56 votes
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Why is “ß” not used in Swiss German?

It is because of the typewriter. A Swiss typewriter needs to support three languages: German, French, and Italian. Therefore on the Swiss typewriter, there was no ß key. It also has only lowercase ...
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30 votes

Why is “ß” not used in Swiss German?

The Swiss government has an explanation on p. 18. One contributing factor is typography, namely the rise of use of the Antiqua font, which was claimed to not include ß. I have no evaluation of the ...
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30 votes
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Are there languages where a change of character casing can lead to a different meaning of a word?

It’s worth pointing out that uppercase and lowercase characters are mostly a quirk of the Latin, Greek, and Cyrillic alphabets.[1] While these alphabets probably make up a plurality of written texts,[...
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  • 1,149
30 votes

Why were writing systems invented independently during roughly the same period across multiple civilizations?

From the source: Full writing-systems appear to have been invented independently at least four times in human history: first in Mesopotamia (present-day Iraq) where cuneiform was used between 3400 ...
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24 votes

Languages which changed their writing direction

Really lots of languages have experienced a change from Arabic writing (right to left) to either Latin or Cyrillic writing (left to right) during the 20th century. Notable examples are Turkish, Azeri, ...
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24 votes
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Can Someone Identify This Diacritic?

This is the predecessor to the modern umlaut: a small letter "e" written above a vowel. The name looks like "Schankär" to me. If you want to represent this very literally in ...
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20 votes
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How to identify a foreign language from handwriting?

Problem 1. Identify the language I found this diagram (in Russian). It seems to be pretty simple, and it amazingly covers a vast majority of world's languages. I took my liberty to adjust it slightly....
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20 votes

Languages which changed their writing direction

Chinese is classically written top-to-bottom from right to left, e.g., 9 5 1 10 6 2 11 7 3 12 8 4 but it is becoming increasingly common to also see it written left-to-right from top to ...
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20 votes

Languages which changed their writing direction

Probably the oldest example — being one of the oldest known examples of writing to begin with — is Sumerian cuneiform writing. Like Chinese, Sumerian cuneiform was originally written in vertical ...
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18 votes

Why was korea able to remove kanji but japan wasn't when both languages use homophones?

the problem is a bit in the framing of your question: "Why was korea able to remove kanji but japan wasn't when both languages use homophones?". i see two problems with this. firstly, all human ...
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15 votes
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What is the Mongolian vowel separator for?

The formal description has been already given in the excellent @ColinFine's answer. Let me give a different description in "layman terms". Mongolian characters usually have four distinct forms: ...
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14 votes

Why do European languages use a similar alphabet, but South East Asian languages do not?

The answer to this question is fairly straightforward along the lines of historical developments and cultural influences and goes pretty much along the lines offered by jamesqf's answer. However, a ...
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14 votes

Why were writing systems invented independently during roughly the same period across multiple civilizations?

I will answer from a different point of view. I will not care if it happened here at 3500 BC while at the other place at 1500 BC and consider it, as in your question, both as almost at the same time ...
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13 votes
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Please help me identify this language (image)

@prash is right, that is Malayalam, and the text is upside down, it reads "mādhavi", മാധവി, which is most likely a female name.
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12 votes

Can a natural language be non-serializable?

In one sense, every language is serializable: record someone speaking or signing it, then encode that video into whatever format you like, and now it's been turned into a string of bits. But that's ...
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12 votes

Can Someone Identify This Diacritic?

@Caimarvon and @Draconis made simple work of what's an absolute mystery to people like my family and I, who are only amateur linguists in the same way that pushing an apple onto a stick could be ...
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  • 463
11 votes
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Estimating the number of words in a language before invention of alphabet

I'm afraid I'm going to have to frame-challenge this one. For example, it seems intuitive that a spoken language cannot hold too many words without having a way to write them down (imagine having ...
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11 votes

Are there languages where a change of character casing can lead to a different meaning of a word?

It's possible, but actual ambiguity is rare—because character casing generally doesn't correspond to any property of the spoken language, and languages are spoken more often than they're written. (A ...
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11 votes

Tabannusi in cuneiform script

As noted by Draconis, this is not a Sumerian but an Akkadian word, specifically a form of the verb banû, "to build". Specifically, I would analyze it as the G-durative (for the D-stem, the ...
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10 votes

Wordplay in ancient texts

Aristophanes (Knights 21–26), much earlier than the Philogelos, punned on repeating molōmen auto, molōmen auto "let us go, that" ending up sounding like the taboo automolōmen "let us desert". ...
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10 votes
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Is punctuation necessary in written language?

It's not necessary. We know this because punctuation is actually a relatively recent invention: Classical Latin, for example, was often written without punctuation or spacing of any sort. However, ...
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9 votes

Help identify unknown language

It's a Buddhist mantra Om mani padme hum in Sanskrit written in the Tibetan script.
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9 votes

How would someone begin translating an unknown language?

Take a look at John Chadwick's The Decipherment of Linear B. It does include some relevant theory -- I've used it as a text in an elementary linguistics course.
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9 votes
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If there is a pattern to Chinese characters

The Chinese characters have not only a pattern, but many, many patterns. But First to clear up some confusion. Radicals are not usually composed of eachother, but are unanalysable. By analogy, a ...
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  • 4,348
9 votes
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What language(s) should I learn to read the Epic of Gilgamesh?

From Wikipedia: The literary history of Gilgamesh begins with five Sumerian poems about Bilgamesh (Sumerian for "Gilgamesh"), king of Uruk, dating from the Third Dynasty of Ur (c. 2100 BC). These ...
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  • 3,078
9 votes

Tabannusi in cuneiform script

This is an Akkadian word, a form of banû "to build". My grasp of Akkadian conjugation isn't the best, especially for "weak" verbs that lose one of their consonants, but it looks ...
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  • 51.9k
9 votes

Why were writing systems invented independently during roughly the same period across multiple civilizations?

In addition to what Vladimir said: Complex societies could only emerge when agricultural techniques were advanced enough to produce a surplus which could sustain a larger number of craftsmen, ...
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8 votes
Accepted

How do you break words across lines in Arabic?

You don't break words in Arabic. Instead of breaking words, the Arabic script uses optional stretching of words to justify text columns. You can stretch the inter-letter joins and also some individual ...
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