'Story or History of writing'/Part:11


(d)After  ideography, logography, and syllabaries, the alphabet represents a further segmentation of meaning with two dozen or few letters, each standing for a single sound of voice,

As we discussed up to now ,We understand that the earliest known writing comes from Uruk and has been dated to about 3,300BC. It took the form of 'word-pictures' drawn with a stylus on tablets of damp clay. Each word-picture represented an object. Much later, the complete system had more than 700 signs.These Writing developed as a convenient way to keep records of produce and accounts of trade. It much later became used to record literature and history.For example, A clay tablet from ancient Babylon, Kept at the British Museum, written in cuneiform in 1750 BCE, a complaint letter to a merchant named Ea-Nasir from a customer named Nanni, which is considered to be the oldest known written complaint.
Also we come to know, One of the most famous trials found in sumeria is a murder that took place around 1900 BC. Here, three men named Nanna-sig, Ku-Enlilla the barber, and Enlil-ennam the orchard-keeper conspired to murder Lu-Inanna the priest and the intended victim's wife Nin-dada found out about the plot, but she did nothing to stop it. The killers were later apprehended, along with the all-too-reticent wife and the case was referred to the city of Isin and presented to the king. Ur-Ninurta remanded the case for trial before Nippur's Assembly. Other than this famous Nin-dada case, We also found another case too from the same period. A man named Irra-malik came home to find his wife,Ishtar-Ummi, making love with another man. Rather than commit violence on the spot, Irra-malik kept his head. He tied Ishtar-Ummi and her lover to the bed with rope and dragged them to the assembly for trial. All these and other historical events and literatures we received today is due to the invention of writing! The word-pictures,which developed from Uruk, later developed into the script now called cuneiform. The pictures gradually became 'ideographs', an object also meaning an 'idea'. Then came 'phonograms' representing sounds as well as the meaning of a picture. Cuneiform was a syllabic script with hundreds of wedge-shaped signs that developed from these pictures. From there, it’s no long trek to creating a syllabary, that is, a writing system representing spoken syllables, in which any word can be spelled phonetically. As we’ll discussed below, the Western alphabet arose from these.  

The invention of the alphabet about 1500 BC [1900 BCE to 1100 BCE] ushered in the third phase in the evolution of writing in the ancient Near East .At Ugarit, for example, a city in northern Syria and a rich cosmopolitan trade center, there evolved an alphabet based not on the letter shapes with which we are familiar but cuneiform symbols, the type of writing popular in Mesopotamia at the time. Thus, this cuneiform alphabet is not a forerunner but an analog of the lettering system we use today. The first, so-called Proto-Sinaitic or Proto-Canaanite alphabet, which originated in the region of present-day Lebanon, took advantage of the fact that the sounds of any language are few. It consisted of a set of 22 letters, each standing for a single sound of voice, which, combined in countless ways, allowed for an unprecedented flexibility for transcribing speech. This earliest alphabet was a complete departure from the previous syllabaries.
For example, the cuneiform script used for Sumerian,  Akkadian and other languages, are largely syllabic in nature, although based on logograms and Egyptian hieroglyphs also combined logographic, syllabic and alphabetic elements. However,the Sinaitic people randomly chose only pictorial signs (like ox-head, house, etc), where each sign stood for a consonant. How did they decide which sign get which consonant? A sign is a picture of an object, and the first consonant of the word for this object becomes the sound the sign represents. In short, this is called the acrophonic principle. For example, the word for an ox is /'aleph/, which is the first sign on the left Proto-Sinaitic column. It stood for the sound /'/, which is the glottal stop (also written as /?/).For example, in many dialects of English it can be heard as a variant of the /t/ sound between vowels and at the ends of words, such as metal, Latin, bought, and cut (but not ten, take, stop, or left).This glottal stop is a type of consonantal sound used in many spoken languages, produced by obstructing airflow in the vocal tract or, more precisely, the glottis.  Proto-Sinaitic soon spread to Canaan, hence its other name, Proto-Canaanite, or Old Canaanite script. It evolved locally into the Phoenician script, took place over several centuries. Its major change is the more linear (less curved) shapes of its signs.
Other than this cosmetic change, everything else remained pretty much the same. The Phoenician merchants established on the coast of present day Syria and Lebanon, played an important role in the diffusion of the alphabet. In particular, they brought their consonantal alphabetic system to Greece, perhaps as early as, or even before 800 BC. The Greeks perfected the Semitic alphabet by adding letters for vowels—a speech sound produced by humans when the breath flows out through the mouth without being blocked by the teeth, tongue, or lips, like a, e, i, o, u. As a result the 27-letter Greek alphabet improved the transcription of the spoken word, since all sounds were indicated. For example, words sharing the same consonants like ‘bad,’ ‘bed,’ ‘bid,’ ‘bud,’ could be clearly distinguished. The western alphabet did not subsequently undergo any fundamental change.

[Kandiah Thillaivinayagalingam]

Part:12 will follow

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