(13) The origin of alphabets
and the languages of the world.
The origin of alphabets.
Linguists have no idea how, when and where the
languages of the world began, diverged, or mixed; because they did not
look towards the Sanskrit language whose vowel system was partly adopted
by the Greeks and whose apbhransh words are still found in the
languages of the world. They believe that Semites and Greeks are the main
people who originated and developed the alphabetic system of writing which
is used by most of the languages of the world. Semitic system had only
consonants, Greeks added vowels to it. The North Semitic Phoenicians
developed the first form of graphic signs around 1500 BC and the Greeks
developed the vowel system of alphabetic writing around 800 BC.
Phoenician and Greek alphabets and languages.
The earliest (deciphered)
Phoenician inscription is of 1100 BC. Phoenicia is the coastal part of
Canaan (now called Lebanon) and it had the earliest and easiest readable
inscription. That’s how it became the ancestor of all the western
alphabets. Phoenicians and Hebrews were the tribes of Canaan that
settled there from about 3000 BC. Thus, the style of their alphabets was
also called the Canaanite.
The Phoenician language is now extinct. It was
spoken on the mainland from 2000 to 1000 BC. It barely survived in certain
Mediterranean islands until early Christian centuries, and then became
extinct. They spoke a dialect of Northern Central Semite language
that was related to Hebrew and used the cuneiform script of writing.
Later they developed their own alphabet that had 22 consonants but no
vowels in about 1600 BC. They were seagoing traders, good ship
builders and sailors, believed in many gods and practiced sacrifices as
other Semitic people did. They gathered many mythological tales of
creation and flood etc. from the Babylonians. They specialized in ivory
and wood carving and metal works, and their trading expeditions reached up
to Spain where they established colonies along their southern coast. The
Phoenician language was superceded by the Aramaic language during the 1st
The Greeks of Mycenae (a small town in the south of
Greece) developed a system of writing called Linear B around 14th c. BC
which was purely syllabic, having 90 signs (graphic forms) one for each
syllable. Although systematic, it had limitations and was incomplete to
produce a proper spoken language. Then, around 900 BC the Greeks adopted
Semitic (Phoenician) graphic-signs which were a kind of mixed
consonant-vowel syllabic single-character type of graphic-signs. Their
graphic-signs were based on the idea of representing a single specific
sound used to indicate the commonly known objects and things; and they
were kept in a series of 22 signs. They were like an individual speech
sound instead of syllables. For example, their sound for ox was
‘aleph which was a single sound but that ‘one single sound’
collectively incorporated the sound images of all the letters of ‘aleph.
That may have been enough for the people of those days when they needed to
speak or write in a very limited scope. Although it was an inefficient
system of writing, still it was a great creation of the Phoenicians which
became the guideline for introducing a true alphabetic writing.
The Greeks took the 22 names and their graphic-signs
with some modifications. For example: the Phoenician letter pronounced as
‘aleph (meant for ox) became alpha of Greek; and
beth (meant for house) became beta of Greek.
Later on they refined and enhanced their alphabetic
system. They deleted four letters (signs) out of the twenty-two which had
some kind of ambiguity. Again, they used six of their letters (signs) to
represent the correct sound of the vowels and added six new letters to
their alphabet, thus making it a twenty-four letter alphabet. In this
way they produced the true alphabetic principle of consonant and vowels.
The first letter is called ‘alpha’ in Greek, so the term alphabet was
coined for all the consonants and vowels. Previously the idea of separate
vowels and consonants was not in use. Almost all European languages
adopted the Greek alphabet because it deleted the ambiguity of all the
previous systems of writing and developed a method to accommodate the
existing demands of progressive writing. Thus their creation of a 24
letter vowel-consonant alphabet is being used in the Greek writings of
today. The oldest inscriptions ran right to left as in other
Semitic writings; later on in a ploughing style they ran alternatively
right to left and left to right; and finally around 500 BC they ran from
left to right.
Descendants of Greek alphabet.
The direct descendants of Greek alphabet are
Etruscan, Latin (and Romance) and Cyrillic. The language used by the
Etruscan people was called the Etruscan language. They were the
inhabitants of western Italy (now Tuscany) sometime before 900 BC. Their
language is now extinct and not yet understood. In the beginning they used
Greek (Phoenician) alphabet of 22 signs (with Greek phonetic values) and
later on added 4 more letters, thus making it 26. Etruscan writing was
always from right to left. The earliest inscription of their writing is of
8th c. BC. The Etruscan alphabet had several offshoots and it did not have
a fixed standard of writing. It went through many changes. However, after
400 BC the classical Etruscan alphabet took its final shape of 20 letters,
16 consonants and four vowels. The language is still undeciphered. They
were very prosperous between 500-400 BC, traded their handcrafted goods in
the Mediterranean area and believed in sacrifices. The communities living
in Latium (near Rome) came into their contact around 700 BC. Etruscan
kings ruled early Rome, but after 300 BC the Roman conquest totally
finished their kingships.
Latin alphabet was taken from Greek through
Etruscan affiliation around 700-600 BC. They took 21 letters from the
Etruscan (Greek) alphabet including k. Later on y and z
were added to it around lst century BC when the Romans took over
Greece. Thus, the Classic Latin had a 23 letter alphabet. In the medieval
times during the development of Old English, the letter i
was exaggerated as i and j, and v as u, v
and w; thus making it a 26 letter alphabet.
Early writings of Latin ran from right to left. Later
on they developed their writing system and borrowed a great number of
Greek words. The languages that were developed from Latin are called the
Based on the Greek alphabet the Cyrillic alphabet was
created by two Greek brothers for Slavic speaking people like Russians,
Ukrainians, Bulgarians and Serbs, etc. Originally it had 42 letters
but it was reduced according to the needs of the language of that country,
for instance, Russian has 32 and Bulgarian has only 30 letters. There are
more than twenty Slavic languages (with their dialects) and each one has
its own grammar and vocabulary.
Hebrew, Aramaic, Arabic and Persian alphabets and languages.
Hebrew language is one of the
oldest known languages of the world. Early Hebrew language was closely
related to Phoenician language which had a 22 letter alphabet and no
vowels. It was spoken by the Hebrews of Palestine since the 13th century
BC. Later on, between 600 and 300 BC, the Hebrew language was under the
influence of Aramaic language, so the style of Hebrew writing was changed
to Aramaic script. Some parts of the Old Testament were written in early
Hebrew, but the sections of the Old Testament written in that period were
in Aramaic script.
The collection of the description of Jewish traditional
rules about religious prayers, marriage and rules of family living, civil
laws, temple sacrifices and offerings etc. is called Mishna, which
is supposed to have been orally produced between 600-400 BC. Talmud
(100-500 AD) is the explanation of the religious beliefs, and Torah
generally refers to the first five books of Moses.
The period of Early Hebrew could be given to be
around 1000 BC and of Aramaic Hebrew up to around 300 BC.
After 300 BC there was a major development in the writing structures of
Hebrew language and a new style of alphabet, like a cross between the
alphabets of early Hebrew and Aramaic Hebrew was developed which displaced
the Aramaic alphabet probably before 200 BC. It was called Square
During the Christian era the language was further
modified and standardized, and, around 7th century AD, proper vowels (as
dot and dash) were added to it. It took more than 1,500 years to take the
shape of Modern Hebrew alphabet and the language as well. Square Hebrew
scripts are found mostly between 800 and 1400 AD. Modern Hebrew is
a refined version of Square Hebrew. It has a 26 letter alphabet out of
which some are stressed ones like kaph, khaph and seen and
sheen. Apart from aleph, he, waw and yod, which were
employed as long vowels in Square Hebrew, there are quite a few vowel
signs that are also used in Modern Hebrew writing. They are dot and dash
under or on the top of a letter like:
It is written from right to left. As a spoken language
Hebrew declined from the 9th century until the 18th century. It revived
again in the 19th and 20th centuries, and now it is the official language
Aramaic: The oldest Aramaic
inscriptions belong to the 9th century BC. Aramaic was the spoken language
of the North Semitic people living in northern Mesopotamia and Syria since
the 13th century BC. The script that developed around 1000 BC to write the
Aramaic language was called the Aramaic alphabet. It writes right to left
and has 22 letters, all consonants. Square Hebrew, Arabic and Persian
alphabets were developed from Aramaic. Some of the Dead Sea Scrolls are in
Aramaic script (150BC).
Jesus and his apostles spoke the Aramaic language.
A sample of
latest Aramaic script:
Arabic script was evolved around 4th
century AD by the Aramaic speaking people of northern Arabia. The Arabic
language (related to the Southern Central Semitic group, mainly spoken in
Arabia) originated before the 5th century BC.
The colloquial Arabic has a number of spoken dialects
of which some of them are mutually unintelligible and are spread around
Middle East, Arabia, Iraq, Syria, Egypt, Algeria and North Africa etc.
Persian: The Persian language belongs to the
Iranian group of languages. The earliest civilization of Persia
goes back to around 3000 BC. Later on some tribes of nomads came from
around the southern Soviet Union and settled in Persia (now Iran) in about
1000 BC and slowly created an empire which saw its peak in 600 BC,
extending its territory from North Africa (Egypt) to the western parts of
India. But, it lost its glory when Arabs conquered it in 641 AD. Its
linguistic development could be divided into three periods: (1) Old
Persian (up to 300 BC) which used cuneiform script; (2) Middle Persian,
also called the Pahlavi, (3rd century BC to 9th century AD) which used
Aramaic alphabet for writing; and (3) Modern Persian which used Arabic
alphabet. The Persian language went through many changes in its alphabet,
style of writing, vocabulary and also the grammar. The Modern Persian
grammar is much simpler as compared to Pahlavi or Old Persian which has no
comparison with the present system of writing. Persians follow
Zoroastrianism named after Prophet Zoroaster who emphasized on one god
Ahura Mazdah which means “the wise spirit.” His teachings, called ‘gatha,’
are collected in Avesta that tells about the religious rituals,
prayers, sacrifices, ritual rules, civil laws of good and evil, and fire
ceremonies etc. Their followers are called ‘Parsis’ in India. They worship
fire as a representation of Ahura Mazdah.
Avesta and Pahlavi.
The period of Prophet Zoroaster is very much disputed
as being sometime between 1400 BC and 600 BC. But the majority of opinion
is that he was born in the early 600’s and according to their religious
belief he was assassinated at the age of 77. He is believed to have
written his teachings called Avesta, which of course must be in cuneiform
script, and as such, it must have been in small pieces of writings. Later
on the Zoroastrians kept on adding their writings to it. Zoroastrianism
declined after 300 BC and was further suppressed after 600 AD due to
Due to political disturbances the greater part of the
original Avesta was lost. From the remaining fragments and from the
royal favor between 531 and 578 AD it was reconstructed, expanded and
redesigned in the form of a proper book in the Middle Persian (Pahlavi)
language in Aramaic script. But most of its parts were again destroyed
by the Muslim conquest in 641 AD when they changed the entire culture of
the state, the script, the religion, and everything.
Pahlavi language in which Avesta is written has a
lot of Sanskrit words and its apbhransh as well, and also the
description of the deities and the style of the rituals in Avesta
sometimes resemble the Vedic rituals to some extent. The reason is that
its homeland Iran is very close to India (called Aryavart) where Sanskrit
was the main scholarly language. At one time in the remote past the whole
area from Iran to Indonesia was the land of Aryavart. In Indonesia
the stage shows of Bhagwan Ram’s story from the Ramayan are still being
played in their own style every day as their national historic culture.
The word ‘gatha’ used in Avesta itself is the apbhransh of
the Sanskrit word granth, which was commonly used by the Buddhist