• Rich Honiball

Today in Brand History: The Original Rosetta Stone

(photo credit: science.howstuffworks.com)

In 1822, French scholar Jean-François Champollion announces he has deciphered Egyptian hieroglyphics using the Rosetta Stone.

Rosetta Stone??

The Rosetta Stone dates back to 196 B.C. and is a granite slab issued by a the ruler of Egypt, Ptolemy V and his clergy. It featured a written decree attesting to his "generosity and devoutness." The decree was using ancient Greek, hieroglyphics, (mainly used by priests), and Demotic, a simpler script used for everyday purposes.

It wasn't until two thousand years later, in the nineteenth century, that French soldiers discovered the stone and scholars started to show how to use the Rosetta Stone to crack the code of hieroglyphics. By 1801, the stone fell into the hands of the British and British scientist Thomas Young, began studying the Rosetta Stone’s texts in 1814. He made progress in analyzing its hieroglyphic inscription. Young discovered that the hieroglyphs enclosed in ovals contained the phonetic spellings of royal names, including Ptolemy.

It was French linguist Jean-Francois Champollion however, who deciphered the Rosetta Stone and cracked the hieroglyphic code. By 1824, Champollion showed that hieroglyphics weren't just pictures that didn't represent the sounds of a language, but rather were a combination of phonetic and ideographic signs that together could be interpreted.

So, Rosetta Stone.

When founder Allen Stoltzfus learned German through immersion while living in Germany, he found it relatively easy and wanted to replicate this through a computer program. He enlisted the help of his brother-in-law, John Fairfield, who held a PhD in computer science and by the early 90's, CD-ROM technology made their program possible. They called the original company Fairfield Language Technologies and called the technology "The Rosetta Stone", for obvious reasons (well, now obvious!)

But where did "Rosetta" come from? The name relates to its discovery in the Egyptian town of Rosetta (el-Rashid in Arabic) in 1799. A year earlier, Napoleon's forces had invaded Egypt, then part of the Turkish Ottoman empire, and discovered the large granite slab covered in inscriptions. And yes, it was the inspiration for the name of the software and the logo of the company that we know of as Rosetta Stone.

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