22 Apr 2008

Rhaetic for Dummies

Here's something light-hearted to enjoy for a laugh (because it's not good for much else). Giancarlo Tomezzoli and V. A. Choodeenov take us through a mental safari journey in The "Spada di Verona". It starts off looking somewhat professional enough with an abstract of the article framing the topic that follows:

"The Maniscalchi - Erizzo Museum in Verona (Veneto, IT) hosts an interesting collection of Roman, Venetic and Rhaetic antiquities among which a copy of the so called 'Spada di Verona' i.e. Sword of Verona. The inscription is redacted in the alphabet, closely resembling the Venetic, in which the Magrè inscriptions are written. The use of the Magrè alphabet would indicate a Rhaetic origin of the inscription. The inscription appears to be written from right to left in continuo and no indication is provided in it for indicating a possible separations between the words."
Ignoring the glaring grammatical error (i.e. "a possible separations"), the use of obscure Latin phrases like in continuo might lure the curious neophyte into the pitfall of mistaking it for something academic until the authors' psychoses finally leap off the page...

"A possible method of separating the words is to directly recognize in the inscription similar or corresponding Slavic language elements like name and verbs. However, in applying this method two alternative word separations and consequently two alternative interpretations of the inscription emerged."
To be blunt, this is the reasoning of a gradeschooler. I'm thinking of an IQ number between 0 and 90. I daren't investigate from which university this abstract might have come, if at all. A creative whim should not be mistaken for a "method". Of course, the abstract immediately begs the obvious question: Why Slavic? And the obvious possible answers are: a) half-baked nationalism, b) lack of education, c) cognitive deterioration, d) a poorly executed joke, e) all of the above.

The whole point of a method is to eliminate possibilities through deduction, not to add to them with baseless assumptions. Sufficed to say, no sensible linguist recognizes this "method" as they describe it and it's a case study of how not to crack an undeciphered language. If their method has a name, why not call it the Dumb and Dumber method? Although, come to think of it, this may infringe on Hollywood copyright. Language Log explains a very similar, oft-used scam called mass lexical comparison normally operating on protolanguages in Bill Poser's The Emperor's Clothes (April 18, 2006). Say no to drugs, kiddies. That includes the drug of idées fixes.


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