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Full text of "The Loom Of Language"

The Story of the Alphabet               73
otes, with whom they came in contact This step was momentous The
primitive Semitic alphabets which had no vowels were good enough
for simple inscriptions or for Holy Writ to be read again and again
They could not convey the grammatical niceties which result from
internal vowel change of the sort illustrated by sing-sang-sung Since
Semitic languages abound in tricks of this sort, the ancient Semitic
scripts were not well adapted to produce the rich secular literature
which germinated in the Greek world
The Greek alphabet (Figs, n and 12) had seven vowel symbols,
namely, a  y i v co o The Italian peoples who got their alphabet
from the Greeks also spoke dialects poor in vowels, and they discarded
two of the Greek signs, i e. 77 and a> Divergence of the form of the
symbols which make up the classical Greek and Laun alphabets
came about owing to a variety of circumstances The first people to use
alphabetic writing did not write at length and were not fussy about
whether they wrote from right to left or from top to bottom Quite
ephemeral reasons would influence the choice, as for example the
advantage of inscribing a short epitaph vertically on a pole or hori-
zontally on a flat stone Thus the orientation of letters underwent local
change through the whims of scribes or stone-masons, so that the same
symbols were twisted about vertically or laterally, as illustrated in
Fig 16, which shows the divergence of the Greek and Latin symbols
for D, L, G, P, R While the art of writing and reading was still the
privilege of the few, the need for speedy recognition was not compelling,
and the urge for standardization was weak.
In one or other of the earliest specimens (Figs. 37 and 38) of Island
Greek writing of the sixth or seventh centuries B c, we can find any one
of the old Phoenician consonant symbols unchanged The absence of
printing type to standardize the use of letter symbols, the effect of the
writing materials on the ease with which they could be written, the
limitation of primitive writing to short messages, records, or inscrip-
tions, the small size of the reading public, and the fact that pronuncia-
tion changes in the course of several generations and vanes among
people still able to converse with difficulty in their own dialects, were
other circumstances which contributed to the divergence of the alpha-
bets. So there is now no recognizable resemblance between the classical
Hebrew and Greek alphabets (Figs n and 12) which came from the
same Semitic source. Though Arabic is a Semitic language with a
script written like Hebrew from right to left, the symbols of the Arabic
consonants have no obvious resemblance to those of Hebrew. In the