bit like “beatch”.

  15. michael farris says:

    Conrad, I’d say that white men use black insults (and black slang in general) in order to give _themselves_ a rather ironical, jaunty air (I’ll reserve judgment on how successful they are).
    In Imus’s case it backfired and just made him seem like a big, jerk with no ear for age-appropriate slang.
    For me, ‘ho’ is a lot like ‘biatch/beatch’ (though i wouldn’t use either).

  16. Yes, that’s basically what I meant. From my white, British, middle-class mouth, both ‘ho’ and ‘beatch’ would be utterly unreal: not so much offensive as bizarre.

  17. David Marjanović says:

    Phaistos Disk
    Until someone unearths an inscription bearing similar characters, the Phaistos Disk will remain a mystery. Crackpot theories abound…see sci.lang.

    I’m too lazy to read sci.lang (…actually, I probably don’t have time for it either, but that has not often stopped me). Can someone tell me if the interpretation published in the following two books has been disproven?
    Steven Roger Fischer: Glyphbreaker, Copernicus/Springer 1997
    same author: Evidence for Hellenic Dialect in the Phaistos Disk, Peter Lang 1988
    The idea is that the language is “Minoan Greek”, the sister of Mycenaean Greek and fellow daughter of Proto-Greek the reconstruction of which does not seem to change. Regular sound correspondences and all, as far as I can tell from reading Glyphbreaker; very convincing. The script is quite similar to Linear B and A and the “Cretan hieroglyphs” — basically it’s mostly a font difference, full drawn-out pictures instead of a few straight lines.
    I wonder if historical linguists completely lack journals that will publish long monographs, like the Bulletin of the American Museum of Natural History does for zoology (paleo- and neo-). The publisher Peter Lang, headquartered in Berne, was an exceedingly poor choice: it seems to be specialized on scientific works that nobody will ever read. I speak from experience: my dad and his phony boss from some phony (and now defunct) institution with the word Donauraum in its name published their thoroughly boring work on the history of the Mitteleuropa idea there. (That’s an idea that basically amounts to nostalgia for the Habsburg empire in the face of the Iron Curtain and became obsolete when Austria joined what simultaneously became the EU in 1995. Put the eccentric head of Austria’s conservative party behind it, and you get a couple of jobs for historians and just enough money to waste it on a series of phony symposia. Oh, before I forget, did I mention how phony the whole affair was?)
    And no, Fischer does not make a hero of himself in Glyphbreaker. I don’t think he chose the book title.
    And yes 😉 , he’s the guy who then went on to decipher Rongorongo. That’s described in Glyphbreaker, too.

  18. Martin Watts says:

    Actually, though, I will quote ill-advised’s mention of an odd aspect of the book that struck me as well:
    This particular copy that I bought has another curious aspect: it isn’t the McGraw-Hill edition; it’s “A Peter N. Nevraumont Book” published by “BCA” (whatever that means) “by arrangement with McGraw-Hill [. . .] Created and produced by Nevraumont Publishing Company” and it doesn’t even have an ISBN, only a “CN” (I guess that would be some sort of catalog number internal to the publisher) of 106839. However, it is listed on amazon as having the ISBN 064169959X.
    I thought all books had ISBNs these days!
    BCA stands for Book Club Associates. See: http://www.bca.co.uk/default.aspx
    They are the main book club organisation in the UK

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