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Full text of "The Loom Of Language"

The Story of the Alphabet               61

people from different parts of China can read the same books without
being able to utter any mutually intelligible words

Eventually the priestly scripts of Egypt incorporated a third class
of signs as phonograms The learned people began to make puns
That is to say, they sometimes used their picture symbols to build
up words of syllables which had the sound associated with them
With a code of such pictograms we can combine ^ for lee with j&
for kaftv suggest the word belief by putting a fiame round them thus.

This is just what the Egyptians sometimes did The constituents of
this compound symbol have now no connexion with the meaning of
the word We can know the meaning of the word only if we know
what it sounds like when spoken
A tack of this sort may be a stage in the development of one kind of
phonetic script called syllable writing The characteristic of syllable
writing is that each symbol, like the letters of our alphabet, stands for
a sound which has no necessary meaning by itself. Syllable wrmng in
this sense did not evolve directly out of Egyptian picture scripts
Whether the first step towards phonetic combinations of this kind was
part of the priestly game of preserving script as a secret code., whether
the highbrow pastime of making puns and puzzles encouraged it, we do
not know Either because they lacked a sufficient social motive for
simplifying their script, or because the intrinsic difficulties were too
great, the Egyptian priests never took the decisive step to a consistent
system of phonetic writing.
There is no reason to suppose that peoples who have taken this
step have done so because they are particularly intelligent or enter-
prismg Many useful innovations are the reward of ignorance. When
illiterate people, ignorant of its language, come into contact with a
community equipped with script, they may point at the signs and listen
to the sounds the more cultured foreigner makes when he utters
which begin with the latter (cf Ai?co = / loose and XcXvKa = / have loosed with
<j>pat>w - I declare and rrc^paxa - / have declared). Thisph sound drifted to-
wards / which takes its place in many Latin words of common Aryan ancestry,
e g. </>$pQ> -- fero (1 carry) and <j>parr}p = jrater (clansman, brother) With the/
value it had in late Roman timeSj in technical terms from Greek roots and in
modern Greek, it went into the Slavonic alphabet By then the sound corre-
sponding to ft had drifted towards our vs its value in modem Greek, The
symbol f occurs only in early Greek, probably with a value equivalent to wt
though evidently akin to the Hebrew vau and Latin F