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Full text of "The Loom Of Language"

The Story of the Alphabet              71
larity of word-pattern led the old Rabbimca! scholars to speak of the
consonants as the body and the vowel as the soul of the word In so far
as we can recognize bodies without theological assistance the metaphor
is appropriate. Consonants are in fact the most tangible part of the
written word. A comparison of the next two lines in which the same
sentence is written,, first without consonants, and then without vowels,
is instructive from this point of view
e e   a e     u         o e   ea y     o     ea.
Then turn the page upside down and read this:
p   j     i     s         juitpui'i      's ip
If you carry out experiments of this kind you will discovei two things.
One is that it is easy to read a passage without vowels m Enghbh if
there is something to show where the vowels should be, as in the
above The other is that it is much less easy to do so if there is nothing
to show where the vowels ought to come Thus it would be difficult to
mterpret:                ths r mch mr s t rd
Owing to the build-up of Semitic root-words, we have no need of
dots to give us this information Once we know the consonants, we
hold the key to their meaning Any syllabary based qn twenty-odd open
monosyllables with a different consonant would therefore meet all the
needs of a script capable of representing the typical root-words of a
Semitic language The Semitic trading peoples of the Mediterranean
took twenty-two syllable signs from Egyptian priestly writing, as die
Japanese took over the Chinese monosyllabic logograms They used
them to represent the sounds for which they stood, instead of to repre-
sent what the sounds stood for m the parent language Because they
did not need to bother about the vowels, they used twenty-one of the
Egyptian symbols to represent the consonant sounds of the root,
without paying attention to the vowel originally attached
Thus the alphabet began as an alphabet of consonants (Fig. 15)
Such an alphabet, or B-C-D, was only workable in the hands of the
Semitic peoples If we had no English vowel sjncnbols, the succession
of consonants represented by mlch could stand for milch (in milch cow\
or for the Bible name Moloch Similarly mt could stand for vest or visit9
and pts could stand for pities or Patsy. This was die dilemma of the
Aryan-speaking colonizers and traders of Island Gieece who came
mto contact with the syllable writing of Cyprus (Figs 13 and 14) and