Someone sent me a picture with an inscription on an old brass tray. He wants to know what language it is. I'm looking for advice on how to go about doing this. (I can post the picture if it would be helpful).


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    Could this question and its answers be any useful? Commented May 15, 2020 at 23:45
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    I agree with user6726 that including the image in the question would probably make it off-topic. How about posting a link to it in a comment, for anyone who’s curious to see what it is? Commented May 16, 2020 at 11:19

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It could be counterproductive to post the picture, because that would change the question from "what's the method" to "what is this text" (off-topic!). The first step is to try to sort out the script. If you see "Б", that points you in one direction, Բ is another, likewise ब or ば. This resource may be useful in getting a clue (the search is aided substantially if you have some idea where the thing originates from, also when). It gets complicated by the fact that there are often major typographic changes in a language / culture, for example the fact that Fraktur used to be used in many Germanic languages. Handwriting in Italian from 500 years ago is unreadable to most modern speakers of Latin-based writing systems.

Broad script-identification gets you much of the way, then you have to focus on details pertinent to the script. You could sort Danish or Norwegian versus Swedish based on presence of the letters ä,ö versus æ,ø. You might distinguish Persian from Arabic by the presence of په or گ (in Persian), but گ is also used in Sindhi, so particular letters would (usually) just narrow down the possibilities. From a "practical" perspective, you could ask speakers of the candidate languages "Is this {Tigrinya / Tigre / Amharic / Ge'ez / Bilen / Chaha}?", but if in fact it is Chaha, an Amharic speaker might say "It's Tigrinya" as a guess, so you really would need to check with an actual speaker of the language. Theoretically, if you suspect that the text is Persian, you can study Persian and see if you can make any sense of the inscription based on the grammars that you've consulted. It may take a few decades to figure out what language it is. If the text is in Latin script or you can manage to accurately enter the letters on your computer, you could try Googling the text – if I saw "dağlar" in a text and didn't know, I would quickly conclude that that is Turkish. It could also be Azerbaijani: if I see the letter ә, I conclude that it is Azerbaijani. I.e., it ain't easy.

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