Alphabet soup

The alphabet.

Pretty basic stuff, right?  As children, we learn what we here in the States call at that young age, our “A-B-C’s” — “A,” “B,” and “C,” of course, being the first three letters of said alphabet.

Our A-B-C's
Our A-B-C’s

But we learn it as “the alphabet,” emphasis on the “the.”  What, exactly, though, is an alphabet…because it’s not as if the one we use here in the West is the only one ever devised…

A quickie definition would be that an alphabet is a sequence of symbols called letters, with each letter representing a fundamental sound made in the spoken version of the same language that the alphabet is busy capturing in written form.  I think we all know this, but unless we who primarily use the alphabet that I’m currently using to write this post, also speak and write something like Greek or Chinese or Russian, we’re in some danger of defaulting to a way of thinking that regards this alphabet as the only one, and its ways of doing things as the only ways of doing things.  If you consider all this for a moment, though, it’s obvious that this way isn’t even close to being the only way.

In fact, even the strict order in which we sequence our letters is more or less arbitrary.  Does “A” absolutely have to come first?  For that matter, why does “A” come first?  Who did “A” sleep with to get that rosy gig?  It’s not our most commonly used letter — “E” and “T” both surpass it for sheer popularity in English.  Is it more beautiful to look at than all the others?  Is it more fun to write?  I wouldn’t necessarily say so, myself, although mileages out there may certainly vary…

But even granting “A” its special status as Letter Numero Uno for a moment, we might then ask the very same questions of each succeeding letter in turn: why “B” next? why “C” after that…?  And what’s up with “D” that it merits Top 5 status?  etc….  Wouldn’t any other order make equal sense, assuming everyone had agreed on things back when humanity was ready to start writing stuff down?

Alphabet chaos!!
Alphabet chaos!!

Obviously we as a people did need to come to some kind of consensus on letter sequence so we could move forward, and we’re pretty much committed to the path of the A-B-C’s that we’re currently traveling, if we don’t feel like tearing up the current system and starting over (and thereby probably setting civilization back years, if not decades, while we retool all things linguistic across much of the planet).  It just seems rather random, though, for something that has such an insidious and sweeping effect on our lives.  I mentioned in another post how using letters is called “spelling,” which could also be a word used for performing magic, or “casting spells.”  If magic is defined as the alteration of current reality through the application of will, then as we designate things with our alphabet, we’re kind of splattering magic around in all directions on a constant basis without putting much thought into it, aren’t we?  I mean, if we’re just sort of thoughtlessly endorsing a seemingly random assignment of sequence onto the set of symbols we use as building blocks to represent our language…

Hey, careful where you point that thing!
Hey, careful where you point that thing!

Not that I’m suggesting there’s some better sequence we should be using.  I’m just kind of flagging the issue for thought.  After all, other alphabets make use of different sequences (although those sequences might be every bit as arbitrary-seeming as our own English alphabet sequence).  But check out a quick rundown of a couple of other major alphabets — here are the first five letters drawn from a small handful, as compared with our own:

English:             A-B-C-D-E
Hebrew:             A-B-G-D-H (Aleph-Bet-Gimel-Daled-He)
Greek:                 A-B-G-D-E  (Alpha-Beta-Gamma-Delta-Epsilon)
Elder Futhark:  F-U-TH-A-R (Fehu-Uruz-Thurisaz-Ansuz-Raido)…

But wait!  Tyr, Norse God of Justice and War, bids you halt and consider!!  (art by "flashmcgee" on DeviantArt)...
But wait! Tyr, Norse God of Justice and War, bids you halt and consider!! (art by “flashmcgee” on DeviantArt)…

And right there, as you can see with the Elder Futhark — an alphabet used by the old Germanic peoples around the 2nd to 8th Centuries — some alphabets don’t adhere to the order otherwise widely adopted in the West that runs more or less A – B – C/G – D – E/H.  In fact, the Elder Futhark is different enough in sensibility that it’s not even called an alphabet, but a “Futhark” — although, as with the word “alphabet,” its name is derived from the first few letters found within its own sequence (so instead of “Alpha-Beta” leading to the word “alphabet,” “Futhark” is basically an acronym created by taking the first letters of the names of the first six letters, which are Fehu, Uruz, Thurisaz, Ansuz, Raido, and Kenaz: FUTHARK [their “th” is a single letter called Thurisaz, which is another difference from the English alphabet, in which we’re required to use twice as many letters — “t” and “h” — to create the same sound]).

And non-Western languages have alphabets that begin to differ wildly in sequence.

As someone who’s always been fascinated by words and language, I find the whole sequencing process of reducing our spoken tongue into a written convention we can all share to have some serious limitations to it, even as it of course opens up a fantastic cascade of pathways for us to travel as a community.  And again, I’m not suggesting we change our way of doing things at this point.  I’m just suggesting that to the occult-minded individual, this is all very much a matter worth pondering…”worth pondering” = “grid thrown open!”

One thought on “Alphabet soup

  1. Pingback: E-Learning for Toddlers and Pre-Schoolers: HTML5 Alphabet Learning/Hand-Writing « BCmoney MobileTV

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