Re: The History of the Alphabet (long)

The Low Golden Willow (
Mon, 6 Oct 1997 12:39:13 -0700 (PDT)

On Oct 6, 4:52am, Harvey Newstrom wrote:

} writing was called Phoenician, Canaanite, or Paleo-Hebrew script.9 The
} earliest known examples of this Paleo-Hebrew script are names engraved on
} potsherds and other objects from around 1500 BC.10

} the first writing system in the world. The initial idea that symbols could
} represent abstract ideas without resorting to clay models or drawings began
} with the twenty-two letters that Semitic languages still use today.

} first committed to writing.25 Although many cultures claim an older oral
} tradition than the Hebrews, the Paleo-Hebrew texts in various languages
} including Hebrew comprise the oldest non-hieroglyphic texts in the world.

The Encyclopedia Britannica claims that Linear A was a syllabic script
dating "from approximately 1850 BC to 1400 BC." Linear B is backdated to
1600 B.C., with records dated from 1400 to 1200 B.C. This doesn't seem
consistent with Hebrew being the non-hieroglyphic writing in the world.

I did some more Britannica reading after my last post on the subject.
Semitic (at least Hebrew and Arabic) words -- morphemes -- are
distinguished by their consonant patterns. Interspersed vowels do have
significance as inflections, but meaning is determined by the
consonants. So someone decided that they need only write down the
consonants, leaving off tense and number inflections, perhaps similar to
the way we used to leave out punctuation. The article insists that this
is a more usable system than it seems. I can only defer to their more
informed judgement. Europe did do without punctuation or even word
boundaries for a while. (And Hebrew later came up with some vowel
marks, although these seem like training wheels for literacy.)

Scholars therefore disagree as to whether Aramaic should be called a
syllabary which skips the vowels or an alphabet. Apparently they've
compromised and called it a "consonantal writing system" instead, which
is certainly undeniable. My speculations were confirmed: when the
Greeks adopted the Semitic script, and discovered there weren't any
symbols for vowels, rather important for word differentiation in Greek,
they turned some symbols to vowel representation thus creating the first
undeniable alphabet. And the syllabary nature of the Linear scripts
confirms my guess that left to their own devices the Greeks would have
come up with syllabaries. As Linear B has 90 signs and still can't
handle consonant groups, we may be grateful for the alphabet's
serendipitous birth.

Which simply illustrates the unexpected benefits which may come from
diversity, and perhaps cautions us against hasty standardization.
Mnemosyne and Qwerty help us if the world had quickly adopted Chinese

Merry part,
-xx- Damien R. Sullivan X-) <*>

"You know, I've gone to a lot of psychics, and they've told me a lot of
different things, but not one of them has ever told me 'You are an
undercover policewoman here to arrest me.'"
-- New York City undercover policewoman

(Ooh! I went to the Skeptic Society/Jared Diamond talk at Caltech
yesterday. Michael Sherner (?) pointed out that not a single psychic
predicted Princess Diana's death. Or Mother Teresa's, for that matter.)