Moving house

Humblest apologies for not posting on Monday — between work and house-buying admin, it rather slipped my mind.

However, I can now definitely state that I am close to completing my house purchase, and I will be moving in about three weeks. This will obviously affect my availability for proofreading work; I hope to make the disruption to my services as short as possible. I will update this blog once I have a clearer idea of how long this period of unavailability is likely to last. I will also prepare some queued posts so that I am not completely silent for the duration of my move.

In the mean time, I will be beavering away at whatever hits my inbox 🙂

Yay, work!

I’ve been receiving a veritable hailstorm of short pieces with tight deadlines recently. It’s all good, paid work, but doesn’t leave a whole lot of room for planning interesting blog posts. Bit of a shame, really, ’cause the Hairy Bikers: Meat Feasts recipe book (which came out at the end of last month) is proving to be quite a success. One recipe (rolled bacon joint with pease pudding) contains a rather nice mustard sauce, which I adapted ever so slightly to go with tonight’s slow-cooked pork loin steaks — deeeeeeeeeelicious! I hope to have a fuller review written up in the next week or two, depending on how things go. 😀 It’s going to be so much fun trying out recipes!

The Decipherment of Linear B

I’ve been reading this over the past few days (welp, the Canto Classics 2nd Edition), and it’s pretty darned interesting.

This book is, as the title would suggest, an account of efforts to decipher Linear B, an ancient script found on clay tablets excavated on Crete and in parts of mainland Greece. The book was written by John Chadwick, who collaborated with the eventual decipherer of Linear B, the self-taught linguist Michael Ventris. The original version of this account was published in 1952.

Chadwick’s account starts off with a brief biography of Ventris, covering his early years, education, and the beginnings of his interest in Linear B and linguistics more generally. The next few chapters cover previous attempts to crack this ancient linguistic code. These start with Arthur J. Evans’ setting the ball rolling with his initial classification of the scripts and symbols into syllabaric and ideographic forms. Unfortunately, Evans decided quite firmly that Linear B could not possibly be a form of Greek, but rather was a way of writing the Minoan language, similarly (it is to be assumed) to the still-undeciphered Linear A. This erroneous assumption is one on which he built much of his subsequent career, producing a quite spectacular case of confirmation bias. The account then moves to Alice Kober’s classification of the symbols into triplets based similarities in their forms, and Emmett L. Bennett’s creation (in collaboration with Kober) of conventions for transcribing the symbols of Linear B as numbers.

After this comes the main meat of the story — Michael Ventris’ climactic decipherment of the ancient language. Much of this section contains descriptions of cryptographic and philological techniques which, being inexperienced in these fields, I have to admit I found difficult to follow. One part I did understand, though, was that frequency analysis formed the basis on which Ventris assigned the syllabic values ko-no-so (Knossos) and a-mi-ni-so (Amnisos) to two particular recurring groups of symbols which looked like place names. From there, the unexplored vistas of Linear B opened up before him, showing that this most fascinating of scripts is an abbreviated form of Mycenaean Greek, the earliest attested form of the Greek language. This section, and the next, were easily my favourite parts of the book.

After covering the momentous decipherment, and the incredibly positive (though not entirely without dissent and controversy) reaction, is a chapter speculating about what can be deduced about the Mycenaean civilisation which used Linear B. The small number of different ‘hands’ or styles of handwriting indicated few scribes, which in turn implies a specially trained class of literate people at the core of a sort of bureaucracy which ran a wealthy civilised society (indicated by references to quantities of gold, silver and luxury goods, and to persons with very specialised jobs such as makers of material for decorative inlays on furniture). References to supplies and troop movements imply that the ruler(s) of this society were preparing for war or at least feared some sort of attack, militaristic or otherwise. This is borne out by the fact that the Linear B tablets excavated from the site of a palace at Knossos were in a catastrophic fire, thus being baked and preserved for their future discovery.

Finally, there is a short essay by John Chadwick, dated 1992, examining the progress that had been made in the study of Linear B and its related scripts in the forty or so years after the initial decipherment. It is interesting, but indubitably out of date by now.

While this book can get a bit technical, I would still highly recommend it as a brilliant look at some of the earliest known written language.

Work continues apace :)

I’m on my fourth job in two weeks, and this one’s a biggie — not too far off 100K on the word count. Hard going, perhaps, but it’s worth it, and not (just) for the money — I’ve been learning a lot recently about my own editing technique and work speed. Before now, I wouldn’t have thought that it would take less than a week to proofread something this size. Ah well, we live and learn!

I’ve also been reading on my own time — Sir Pterry’s swansong, The Shepherd’s Crown, had me sniffling into a pile of tissues for so many reasons, not least because of four little words on the back cover: The final Discworld novel. Such a good book, but there will never be another… 😥

The Hairy Bikers’ Northern Exposure, their exploration of the cuisine of the area around the Baltic, started last Tuesday with a trip to Poland. It covered pierogi, a gingerbread orrery (I kid you not — it was in tribute to Copernicus), the finest Polish sausage (which, in combination with the project I was working on that day, gave me some very odd dreams), a solemn side trip to the site of the Treblinka extermination camp, and a type of stew called ‘bigos’ (pronounced ‘big-osh’) that looked like it could be easily adapted for making in a slow cooker during the chilly winter months. All good stuff! I’m looking forward to tomorrow’s episode, which explores Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia. Should be interesting. 🙂