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[P]
The very first blog

By imrdkl in Media
Tue Mar 19, 2002 at 07:17:51 PM EST
Tags: Culture (all tags)
Culture

These days, anyone can be a writer. We can share our interests, lives, and opinions in forums like this, to the delight and satisfaction, and sometimes the chagrin and disappointment, of people around the world. But it was not always so. A few years ago, while walking down an ancient "highway", a pair of archeologists discovered what may have been the very first "blog" written in the very first alphabet.


Heiroglyphics, the written language which matches a specific word to a picture, have been around for thousands of years. It's generally accepted that they were in use at least 5000 years ago, in fact. This form of communication, while attractive and interesting, was cumbersome. Typically, only the well-educated elite of ancient Egypt were able to communicate using heiroglyphics, leaving the average egyptian citizen very few options for communicating, outside of spoken discourse.

All that changed with the invention of the alphabet. Suddenly, anyone who had the time to learn a few dozen basic shapes could be a writer. What an fantastic invention, indeed. But who is truly responsible for the magnificent invention which makes things like our beloved blog possible? And, how many realize, as you passionately write your diary, that you are actually producing modified versions of ancient symbols?

For many years, the original alphabet was widely accepted to be either the Ugarit, a cuniform alphabet based on wedge shaped consonants, whose origin remains something of a mystery, or the Phoenician alphabet, which borrowed from egyptian heiroglyphs, and is thought to have been developed by Semites in Egypt and adapted by Canaanites. Both of these alpabets are accepted to have originated sometime between 1700-1500 BC. The peoples of Syria are quite proud to claim the rights to this magnificent invention, but recent events may have diminished the reliability of their claims, just a bit.

In 1998, two archeologists named John and Deborah Darnell were exploring an ancient road near a place called the "Wadi El Hol" (roughly, Valley of Terror) in Egypt, when they stumbled upon what appeared to be graffiti, enscribed upon the face of a cliff. Their discovery, documented in their own Annual Report with pictures is now recognized to be an alphabet that predates both the Ugarit and the Phoenician alphabets, by at least two hundred years, and emerged from Egypt, and not Syria or Canaan.

While this new alphabet has not yet been fully translated, it's thought that some of the enscripions were left by mercenaries, which were hired by the egyptians to form a desert police force. These mercenaries worked with egyptian scholars to develop a simplified system that they could understand, and which eventually became the modern Roman alphabet. Other examples of the inscriptions are thought to be family names, prayers, and travel diaries, and perhaps even tales of love and technology.

The Darnells took plenty of pictures of their find, and these were analzed using specialized computer imaging techniques to enhance their clarity and form. The plan, eventually, to attempt to remove some examples of the inscriptions, for preservation in a secure location

The question of who invented the alphabet, and how was spread around the world, is still open, according to some scholars. John Darnell himself is quick to point out that an alphabet is not really comparable to an true heiroglyphic system, which "conveys more than a purely phonetic system". But this writer, for one, has taken a few minutes today to recognize this discovery, and appreciate the opportunity to express myself, even if it's not really a "hallmark of civilization".

Other interesting references for this article:

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Poll
The alphabet is brought to you by
o Egyptians 4%
o Syrians 3%
o Canaanites 2%
o Phoenicians 12%
o Atlantians 16%
o Big Bird 62%

Votes: 98
Results | Other Polls

Related Links
o beloved blog
o Ugarit
o cuniform
o Phoenician
o quite proud
o Annual Report with pictures
o desert police force
o computer imaging techniques
o remove some examples
o still open
o not really comparable
o New York Times
o USC
o BBC
o Yale Daily News
o Yale Alumni Magazine
o Also by imrdkl


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The very first blog | 61 comments (41 topical, 20 editorial, 0 hidden)
"Big Bird" was probably the closest (3.50 / 4) (#4)
by seebs on Tue Mar 19, 2002 at 02:48:46 PM EST

But really, you should have had "Your parents" in there. I learned about the alphabet from my parents; big bird was merely a supplemental influence.

I can't pick among ancient cultures, because I don't *know*. I'm not even sure it's fair to try to give the credit to one group.


Alphabet as munition (3.75 / 4) (#9)
by DesiredUsername on Tue Mar 19, 2002 at 02:53:29 PM EST

"These mercenaries worked with egyptian scholars to develop a simplified system that they could understand, and which eventually became the modern Roman alphabet. Other examples of the inscriptions are thought to be family names, prayers, and travel diaries, and perhaps even tales of love and technology."

The first sentence here reads like a Department of Defense/MIT joing venture in technology. Note that the alphabet is more than a "simplified system" of hieroglyphs--some genius added the concept of combinatorial power to get this new system. Which is why the second sentence is so confusing.

Prayers? Travel diaries? Tales of love? These guys had never written or read anything before and existed in a world where that was normal. (i.e. no "freedom of the press" or "rights of self-expression") The alphabet was a weapon of war (or at least para-war, they were police, right?). Why on earth would their commanders have let them use the atom bomb of their time to scratch out graffiti on a wall?

Play 囲碁

crystalinks (3.66 / 6) (#12)
by silsor on Tue Mar 19, 2002 at 02:58:34 PM EST

You shouldn't link to http://www.crystalinks.com/ in an otherwise good article, because she's completely psycho.


✠  Patron saint of unmoderated (none / 0) top-level comments.
Careful there. (4.16 / 6) (#13)
by Estanislao Martínez on Tue Mar 19, 2002 at 03:02:51 PM EST

Heiroglyphics, the written language which matches a specific word to a picture, have been around for thousands of years. It's generally accepted that they were in use at least 5000 years ago, in fact. This form of communication, while attractive and interesting, was cumbersome. Typically, only the well-educated elite of ancient Egypt were able to communicate using heiroglyphics, leaving the average egyptian citizen very few options for communicating, outside of spoken discourse.

It's easy to go wrong with such claims that the fact that an orthography was not widespread because of its inherent difficulty. My hunch would be that social factors would be the most important ones influencing the literacy pattern in a society. It's difficult to blame the restriction of literacy to an elite in ancient Egypt on its orthography if it were to be the case that the social structures were such that the lower classes were actually precluded from instruction in the script.

Not that there aren't orthographies in some sense more difficult than others-- sticking to the Latin alphabet, English is at least in one sense more difficult than e.g. Italian, as evidenced by comparative data on learning disabilities. However, we know this precisely because these societies' educational policies demand universal literacy in the first place.

So, although for all I know hieroglyphs could be more difficult than alphabets, attributing to this the primary causal role in the widespread illiteracy of ancient Egypt might be putting the cart before the horse.

--em

Was gonna say the same thing (4.00 / 2) (#15)
by DesiredUsername on Tue Mar 19, 2002 at 03:12:23 PM EST

"My hunch would be that social factors would be the most important ones influencing the literacy pattern in a society."

Absolutely. Look at China which is still basically based on hieroglyphs. Poor/otherwise-uneducated Chinese people are still able to learn to read and write. For that matter, is learning a bunch of shapes that much more difficult that learning the same number of mouth sounds?

However, it doesn't need to be a case of exclusion of the lower classes. I don't know how to eat lobster not because I'm a blue-collar worker who's been prohibited from learning it--I just don't like seafood and so don't need to know how. Same with lower-class ancient Egyptians--if almost nobody knows how to read there's not much pressure to learn to write.

Play 囲碁
[ Parent ]

I advice some more care. (3.50 / 2) (#33)
by Estanislao Martínez on Tue Mar 19, 2002 at 07:54:07 PM EST

Look at China which is still basically based on hieroglyphs.

I would not make such a claim without detailed knowledge of both Egyptian hieroglyphs and Chinese ideograms.

For that matter, is learning a bunch of shapes that much more difficult that learning the same number of mouth sounds?

This is a good question, and one about which I have no clue-- I imagine that some research work has been done on it.

In any case, people who read alphabetic scripts proficiently don't do it letter by letter-- they learn to process text at higher level units. People can recognize and name letters faster in the context of a written word-- which suggests that word recognition actually serves as an input to letter recognition, however strange that may sound.

The point is that these are not matters you can figure out by sitting in your armchair and thinking. Whether one sort of script is easier to learn for the average person, easier to read after you know it, more difficult to learn for children with learning disabilities, or whatever, is an empirical matter.

--em
[ Parent ]

chinese ideograms (3.50 / 2) (#39)
by martingale on Tue Mar 19, 2002 at 09:38:56 PM EST

Look at China which is still basically based on hieroglyphs.
(I'm replying to you and to DesiredUsername). It is my understanding that Chinese ideograms are constructed from simple generic strokes, just like the Latin alphabet uses simple generic letters. The main difference is that Latin words are one-dimensional, ie a series of letters strung together in a specific order, whereas ideograms are two dimensional, ie a collection of strokes placed in a square in a specific arrangement. I don't know about hieroglyphs, but I think they are atomic (ie each glyph is not composed of more fundamental objects).

For that matter, is learning a bunch of shapes that much more difficult that learning the same number of mouth sounds?
Continuing on from my previous paragraph, in Chinese you can build most ideograms from a simple combination of strokes (although the corresponding sounds vary depending on the dialect), so the act of writing is not fundamentally more difficult than writing Latin languages. The real question is "do you need to know more fundamental building blocks?"

In any case, people who read alphabetic scripts proficiently don't do it letter by letter-- they learn to process text at higher level units. People
This is sufficiently important to elaborate. Each Chinese ideogram counts as a word, so we should ask: does a Chinese speaker know as many words as an English speaker say? Does the Chinese language have as many words as the English language? Here are some statistics: the Oxford English Dictionary contains some 290,000 entries with some 616,500 word forms. Shakespeare used anywhere from 16,000 to 30,000 words in his work. An educated English speaker knows about 20,000 words, but uses about 2,000 in a week's conversation. Chinese has 120,000+ words, but a typical newspaper may have from 2,000 to 4,000 only.

So I don't think there is a complexity advantage to English at all here. Moreover, Chinese grammar is supposed to be a lot simpler than English grammar (which is simpler than French or Spanish). This actually invites an interesting speculation: does the grammatical complexity arise due to the one-dimensional constraint in writing Latin words?

The above remarks reflect my limited understanding of Chinese, so please anyone correct me if I'm wrong.



[ Parent ]
Nope, still problematic. (4.50 / 2) (#42)
by Estanislao Martínez on Wed Mar 20, 2002 at 12:54:01 AM EST

Each Chinese ideogram counts as a word

You'd need to say what a word is. There are at least two or three potentially relevant notions here: morphological word, syntactic word, and lexeme. (Some people might argue that the first two are one and the same notion.) This is no easy matter; and it certainly can't be done on the basis of an orthography. English and German noun-noun compounds work essentially in the same way, but English orthography frequently insists on space between the components, while German orthography insists in no space.

does a Chinese speaker know as many words as an English speaker say?

This question is extremely vague, and attempts to make it precise show it to be pretty pointless. Let's take "word" to mean "lexeme" in your statement: the unit that characterizes a "family" of words with the same "basic meaning", e.g. we take "dog" and "dog", "run" and "runs" to be the same lexeme (though these are easy cases; this procedure in general is far from trivial). Now the task might be defined as counting how many underived lexemes the speaker of each language masters (lexemes that do not result from the application of a rule that forms complex lexemes; e.g. the verb "wash" is basic, the noun "washer" is derived). Each of these we call a listed unit; their crucial feature is that they are associations of sound and meaning that are not predictable from anything else in the grammar of the language (in the way the meaning of "washer" can be predicted from that of "wash").

This would be one way of making part of your proposal precise, but it still is problematic. The concept of a listed unit doesn't match the notion of a lexeme, given that plenty of listed units are complex phrases with meanings unpredictable from their parts (e.g. the classic example "kick the bucket", meaning "to die"). If you want to get at the minimal number of things that the speaker of a language needs to memorize, it will be a lot more involved than simply couting "words".

And I don't believe in this classic notion of listed unit anyway, and could spend *hours* criticising it. To make matters short, the idea that a listed unit has to be unpredictable from others is, in my mind, psychologically wrong, which makes the whole enteprise pointless.

Here are some statistics: the Oxford English Dictionary contains some 290,000 entries with some 616,500 word forms. Shakespeare used anywhere from 16,000 to 30,000 words in his work. An educated English speaker knows about 20,000 words, but uses about 2,000 in a week's conversation. Chinese has 120,000+ words, but a typical newspaper may have from 2,000 to 4,000 only.

And these statistics are pointless. They tell you nothing about Shakespeare for example, because "occurring between spaces" is dubious to be an interesting linguistic notion. Such an approach will undercount the linguistic units the speaker knows, and more severely for a language like Chinese with very little morphology (and thus a higher dependence on multi-word units).

And, in addition, different dictionaries are produced with different criteria, and you simply can't compare the number of words in them straightforwardly (if at all), even for dictionaries of the same language in the same historical period, designed for the same purpose.

"How many words a speaker of language X knows" is a very vague question, that is conceivably refinable to something to "what is the extent of the linguistic knowledge of a given speaker that is explicitly stored as fixed units in the brain, as opposed to constructed online". "How many words does language X has" on the other hand is just hopeless and pointless; it involves deciding what "a language" is, as opposed to what is the linguistic knowledge of some speaker.

I'm rambling by now, but the lesson is that these things are arcane and far from common sense.

--em
[ Parent ]

Religious aspects (5.00 / 1) (#28)
by Pseudoephedrine on Tue Mar 19, 2002 at 04:52:51 PM EST

To support your argument that it was social structure, not difficulty in language, in Egypt, formal writing (by which I mean hieroglyphs, as opposed to the demotic and hieratic scripts both of which came later) was generally restricted to the priest class as a trade secret. Imagine the power that control of written language gives you over a society, and it's easy to see why. Especially when one takes into account the vast amount of social organisation necessary to construct things like pyramids and monuments.

And let's also not forget that for several thousand years, before the development of wide-spread literacy and mass-education, well-educated actually meant 'literate' and very little else. So to say 'only the well-educated could read' is almost a tautology, because being well-educated meant being able to read.


"We who have passed through their hands feel suffocated when we think of that legion, which is stripped bare of human ideals" -Alexander Solzhenitsyn
[ Parent ]
literacy (none / 0) (#51)
by ucblockhead on Wed Mar 20, 2002 at 12:03:58 PM EST

It is interesting to note that literacy was fairly high when the largely secular Roman Empire held sway, and then dropped as it Christianity took hold and the empire fell apart.
-----------------------
This is k5. We're all tools - duxup
[ Parent ]
The growth of GUI's has shown. . . (3.10 / 10) (#14)
by IHCOYC on Tue Mar 19, 2002 at 03:09:52 PM EST

. . . that alphabetic writing was a mistake that never should have been allowed to get off the ground.

Given the choice, people are much happier with little pictures. Writing should have remained an endless parade of little people, birds, snakes, semicircles, zig-zags, and ankhs. Isn't this the genius of the Mac? Of Windows?

I say let's trash the alphabet and go back to hieroglyphs. Things are easier all around that way.

This message has been placed here IN MEMORIAM by the Tijuana Bible Society.

So why don't you draw a picture? (5.00 / 3) (#19)
by Secret Coward on Tue Mar 19, 2002 at 03:39:15 PM EST

The growth of GUI's has shown that alphabetic writing was a mistake that never should have been allowed to get off the ground.

Given the choice, people are much happier with little pictures. Writing should have remained an endless parade of little people, birds, snakes, semicircles, zig-zags, and ankhs. Isn't this the genius of the Mac? Of Windows?

I say let's trash the alphabet and go back to hieroglyphs. Things are easier all around that way.

I challenge you to express that in ASCII art.

[ Parent ]

need PRE tags, dammit! (5.00 / 1) (#40)
by scruffyMark on Tue Mar 19, 2002 at 10:31:47 PM EST

Even in TT and CODE tags, IE and iCab both throw away all my blarsted whitespace. In the meantime, look at page source

/ ------------- / | ______ | | | | help | | => /. .\ -- | ------ X | ! [][] |___________| \___/ |__| ________________ | $ help! | .\ /. |help:not found | => ! | $ | /---\ |_______________| \---/ . . . ----- / \ / \ | ABCDEF ___| ____ __|__|__ |______| | | | | | | | | |_|__|_| \\ ---------------\\--------------- / O o \\ / / + -+- \| / / / \ ___ ! / / / /\ / / \__\ \ / / __|___\__ / ~~~\ /~~ / ~~~~~~~~~~~~~ / -----------------------------/

[ Parent ]

Here, let me help you. (4.50 / 4) (#41)
by QuickFox on Wed Mar 20, 2002 at 12:28:37 AM EST

scryffyMark's picture:





      /    -------------
     /     |  ______   |
    |      | | help |  |         =>      /. .\
   --      |  ------ X |                   !
  [][]     |___________|                 \___/
  |__| 
 

________________
| $ help!       |                       .\ /.
|help:not found |                 =>      !
| $             |                       /---\
|_______________|                       \---/



                        .
                       . .


          ----- 
         /     \
        /       \ |
     ABCDEF    ___|
                   ____
                 __|__|__
                 |______|
                 | |  | |
                 | |  | |
                 |_|__|_|


                    \\ 
      ---------------\\---------------
     /  O   o         \\             /
    /   +  -+-         \|           /
   /       / \      ___ !          /
  /                /  /\          /
 /                 \__\ \        /
/                  __|___\__    /
                ~~~\       /~~ /
                ~~~~~~~~~~~~~ /
-----------------------------/

Give a man a fish and he eats for one day. Teach him how to fish, and though he'll eat for a lifetime, he'll call you a miser for not giving him your fish.



[ Parent ]
Quick translation (none / 0) (#50)
by synaesthesia on Wed Mar 20, 2002 at 07:54:40 AM EST

Mice and screens with a box containing the word 'Help' make users happy. Users are frustrated and angry when the 'help!' command is not found.

...therefore...

Putting letters into a bottle leads to drawing boats and stick men.


Sausages or cheese?
[ Parent ]
Almost, one clarification (none / 0) (#55)
by scruffyMark on Wed Mar 20, 2002 at 07:19:46 PM EST

Mice and screens with a box containing the word 'Help' make users happy. Users are frustrated and angry when the 'help!' command is not found.

...therefore...

Putting letters into a bottle leads to drawing boats and stick men.

There was no third implication symbol. The conclusion was:

Put your letters in a bottle, because the boat is about to be struck by lightning and sink.

[ Parent ]

Chinese? Kanji? (none / 0) (#44)
by rts on Wed Mar 20, 2002 at 01:04:44 AM EST

I take it you've never tried to learn Chinese/Kanji. And pictograph keyboards might be, well, cumbersome.

And anyways, hieroglyphs were not, strictly speaking, like pictographs. They represented words, sounds, and syllables, much like Japanese hiragana can. Hieroglyphs were alphabet-like: that's why one stone was all it took to uncover their secrets.

And yes, I realise the parent to this was probably spoken in jest, or at least with tongue-in-cheek.


Ryan T. Sammartino
Ancora imparo.
[ Parent ]

Well we ARE using more hieroglyphs today... (none / 0) (#49)
by jonr on Wed Mar 20, 2002 at 07:17:16 AM EST

Look at your computer desktop, the toolbar of your browser. Look at traffic signs. Restroom signs. One benefit of using icons/signs instead of alphabetical representation (ugh), is that it is international. Maybe we should just use Kanji for all kinds of icons in our computer and get over it. Surely it would put few graphic designers out of job, and we would have to learn few glyphs, but would that be much worse than to learn what rectangle-with-two-circular-arrows (reload page) or a house (home page) means? J.

[ Parent ]
Mediaglyphs (none / 0) (#56)
by dakoda on Wed Mar 20, 2002 at 11:31:30 PM EST

I believe Stehperson's 'Diamond Age' touched on this, with the use of 'mediaglyphs' on common appliances. while it sounds good and all, imagine how much more you can learn from reading versus clicking an image. I, personally, find myself relying on tooltips in new apps because some icons are unintuitive (minus the obvious save floppy and other common ones). without an alphabet, how do you explain what a tool does to a newbie? of course, being raised with the tool, you'd know how to use it. But, how much more did you learn about your computer once you learned how to enter DOS mode and mess with config files and what not. (back when you could exit windows 3.1 etc). I think thats part of why I'm no fond of Mac's (havnt tried osx though). they're all pictures, and it seems difficult to learn what things are actually happening. maybe i'm old fashoned. It's funny, picture books are regarded as 'kiddy toys,' yet mediaglyphs are not? while they have uses (language-neutral) and benefits (familiarity from repeated exposure), they are hardly a substitute for the real deal. words are your friend =)

[ Parent ]
Wait a minute... (4.00 / 8) (#21)
by CanSpice on Tue Mar 19, 2002 at 04:08:53 PM EST

Shouldn't this be a 'dlog' instead of a 'blog'? After all, it's not a log on the web, it's a log on the side of the road, and hence a 'road log', or 'dlog'.
--- I don't have a sig.
I can live with this (4.00 / 1) (#23)
by imrdkl on Tue Mar 19, 2002 at 04:14:54 PM EST

Rusty, got a minute to make it so? Use a little discretion, and everyone can get on with their lives.

[ Parent ]
Wow... (4.00 / 2) (#26)
by CanSpice on Tue Mar 19, 2002 at 04:27:55 PM EST

And here I was being tongue-in-cheek. =)
--- I don't have a sig.
[ Parent ]
OOOHHHHhhhhh (5.00 / 1) (#38)
by Ken Pompadour on Tue Mar 19, 2002 at 09:29:39 PM EST

THAT'S where 'blog' came from. WeB. And here I was thinking it was the most brutal word ever created... no wait, it still is. Blah.

...The target is countrymen, friends and family... they have to die too. - candid trhurler
[ Parent ]
+1 FP, well researched, interesting, relevant. (3.00 / 4) (#32)
by bakuretsu on Tue Mar 19, 2002 at 05:57:21 PM EST

Ancient alphabets are so cool.

When is someone going to find the archaeological site of the first ASCII table ;-)

-- Airborne
    aka Bakuretsu
    The Bailiwick -- DESIGNHUB 2004
bleh (4.50 / 6) (#34)
by tarsand on Tue Mar 19, 2002 at 08:32:48 PM EST

Is it just be or is "blog" the stupidest "word" that's come out lately. Sounds lazy.


"Oh, no, I agree with tarsand!" -- trhurler
s/be/me/ [NT] (none / 0) (#35)
by tarsand on Tue Mar 19, 2002 at 08:36:45 PM EST




"Oh, no, I agree with tarsand!" -- trhurler
[ Parent ]
The first weblog? (4.33 / 3) (#36)
by FattMattP on Tue Mar 19, 2002 at 08:39:32 PM EST

Considering that blog is short for weblog, I seriously doubt that people were using the web 5000 years ago.

Keep in mind... (4.50 / 4) (#37)
by AnalogBoy on Tue Mar 19, 2002 at 09:12:43 PM EST

That the egyptians had electricity!, i mean, and flying machines, too.. Who knows, they could have invented computers and an internet with the help of the aliens that visited our world!

hmm. this isn't a marlboro..
--
Save the environment, plant a Bush back in Texas.
Religous Tolerance (And click a banner while you're there)
[ Parent ]
Egyptian Hieroglyphs are not just ideogrammatic (4.75 / 4) (#43)
by The Solitaire on Wed Mar 20, 2002 at 12:55:05 AM EST

Researchers long thought that the Egyptian hieroglyphic system were ideogrammatic, like Chinese. However, upon the discovery of the rosetta stone, they realized that they were wrong - Egyptian hieroglyphics were actually both phonetic and ideogrammatic.

Many of the 'pictures' that were present actually represented sounds in the Egyptian tongue (presumably). Some were ideograms - little pictures representing what they drew. Egyptian writing did not have spaces between words, nor does it indicate any vowels. To deal with this problem, there are still other hieroglyphs that are determinatives. These disambiguated between what would otherwise be read as identical phonetically.

Just wanted to point this out, since it seems that many people believe that hieroglyphs were completely ideogrammatic. To see an alphabet that works similarly, Japanese is probably a good example. Kanji characters are ideogrammatic, and Hiragana characters are phonetic. Japanese does not have a distinct class of determinative characters, however.

A nice little introduction to hieroglyphs can be found here.

I need a new sig.

In Chinese (5.00 / 2) (#46)
by genman on Wed Mar 20, 2002 at 02:29:09 AM EST

In Chinese, during development of the written language, many of the characters were created, by borrowing the 'phonetic' components of existing characters and using them in new compounds. And like in Japanese, foreign words can be written by using a string of Chinese characters that best suits the phonetic description of the source language. Though, the characters have associated meaning, they are to be interpreted as the word that was 'encoded.'

[ Parent ]
Thanks for the info (none / 0) (#47)
by The Solitaire on Wed Mar 20, 2002 at 02:49:36 AM EST

Thanks for this tidbit - I'm really naive when it comes to Chinese orthography (not that I've ever really looked into it).

I need a new sig.
[ Parent ]

Non-alphabetic writing systems (5.00 / 1) (#54)
by IHCOYC on Wed Mar 20, 2002 at 04:04:45 PM EST

Almost all of the world's writing systems derive ultimately from Egyptian writing, or from Chinese writing. The other two times writing was invented --- Sumerian cuneiform, and the Maya and Central American scripts --- are no longer used to write living languages.

All of the original scripts use rebus writing principles to one extent or another. Even in Chinese, where parts of some characters are originally characters for sound-alike words, and the other parts are classifying elements that hope to elucidate what the other part is about. These are sometimes distorted or abbreviated to fit into the square symbol box of standard Chinese calligraphy.

In Egyptian, the "ideographic" elements were usually vague classifiers as well, and the main body of the text had only phonetic values. There were a handful of symbols that could stand for single words.

Where it gets hairy is when a script created for one language is modified to write another. Generally, the first literate culture carries a lot of prestige. Akkadian and Assyrian were written in a Sumerian derived script; you sometimes had to guess if a given character stood for a Sumerian word, or was there to supply a phonetic value. Modern Japanese is written much the same way, in a Chinese derived script. About the only advance the Japanese have made past the Assyrian model is that they have made many of the purely phonetic characters abbreviated or cursive, and this tends to make them smaller, and graphically distict, especially in printing.

Of course, English has little to boast about. Most standard varieties of spoken English have at least twelve different vowel sounds; many have more. Five vowels and sometimes Y are inadequate to report this variety. The 26 letters of the English alphabet were devised to write Latin, not English; they do a good job on Latin, but English really needs some accent marks and a thorough dose of spelling reform. English is written using a system that may have adequately reflected the pronunciation of the year 1450. Thanks to the cultural prestige of old-fashioned written English, it's about as likely that English will abandon traditional spellings as the Japanese will abandon kanji.

English words written traditionally can at least be -recognised- by foreigners. If you design a system that writes English using the Latin alphabet with its "true" values [that is, the sounds the different vowels have in Spanish or Italian] you will see how distorted English pronunciation is.

This message has been placed here IN MEMORIAM by the Tijuana Bible Society.
[ Parent ]

Small point... (none / 0) (#57)
by gilmae on Wed Mar 20, 2002 at 11:58:05 PM EST

Almost all of the world's writing systems derive ultimately from Egyptian writing, or from Chinese writing. The other two times writing was invented --- Sumerian cuneiform, and the Maya and Central American scripts --- are no longer used to write living languages.

You say that as though Egyptian is still used to write a living language. Coptic is pretty dead now, isn't it?

Also, not one hundred percent on this, but Egyptian script derived from cuneiform.

[ Parent ]
Egyptian and Coptic (none / 0) (#58)
by IHCOYC on Thu Mar 21, 2002 at 10:02:41 AM EST

My understanding is that Coptic is written in a version of the Greek alphabet, with a number of extra characters derived from Egyptian demotic to write sounds that weren't in the Greek alphabet. Not sure what its status is as a living language, although it remains the liturgical language of the Coptic Church.

The idea of written language may have been borrowed from cuneiform by the Egyptians who invented the hieroglyph system. The two systems work quite differently, though; what was borrowed was little more than the idea of written language. It might be that cuneiform was itself imitated from the Chinese script, or vice versa. The idea of writing has been borrowed quite often, and used to devise independent scripts. A great deal of invention was needed to turn an Aramaic alphabet into something capable of writing Sanskrit; the Brahmi and Gupta scripts went on to be the ancestors of dozens of alphabets in India and southeast Asia. The Cherokee script was independently invented, and just the idea of writing was borrowed; the script uses the shapes of Latin letters, but their values are unrelated to their values in English.

Of course, if the original article is correct, all alphabetic scripts, including the Greek and Latin alphabets, are offshoots of the Egyptian system.

This message has been placed here IN MEMORIAM by the Tijuana Bible Society.
[ Parent ]

Cherokee (none / 0) (#59)
by IHCOYC on Thu Mar 21, 2002 at 10:27:55 AM EST

Sorry to follow myself up, but. . .

The table of characters and their values in the Cherokee script can be found at the link. Fonts for PC and Mac are here. Cherokee is a fairly obvious example of how the idea of writing can be borrowed, and even the shapes of letters, without being a direct conversion of the system.

This message has been placed here IN MEMORIAM by the Tijuana Bible Society.
[ Parent ]

The Latin alphabet brought to west through Kimi. (none / 0) (#45)
by johwsun on Wed Mar 20, 2002 at 02:02:59 AM EST

Latin alphabet brought from Kimi, a town in center Greece. It is the well known "kimaiko alphavito".
Greeks took alphabet from Phoenicians.


Stinkin' geeks (2.36 / 11) (#48)
by Demiurge on Wed Mar 20, 2002 at 05:57:54 AM EST

It's not blog, it's log, or diary.

It's not meme, it idea or concept.

Also, any halfwit who stays home every Friday night can install an operating system.

Dude (3.00 / 2) (#52)
by plunkymeadows on Wed Mar 20, 2002 at 01:04:58 PM EST

That comment is not even worthy of being called a troll. That was just plain awful.
"Dad, I dont think I'm gonna do it Hamster Style anymore."
[ Parent ]
As a fellow geek... (3.50 / 2) (#53)
by sb-fire on Wed Mar 20, 2002 at 01:54:16 PM EST

As a fellow geek, so what if it isn't a 'blog', the English language is versatile, and is meant to be that way, anyone who knows how to write knows that it is an art, and with the arts comes artistic license, so give the guy a break, and go read "Snow Crash" by Neal Stephenson. sb-fire

[ Parent ]
And the first recorded public log says: (3.00 / 1) (#60)
by odaiwai on Thu Mar 21, 2002 at 10:53:51 AM EST

Pharah Taco has directed visitors to read my diary. Aiee! The constant tramping of visitors has worn out my path! I wish he had told me before hand so I could have made some copies.
-- "They're chefs! Chefs with chainsaws!"
Blog this! (4.00 / 2) (#61)
by Save Democracy on Thu Mar 21, 2002 at 04:44:23 PM EST

Slightly off topic, but an interest article asking, Will online diaristst rule an Internet strewn with failed dot coms?

http://edebates.e-thepeople.org/a-national/article/10245/view

The very first blog | 61 comments (41 topical, 20 editorial, 0 hidden)
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