Decipherment (in philology) is the discovery of the meaning of texts written in obscure languages or scripts, which are almost always ancient. Decipherment in cryptography refers to decryption. The term is used sardonically in everyday language to describe attempts to read poor handwriting. In genetics the term is used to describe successful attempts to understand DNA, which is viewed metaphorically as a text containing word-like units. Throughout science the term decipherment is synonymous with the understanding of biological and chemical phenomena.
In many cases, a multilingual artifact is necessary to facilitate decipherment, the Rosetta Stone being the classic example. Statistical techniques provide another pathway to decipherment, as does the analysis of modern languages derived from ancient languages in which undeciphered texts are written. Archaeological and historical information is helpful in verifying hypothesized decipherments.
- Indus script
- Cretan hieroglyphs
- Linear A
- Byblos syllabary
- Linear Elamite
- Cypro-Minoan syllabary
Famous undeciphered documents
|Name of Scholar||Script Deciphered|
|Magnus Celsius||Staveless Runes|
|Jean-François Champollion||Egyptian Hieroglyphs|
|Georg Friedrich Grotefend, Eugène Burnouf, and Henry Rawlinson||Old Persian Cuneiform|
|Edward Hincks||Mesopotamian Cuneiform|
|Bedřich Hrozný||Hittite Cuneiform|
|Vilhelm Thomsen||Old Turkic|
|George Smith and Samuel Birch, et al.||Cypriot syllabary|
|Hans Bauer and Édouard Paul Dhorme||Ugaritic alphabet|
|Wang Yirong, Liu E, and Sūn Yíràng, et al.||Oracle Bone|
|Michael Ventris, John Chadwick, and Alice Kober||Linear B|
|Yuri Knorozov and Tatiana Proskouriakoff, et al.||Maya|
Decipherment refers to the understanding of the function of genetic material in biological systems.
- Trask, R.L (2000). The Dictionary of Historical and Comparative Linguistics. Fitzroy Dearborn Publishers, p. 82 ("The process of determining the relation between an extinct and unknown writing system and the language it represents. Strictly, decipherment is the elucidation of the script—that is, determining the values of the written characters")
- Vaudenay, Serge (2006). A Classical Introduction to Cryptography. Springer, p.3. ("Action to transform a ciphertext into a plaintext by an authorized party [emphasis added]")
- Snustad, D. Peter, et al. (2016). Principles of Genetics. Wiley, p.302
- "Anatomy of a Decipherment", http://images.library.wisc.edu/WI/EFacs/transactions/WT1966/reference/wi.wt1966.adcorre.pdf"
- Vaudenay, Serge (2006). A Classical Introduction to Cryptography. Springer, p.3.