In his book Letter perfect: the marvelous history of our alphabet from A to Z, David Sacks says that we'll probably never decipher the Wadi el-Ḥol inscriptions (and he was probably implying the same for the Serabit el-Khadim inscriptions). Do you think we'll ever decipher them? After all, we do know that the script was an alphabet ancestral to our own, and that the language was Semitic.

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    Sorry, but questions on this site need to be able to be answered objectively, not with opinions about the future. – curiousdannii May 28 '20 at 22:49
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    @curiousdannii I'd say this question can be answered fairly definitively: "the corpus is too small to be confident in any decipherment, so unless we find more text in this script/language, no". – Draconis May 28 '20 at 22:50
  • Finding enough text in this script/language to enable decipherment isn't out of the question, I assume? Is there anyone looking for such texts at the moment? – Nathan Tracey May 28 '20 at 22:54
  • @NathanTracey It could happen! Archaeologists are always making new finds and providing new data. But since this script is only attested in graffiti (as far as we know), the chances of finding e.g. a library full of it are slim. – Draconis May 28 '20 at 22:58
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    @NathanTracey The script may or may not have been abjadic—there are some glyphs at Wadi el-Hol that might be logograms. Or might not! Really, anything providing more data would be helpful, the more the better. – Draconis May 28 '20 at 23:27

It depends on what you mean by "decipher", mostly.

Many scholars agree that these inscriptions were written in some Semitic language, and that the script was ancestral to Phoenician. Gardiner's proposed interpretation of one inscription, l-bʕlt "to the lady", is also fairly well-accepted.

However, at present, the corpus is simply too small to say anything definitive. Plenty of possible translations have been offered, and there's just not enough data to accept one over another. One could argue that they've been "deciphered" many times over; we just don't know which decipherment, if any, is correct!

If more inscriptions were found, then it's likely that they could be deciphered. Linguists have gotten quite good at figuring out unknown languages based on known relatives (e.g. Akkadian, Hittite, Mycenaean). But until (and unless) that happens, it's just not possible to have much confidence in a translation.

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