We call them Letters now . . .
The fact that I wrote these words and you read them, can be traced back 3,000 years to the Phoenicians who traveled the world’s oceans as merchants selling their wares and needed some method of written communication better than Hieroglyphics.
We know the Who and When, but there is no way of knowing the How of it all, but history does let us know that it was those ancient people who gave us an Alphabet. I can’t imagine not having the use of those 26 letters, but until then all records had to be made in cumbersome Hieroglyphics and each country did it differently.
There had never been an alphabet, but some smart people figured out a method where a certain Sound we make when speaking, would be represented by a certain shaped squiggle made in the sand, on papyrus, or carved in rock, (no paper then). And that no matter how, when or where that certain squiggle appeared, it meant that same Sound. and in just about any language, too.
Any school child as they ‘sound’ out words, uses those squibbles, that we now call Letters, and the sounds they represent do not change, no matter in what language they are used. I can’t imagine how they did it, or how long it took them to find and separate all those sounds, but Phoenicians did it, and in time, people finally settled on only 26, but those 26 Letters (squibbles) changed the world.
It has been claimed that the Printing Press changed the world and that is true, but we must not forget that first of all, there had to be something to print, and that’s where the Alphabet did its job.
So utterly dependable, and yet so adaptable that Shakespeare wrote his works, the Bible became everyone’s book, the boring records of some business meeting, your grocery list, foul, X-rated books, a lover’s note, child’s fairy tale, and not a one needing more than those same 26 letters.
I’m sure it was not a quickly found set of sounds to begin with, but once on the path, it grew, became more and more perfected, and it was so good, and needed, that as the alphabet traveled the world others began using it. Like seeds sown on fertile soil, the use of those Letters grew until now, most of the world’s written words use the squibbles that those old explorers of the ancient world put together.
The Phoenicians, as merchants, traveled and needed a method of keeping records of Order Forms, Orders delivered, Payments made, and also in an understandable way. The alphabet soon was adopted by people no matter where they lived or what language they spoke.
It couldn’t have been an over night ‘fix’, and the different squiggles must have been changed, and refined, until, today,only one of the originals, the B remains, but just the same, those people freed the world from Hieroglyphics.
And as they traveled, ‘mail’ began to go back and forth on those ships, across the oceans, taking orders for merchandise, sending those orders to factories on the other side of the world, as well as letters to families. No, it wasn’t like our mail, much less email, but everything has its beginning and world communication began with those Phoenicians.
Then, wonder of wonders, at the same time, songs and poetry, that had been enjoyed only orally and locally, reached out to others. the Bible soon could be read in homes and churches. poetry, songs, dramas, doctors instructions, teachers, all found the method worked and they used it.
The Phoenicians and their alphabet, opened our world and our minds to other worlds and other minds. Used by the most powerful people in the world, or a child in kindergarten. Those odd squibbles (we call them letters) work for all.
The ideas for today’s blog come from E.H. Gombrich’s book “A Little History Of The World” and it’s so good I can’t help but desire to share it with you. Find it on Amazon and for a few dollars, the book will be yours. It’s filled with short chapters of people, oddities, ideas, facts and soon, you too will be telling others about it.
Bill Bradford, my son and who is the brains behind this Internet Blog of mine, is the one who brought me his well read copy and I thank him. No chapter’s longer than two or three pages but oh, it’s filled with such a the wealth of unusual knowledge, and in such interesting ways, that you too, will love Gombrich’s style and, I swear, he, too, used only 26 letters.