Words in papers, words in books

From about the eighth century BC, Greek settlers started to create colonies in Southern Italy and Sicily. By chance, the form of writing among Greeks in Italy was a “Western” variant, different from the one which evolved into the modern Greek alphabet. The Western, or Cumaean alphabet was adopted by the new civilizations of central Italy: Umbrians, Oscans, Etruscans, and a piddling little tribe called the Romans.

By the time the Romans had conquered and absorbed their neighbours, the letter shapes in their alphabet had evolved into the Latin capitals that we still use today.

The third main European alphabet, after Greek and Latin, is Cyrillic, invented much more recently by Byzantine Greek missionaries who wanted to convert the heathen Slavs. Rather than simply using Greek letters to represent the Slavic languages, they developed a different alphabet which could more accurately reflect the sounds.

Big mistake. And it’s not the only time it has happened either. For example, modern Vietnamese uses a Latin-based alphabet, but heavily modified with accents and strokes (like “Đ”). That was missionaries too.

You see, the original alphabet, from which Greek and Latin developed, was terse and abstract. Like its other descendants, Hebrew and Arabic, it didn’t even represent vowels, but it was perfectly adequate as a system for conveying information. It’s obvious that humans can learn to read and write when the script doesn’t accurately mirror the written language. Adding extra symbols and signs simply isn’t necessary.

Even French, for example. Accents differentiate between different vowel sounds, but if you were to leave them out, any resulting ambiguity would always, always be resolved by the context. English doesn’t use accents, except on expensive, imported words, but I still feel that there are probably too many letters.

We could try leaving out vwls, fr xmpl. And that whole Upper Case/Lower Case nonsense is unnecessary. Punctuation, I’d be inclined to keep, although probably much simplified; who needs semicolons, after all? There have been writing systems which had no word spacing or dividers, butIthinkthatwouldprobablymakereadingtoomuchhardwork, especially if we were to take the vowel-dumping option.

Not that I actually expect English ever to be reformed. After all, the spelling has been broken for about six hundred years at least, meaning that the written language doesn’t correspond well with the spoken. And not in a good way.


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