Gandhari and Other Long-lost Languages.

John Preston writes about people trying to decipher ancient languages; he starts with a nice anecdote:

One day in 1994 Richard Salomon, professor of Asian Languages and Literature at the University of Washington, received a small package in the mail. Inside were a number of blurry black and white photographs and an accompanying letter from the British Library asking if they might be of any interest.

Salomon started looking at the photos – first idly, and then with growing disbelief. “I could see pretty quickly they were the real deal.” The photos showed various inscriptions that were written on a series of scrolls – scrolls of bark that the British Library had been given by an anonymous donor, who in turn, had bought them from an anonymous buyer based somewhere in Pakistan.

The inscriptions Salomon saw were written in Gandhari, a middle Indo-Aryan language closely related to Sanskrit that was in use from the third century BC to the fourth century AD. It was hardly surprising that the British Library had come straight to him. Salomon was one of the few, the very few, people in the world who could read Gandhari – or at least read some of it. “I knew the basic grammar, but there were an awful lot of words that I didn’t know.”

Up until then Salomon had been working on the only known example of a Gandhari manuscript ever discovered – it’s also reckoned to be the oldest surviving example of an Indian text. This discovery, though, changed everything.

A few days later, Salomon flew to London to have a look for himself.

Because they’re written on bark, Gandhari manuscripts are much more fragile than anything on paper, or vellum. A French archaeologist who discovered some in the 1830s found that they literally crumbled to dust as soon as he touched them. Rolled up, the manuscripts Salomon saw resembled enormous cigars. Unrolled, some of them were more than 8ft long. As he gazed at them, something strange happened. “Literally, it was as if my life flashed before my eyes.” Straight away, Salomon realised that there was so much new material here he was going to be spending the rest of his career working on it. Sure enough, 20 years on, he’s still hard at it. “I know a lot more now than I did, but there’s still a long way to go.”

He goes on to discuss Tangut (see this LH post), Sogdian (“The other day for instance I came across the Sogdian word for liver,” says Sims-Williams. “That was quite a big moment”), and Rongorongo (see this LH post), inter alia; I liked this bit on Linear A:

Trying to unpick a lost language is also very solitary work. “Yeah, it’s not exactly something you can have out with the family over dinner,” says Younger. “But that’s fine for me – I love working on puzzles and I love detective work. For instance, I couldn’t sleep last night so I got up at 2am and started working on Linear A.” Younger receives a steady stream of carefully thought out theories from fellow specialists.

But he also has to contend with a regular influx of deeply eccentric suggestions.

“Oh yes, you get a lot of nuts,” he says cheerfully. “I’m a real magnet for mad people. At the moment for instance I’ve got one woman telling me that Linear A is Japanese, someone saying it’s Celtic and someone else saying it’s proto-Persian. But like the story about the troop of monkeys eventually typing up Shakespeare, they do occasionally send in quite plausible suggestions.”

And Richard Salomon, the guy mentioned at the start of the piece, was actually quoted in this forlorn 2003 LH post. Thanks, Trevor!

Inside the OED.

Andrew Dickson writes for the Grauniad about everybody’s favorite dictionary (every history-minded English-speaker’s, that is), the OED:

In February 2009, a Twitter user called @popelizbet issued an apparently historic challenge to someone called Colin: she asked if he could “mansplain” a concept to her. History has not recorded if he did, indeed, proceed to mansplain. But the lexicographer Bernadette Paton, who excavated this exchange last summer, believed it was the first time anyone had used the word in recorded form. “It’s been deleted since, but we caught it,” Paton told me, with quiet satisfaction.

In her office at Oxford University Press, Paton was drafting a brand new entry for the Oxford English Dictionary. Also in her in-tray when I visited were the millennial-tinged usage of “snowflake”, which she had hunted down to a Christian text from 1983 (“You are a snowflake. There are no two of you alike”), and new shadings of the compound “self-made woman”. Around 30,000 such items are on the OED master list; another 7,000 more pile up annually. “Everyone thinks we’re very slow, but it’s actually rather fast,” Paton said. “Though admittedly a colleague did spend a year revising ‘go’”. […]

Ninety years after the first edition appeared, the OED – a distant, far bulkier descendant of Johnson’s Dictionary – is currently embarked on a third edition, a goliath project that involves overhauling every entry (many of which have not been touched since the late-Victorian era) and adding at least some of those 30,000 missing words, as well as making the dictionary into a fully digital resource. This was originally meant to be completed in 2000, then 2005, then 2010. Since then, OUP has quietly dropped mentions of a date. How far had they got, I asked Proffitt. “About 48%,” he replied.

The dictionary retains a quiet pride in the lexical lengths to which it will – indeed, must – go. Some time in the late 1980s, Proffitt’s predecessor as chief editor, John Simpson, asked the poet Benjamin Zephaniah about the origins of the noun “skanking”. Zephaniah decided that the only way to explain was to come to OED headquarters and do a private, one-on-one performance. Skanking duly went in, defined as “a style of West Indian dancing to reggae music, in which the body bends forward at the waist, and the knees are raised and the hands claw the air in time to the beat”.

The tale touches something profound: in capturing a word, a sliver of lived experience can be observed and defined. If only you were able to catch all the words, perhaps you could define existence.

There’s a lot of potted history of dictionaries in general and the OED in particular, none of which will be a surprise to most LH readers, but there are some nice tidbits:

Among other eccentricities, Murray had taken against “marzipan”, preferring to spell it “marchpane”, and decreed that the adjective “African” should not be included, on the basis that it was not really a word. “American”, however, was, for reasons that reveal much about the dictionary’s lofty Anglocentric worldview.

There is also sobering news:

Adding to the challenge is a story that has become wearily familiar: while more people are consulting dictionary-like resources than ever, almost no one wants to shell out. Sales of hard-copy dictionaries have collapsed, far more calamitously than in other sectors. (OUP refused to give me figures, citing “commercial sensitivities”. “I don’t think you’ll get any publisher to fess up about this,” Michael Rundell told me.)

And optimism:

Despite his pessimism about the industry, he talked with real excitement about a project he was about to join, working with experts from the Goldfield Aboriginal Language Centre on indigenous Australian languages, scantily covered by lexicographers. “Dictionaries can make a genuine difference,” he said. “They give power to languages that might have had very little power in the past; they can help preserve and share it. I really believe that.”

And it ends with a shocker: an antedate of “mansplain”! (Thanks, Trevor and Eric.)


From Barbara Graziosi’s TLS review of Simon Hornblower’s Lykophron: Alexandra:

The Alexandra survived the end of antiquity, and was transmitted to posterity, precisely because it was obscure: the medieval manuscripts that preserve the text include copious scholarly notes on it. Already in antiquity, the pleasures of reading the Alexandra were intertwined with the satisfaction of offering and receiving learned explanation. This is a distinctive feature of the literature produced in the Hellenistic period (conventionally 323–31 BC). Callimachus, the most famous exponent of Hellenistic culture, may have berated the big book, but he acted on his maxim only up to a point: he wrote highly compressed, distilled poetry, together with extensive works of scholarship elucidating earlier literature. Lykophron belonged to the same tradition: he composed difficult verse in full expectation that it would attract commentary on the part of knowledgeable readers. Hornblower even speculates that Lykophron may himself have provided a commentary on his own poem.

The subject of the Alexandra is ideally suited to exegesis: it consists almost entirely of a prophecy delivered by Cassandra (under her alternative name of Alexandra), before the abduction of Helen and the beginning of the Trojan War. In ancient myth, Apollo granted Cassandra foresight in exchange for sex but, when she went back on the deal, cursed her with the capacity to tell the truth without being understood. At the beginning of the poem, a guard reports the words of Cassandra to king Priam, her father, hoping that he may find “a clear path” through them. Readers, meanwhile, have trouble finding such a path. Lykophron’s verse is difficult not because it features particularly complex thoughts, or syntax, but because he uses rare vocabulary and roundabout expressions. Major characters are never mentioned by name: we need to guess their identity by decoding some abstruse periphrasis. Thus, for example, Odysseus is called “the thief of the Phoenician goddess”, because after the fall of Troy he stole the Palladion, a statue of Athena, and in a local Corinthian cult, Athena was worshipped as “Phoenician” (or so we are told in an ancient note on the passage).

I am torn when it comes to that kind of obscurity; on the one hand, I love looking things up and am the proud owner of line-by-line commentaries to Pound, Joyce, and Charles Olson (not to mention various ancient authors), but I also get exasperated by authors who too consistently and perversely refuse to call things by their proper names, and I am especially irritated by entire poetic traditions that depend on such obscurity. Anyway, an interesting subject! (For another take on the book, here‘s Charles McNelis’s BMCR review.)

Dukhobor Russian.

Ben Dalton writes for the Jordan Russian Center about a colloquium discussion on the Canadian Dukhobors; I thought this passage was interesting enough to post:

After the Russian Revolution and again after World War II, some Canadian Dukhobors returned to the Soviet Union, where they faced repression. Those that remained in Canada retained a distinct culture, even speaking Russian into the 1950s and 60s. [David] McDonald [of the University of Wisconsin-Madison] recalled growing up around Dukhobors and, as a high school senior, speaking Russian with Dukhobor women as they sold bread at a local fair. However, any words that post-dated the Dukhobor migrations at the turn of the century would use an English loan word-for example, “car” rather than the Russian “mashina.” Active Russian use disappeared only in the 1970s, McDonald said.

McDonald also mentioned that, in their private correspondence, Dukhobors emulated official Russian state discourse, a “chancellery” language, even years after their move to Canada.

It’s Hard to Finish.

This interview with Efe Balıkçıoğlu of Imprint Press, dedicated to “bringing lesser-known but brilliant Turkish authors of all forms and eras into English,” is a couple of years old, and unfortunately the publisher appears to have gone under since then (there’s a note at the end saying “Imprint became part of Koç University Press in 2015,” but the only trace of it online is this interview as far as I can tell), but there’s a lot of interesting material, including this (presumably unrealized) project:

Our next title is a Kitab-ül Hiyel (The book of ingenious devices) by İhsan Oktay Anar, a post-modern novel about Ottoman bureaucracy and innovation in mechanics. The author wrote the text in 16th-century Ottoman, which is very funny. The language itself is very well-researched, but we had to find many people to translate it. […] His novels are intellectualised, but at the same time he’s smart enough to find ways within the language where a good Turkish reader who doesn’t have any knowledge of Arabic and Persian words could understand it. So it’s a pseudo-16th century Ottoman.

An equivalent book in Russian might be Elena Kolyadina’s 2009 Tsvetochny krest [Flower cross] set in 1674, written in a pastiche of the language of the period. But this is the bit I liked most (and which Trevor quoted when he sent me the link):

Is there any particular writer or poet who you’d love to translate?

Yes, there was this poet called Mustafa Irgat. […] He idolised the poet Ece Ayhan, who was a sort of anarchist, never had a home, lived in other people’s houses, made a couple of them commit suicide, had a bad influence, basically was a kind of a leech. And Mustafa Irgat, all of his life, became a disciple to this guy, and never had a house, lived in hotel rooms. He never finished a poem all of his life. There were poems that he edited so much that they turned into very different poems, work that he would start in 1972 or ’73 and then work on until his death in 1994 or 1995. And there were still poems unfinished. He has around thirty poems and thousands of notes. Before he died of cancer, they forced him to publish whatever he had, and these thirty poems that he had been editing for over twenty something years were published. For five years Güntan looked over all the leftovers of Mustafa Irgat, pieces written on pieces of scrap paper, or on napkins, and then he did a second book of poetry.

There are whole poems written in these notes?

Yes. And the name of the book is It’s hard to finish, which was a note that Mustafa Irgat took for himself in one of the poems. Hard to finish. I want to translate that guy.

Thanks, Trevor!

Language Orders.

I don’t know if anyone else took advantage of the free download of Language of the Snakes: Prakrit, Sanskrit, and the Language Order of Premodern India by Andrew Ollett, which I mentioned here, but I did, and I’ve gotten to a section that reminds me so much of the passage from Denis Feeney’s Beyond Greek beginning “There has never been such a thing as an impermeable culture…” that I posted here that I had to share it as well:


One important starting point for my investigation is Mikhail Bakhtin’s observation that “[a] unitary language is not something which is given (dan) but is always in essence posited (zadan).” We might think that we have answered the question “What is Prakrit?” with a series of descriptions: what are its grammatical features, what texts are written in it, who wrote those texts, and so on. For a language as little studied as Prakrit, much of this descriptive work remains to be done. But Bakhtin’s comment suggests that this is only the beginning. To ask “What is Prakrit?” is not just to ask what it is like, but to ask how, by whom, and for what purposes Prakrit was “posited” as a language over the course of its history.

Throughout this book I address these questions through the concept of a language order. This concept foregrounds the fact that languages interact with each other in such a way that it is impossible to characterize a language without reference to the other languages that fall within its cultural-historical horizons. It is, of course, possible to characterize a language in that way as a formal system, through the contrasts it articulates and its procedures of derivation. This was Ferdinand de Saussure’s goal in delimiting “internal linguistics” from the study of all language-external phenomena. Saussure’s success in defining the object of linguistics as a formal system, however, has meant that comparatively little attention has been paid to the ways in which languages are posited in relation to each other. The term “language order” refers to the way that languages are ordered within a culture, to the recurrent patterns and schemas and tropes by which they are defined and represented, the names under which they are known, and the values with which they are associated. A language order provides the linguistic parameters for all manners of cultural practices, from scratching one’s name on the wall of a cave to composing a text on poetics.

Important stuff to keep in mind, and I’m looking forward to the rest of the book. Incidentally, the title comes from Mirza Khan’s description of Prakrit (in Tuḥfat al-hind [Gift of India], 1676):

This language is mostly employed in the praise of kings, ministers, and chiefs, and belongs to the world, that is to say, the world that is below the ground; they call it Pātāl-bānī, and also Nāg-bānī, that is, the language of the lowest of the low, and of reptiles of mean origin, who live underground. This language is a mixture of Sahãskirt, mentioned above, and Bhākhā, to be mentioned next.

[o madḥ-i mulūk o wuzarāʿ o akābir beshtar badīn zabān goyand. o ān zabān-i ʿālam ast, yaʿni ʿālam-i ki zīr zamīn ast. o ān-rā pātāl-bānī goyand… o nāg-bānī nīz nāmand… yaʿnī zabān-i ahl-i asfal us-sāfilīn o mārān ki zamīnīyān o suflīyānand. o ān murakkab ast az sahãskirt, ki sābiq maẕkūr shud, o bhākhā, ki baʿd az īn maẕkūr shawad.]

The Script of the Naxi.

Dr Duncan Poupard of the Chinese University of Hong Kong has a post at the Asian and African Studies blog of the British Library on “some of the most extraordinary, mysterious and visually interesting manuscripts we hold in the Chinese section of the Library”:

The British Library holds a modest but important collection of religious texts from a lesser-known people: the Naxi of the Himalayan foothills in southwest China. Among China’s officially-recognised ethnic minorities, the Naxi are a relatively small group, especially when compared to their more populous neighbours to the north, the Tibetans. But the Naxi are nevertheless significant, not least for the unique way in which they record their religious literature: the dongba script.

This script can probably be dated to at least as early as the Mongol period (1253 -1382). The Naxi ritual texts, hand-written in books and read from left to right, form the basis for what we know about the culture and beliefs of the Naxi people. The dongba script is often touted as the world’s last living pictographic script, although this classification is problematic as they are not really in active use, and are not strictly pictographic either.

There are a number of images along with a considerable amount of information; I was particularly struck by this passage about “a manuscript titled Ssee zhul: El-miq Rherq Zhail (Increasing longevity: calling upon the power of great dongba El-miq), recited at a ceremony held after a funeral to prolong the life of the surviving members of the family”:

This first section is an opening benediction, an incantation that is supposed to bring about good fortune for the ceremony to come, but also contains much of the cosmological wisdom of the Naxi people. These ten characters, when read out during a performance of this text (for all such ritual texts are to be orally performed, not read silently), will become 40 spoken Naxi words. How can this be so? Simply because the relationship between what is written and what is said follows no clearly defined rules. The characters are often called in to use more than once, and much of what is said is not actually written. Despite this, every dongba would be able to recite this section without any problems.

The post ends with this fairly depressing passage:

Anthony Jackson has suggested that a dictionary (as yet undiscovered) was compiled from this translation work, which would have been used to translate more of the texts without going through a Naxi intermediary. This was probably wishful thinking; to this day, Naxi dongba are required to give a reading of a book before it can be translated. This is because the texts are fluid: there is so much that is not written, there are graphs that are written and not read, and there are incantations that are recorded in a phonetic system separate to the picture-based graphs.

Translation of the Naxi texts is a practice that has all but died out in the modern era, as the remaining dongba grow fewer in number and their traditions become less relevant to modern life in Lijiang. This makes the library’s collection all the more invaluable, for there will come a time when such translations will be all but impossible to carry out.

We discussed the Naxi and their script almost exactly fifteen years ago, and by “we” I mean me and one commenter, taz. Those were lonesome days at the Hattery. (Amazingly, all the links still work.) Thanks, Trevor!

Beyond Greek.

I was intrigued enough by a reference to Denis Feeney’s Beyond Greek: The Beginnings of Latin Literature to investigate it; while it’s not as pricey as I expected, it’s still more than I want to pay for a book. Fortunately, there’s a detailed review by Jackie Elliott in the Bryn Mawr Classical Review, and I was able to have the start of the book sent to my Kindle. Here’s a passage from Feeney that sets out the problem at the heart of the book, one I had never thought about:

Looking at the Mediterranean world in 250, no observer would conclude that an empire needed to have a widely disseminated vernacular literature, or that a state of non-Greeks should have intimate reciprocal links with Greece through a systematically interconnected historiography and mythology, or that another linguistic group should commission literary works to be translated from Greek into their own vernacular. It had never happened before or anywhere else in the Mediterranean that one culture should set out to take over the prototypical literary forms of Hellas in order to create its vernacular equivalent, and for a parallel of any substance we have to wait until the Late Middle Ages, when the Latin forms became in their turn one of the new interactive catalysts for the emerging European vernacular literatures. We are used to thinking of Greek and Latin as the “classical” literatures, with later traditions as the “vernacular” literatures, but from the standpoint of the Western tradition, at least, Latin is the first “vernacular” literature.

So why is there a Latin literature? In case you suspect he’s being simple-minded about it, here are a couple of later passages:

Everything about this project is problematic, starting with the definition of all the terms I have been using so far, “literature” and “translation,” “historiography” and “mythology.” Justifying the use of a term such as “literature” in an ancient context is a notoriously unstraightforward thing to do. These terms are still occasionally treated as self-evident categories, reified concepts that apply across time and space, but they are not givens in nature; instead, in the Roman middle Republic all of them are interactive frames in which Romans, Greeks of different heritages, and many other peoples, encountered and reshaped each other in unprecedented ways. […]

Assimilation is constitutive of Roman identity, marked by their selfconscious advertizing of how they took over their characteristic short sword from the Spaniards (Plb. 6. 23. 6), their distinctive toga from the Etruscans (Liv. 1.8. 3), and their very name as citizens, Quirites, from the Sabines (Liv. 1. 13.5). According to Cornell, in a—justly—commonly quoted aphorism: “an independent or autonomous Latin culture never had a chance to emerge.”

In fact, it is becoming more and more evident that there is no such thing as an independent or autonomous culture at any time or place. As Bayart puts it in his important study, “There is no culture that is not created, and . . . this creation is usually recent. Moreover, the formation of a culture or a tradition necessarily involves dialogue, and occurs in interaction with its regional and international environment.”

In Chapter 1, on translation, he has a section “The Strangeness of Translation” that points out that our modern expectation that we can read all sorts of other literatures in our own language is “a comparatively recent state of affairs” and quotes an Indian scholar, Harish Trivedi, as saying “There is no translation in India […] until very recently, nothing was ever translated directly between Urdu, Hindi, Kannada, Tamil, Marathi, and so on”; Feeney adds:

There has never been such a thing as an impermeable culture, but a group is able to represent itself as being its own knowledge-world to one degree or another, and this is particularly the case with forms of textually encoded knowledge. As Jack Goody has demonstrated, literacy’s codification of systems of knowledge and belief within a culture can in itself encourage the apprehension that there is a defined boundary between this knowledge system and the ones codified by other groups. From this perspective, it is not, on reflection, obvious that even a bilingual group will need to set up a dialogue with outside traditions of knowledge and power by importing vernacular versions of texts that matter to those outside traditions.

And there’s more in Elliott’s review, for example:

Chapter 6, ‘A literature in the Latin language’, reviews what marks c. 3-2 Rome as a recognizably literary society, at least from the limited, modern vantage-point that is perhaps all that allows the term “literary” momentary definition and coherence: Rome had “libraries, endowed professorships, a common educational track with a “core” and “periphery” of accomplishments (experience of which was indispensable for anyone with any pretensions to status), copying houses, transmission of authoritative texts together with the scholarship that accompanied them, and empire-wide circulation of texts in a great variety of genres” (p. 154). It is thus Rome’s definitive co-option of a pre-established canon recognized also by others, one that in time acquired the full surrounding social and critical apparatus with which we are familiar, that in Feeney’s view defines what is distinctive about Rome as a literary society in its day. Chapter 7, ‘The impact and reach of the new literature’, complements this by further emphasizing the longevity but especially the mobility of the physical texts produced. These attributes allowed the texts to transcend time and space, as conditioned by initial production and reception. More importantly, they promoted an awareness of that transcendence on the part of author and audience, an awareness that again helps constitute the category of the “literary” (p. 195, citing Lowrie 2009). Inferring growing audiences at Rome and beyond, Feeney argues that the new literature also functioned as a means of systematizing and integrating the expanding forms of knowledge coming ever further within range.

Lots of food for thought!

The Political Power of Translation.

Bathrobe sent me this piece by Chenxin Jiang, saying “This is a slight article but it’s wonderful to see someone moved to translation by the chance to contribute something to the world”:

It goes without saying that literary translation, too, is a deeply political act, one that makes particular texts accessible to particular readers by transporting them across linguistic boundaries. Translators often advocate for the authors and books they translate, but we don’t always think of translation as a form of political advocacy per se. Nor should we, necessarily: it’s true that giving sustained attention to an intricate or challenging narrative makes a political statement about what we value, but we don’t read or translate good books only or even chiefly because of the political import of that gesture—we read them because they’re so good, we simply can’t help it.

That said, some books particularly foreground the political dimension of the translator’s task because of their immediate political relevance—and once I thought about it, I realized that I’ve often been drawn to them in the past. The very first book I translated was a memoir of the Chinese Cultural Revolution, a deeply traumatic episode that’s glossed over in Chinese schools and barely addressed in Hong Kong, where I grew up. Ji Xianlin’s The Cowshed was, by all accounts, the most widely read memoir of the Cultural Revolution in China itself; I thought it should also be made available to readers of English. But that, of course, would only happen if someone translated it.

And that, of course, is what translation does: it makes the perspective of an Italian doctor on Lampedusa—a story in which much of the dialogue is itself translated from Arabic and Sicilian—accessible to a reader in Newcastle or New Mexico.

A noble goal, and it’s impressive that she translates from Italian, German, and Chinese. Thanks, Bathrobe!

Reading the Unreadable.

Sarah Laskow writes for Atlas Obscura about a woman with an unusual specialty:

On any given day, from her home on the Isle of Man, Linda Watson might be reading a handwritten letter from one Confederate soldier to another, or a list of convicts transported to Australia. Or perhaps she is reading a will, a brief from a long-forgotten legal case, an original Jane Austen manuscript. Whatever is in them, these documents made their way to her because they have one thing in common: They’re close to impossible to read. […]

For hundreds of years, history was handwritten. The problem is not only that our ancestors’ handwriting was sometimes very bad, but also that they used abbreviations, old conventions, and styles of lettering that have fallen out of use. Understanding them takes both patience and skill. “I see the job as a cross between a crossword puzzle and a jigsaw puzzle,” says Watson. […]

Some of the documents Watson transcribes are written by a trained hand; others are scrawled by people with limited literacy, with handwriting she compares to “a spider walking across the page.” Older scripts—court hand, for instance, which was used by lawyers and clerks beginning in the medieval period (and eventually became stylized into illegibility)—have long, narrow strokes and letters jammed together to save space, making it a challenge to find where one word ends and another begins. Some styles of writing lean heavily on space-saving abbreviations: An extra flourish on a letter “p” can turn it into a “per” or “par,” a “pro” or “pre,” depending on the exact position of the extra line. Other documents rely on phonetic spelling and are impossible to understand without reading aloud. Sometimes a manuscript is damaged, or ink has bled through from one side to the other. In these cases, the clearest portions can act as a decoder for the rest: An indistinct word might have the same shape as a legible one—a clue to puzzle out what was written all those years ago.

Since she first started specializing in old documents, Watson has expanded beyond things written in English. She now has a stable of collaborators who can tackle manuscripts in Latin, German, Spanish, and more. She can only remember two instances that left her and her colleagues stumped. One was a Tibetan manuscript, and she couldn’t find anyone who knew the alphabet. The other was in such bad shape that she had to admit defeat.

i have to say, I’m surprised she couldn’t find anyone who knew Tibetan; she must not have looked very hard. Thanks, David!