In philology, decipherment is the discovery of the meaning of texts written in ancient or obscure languages or scripts. Decipherment in cryptography refers to decryption. The term is used sardonically in everyday language to describe attempts to read poor handwriting. In genetics, decipherment is the successful attempt 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 a few cases, a multilingual artifact has been 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
- Byblos syllabary
- Linear A
- Linear Elamite
- Cypro-Minoan syllabary
- Numidian language[a]
- although the script, Libyco-Berber, has been almost fully deciphered, the language has not.
- 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]")
- "Decipher Definition & Meaning | Dictionary.com".
- 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"
- "Breaking the Code (Francois Desset, Padua) - YouTube". www.youtube.com. Archived from the original on 2021-12-11. Retrieved 2021-01-04.