Sunday, April 26, 2020

What is an Alphabet?

We’ve looked at several writing systems in this blog series, but not all of them are true alphabets.  An alphabet is any set of symbols, or letters, set in a fixed order, and used to represent both the consonant (hard stops) and vowel (soft breaths of air) sounds of a language.  For instance, our Roman Alphabet with it’s twenty-six letters set in its a•b•c•d•e•f•g•h•i•j•k•l•m•n•o•p•q•r•s•t•u•v•w•x•y•z order.  Each letter represents a phoneme, a small unit of sound.  Each letter then becomes a grapheme, or the smallest written symbol for a phoneme.

An alphabet is a most useful technology.  It allows us to communicate over great distances and even very long periods of time through our writing.  Historical records and scientific discoveries can be written down for future generations of people to study and learn.  Family stories, names, dates, and other important data can be preserved.  Journals are kept to remember our most special moments.  There is a tremendous amount of information and ideas shared through the means of an alphabet.  People from distant parts of the world and very different cultures can learn about one another.  We may never know who the first inventor of a writing system was, but we do know the concept of an alphabet greatly affected people and civilizations everywhere.  

The Vimala Alphabet order differs from the familiar A•B•C order.  Instead, the letters are organized by the qualities that mark our own unfolding abilities that we acquire as we grow and mature.  From our natural “baby” self, full of curiosity and movement, to our older contented self of having accomplished much, the letters work and play together just like people do. 

As movement is mastered, the pen forms familiar shapes that represent small units of sound.  These small units of sound, or phonemes, become graphemes, or letters.  Our Roman Alphabet Letters are full of movement.  There are lines and curves and angles in the different letters.  Joining letters together, we make words that tell a story or communicate something.  The Vimala Alphabet, a handwriting system that is very fun to write.  It’s casual and simple with a basis in Sacred Geometry.

©Susan Govorko 2020

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What is Handwriting?

What is Handwriting?  


Typically, we form Alphabet letters with a handheld pen, but anything written by mouth or foot, with a brush or stylus or whatever, is still considered handwriting.  Handwriting is like a voice.  Rather than floating as sound waves across a room, our words flow visually onto a page.  And, just as the same words can be said in different tones that imply very different meanings, so too does each person’s handwriting reflect a very different voice (personality).  All the ways we choose to communicate say something about our patterns of thinking. 

Some people have learned to read “body language”.  How a person stands or sits when listening or speaking may indicate if they agree with what’s being said or if they are speaking honestly.  Handwriting is very much like body language on paper!  Our letters move along the page, leaning forward into the next word, or cautiously inching across a line with dogged steps.  Sometimes we write with happy garland smiles or pointy eyebrow frowns.  Often you will hear adults telling kids to sit up straight, stand tall, keep a good posture.  They know how important good posture is to health and to social acceptance.  Healthy handwriting is just as important and so much more fun!

Looking at how people write their thoughts on paper gives us great clues into their intentions too.  Have you ever noticed how hard you press on your pen or pencil when writing while you are angry?  That’s a clue as to how much feeling you are putting into those words and thoughts on paper.  How you form your letters when you write gives more clues.  And, even more clues can be detected from how fast or slow you are writing, and how much space you give your letters, lines, and margins.  The page represents our space in the world.  How we choose to fill up that space, how we move into and across it, and what forms we draw on it are all symbols of what we think we are in our own world.

©Susan Govorko 2009-2020

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Wednesday, March 18, 2020

“I guess it doesn’t really matter …” EXCEPT IT DOES!

  When I listen to parents and grandparents nowadays, I hear the same recurring grumble … our kids can’t write legibly!  Sometimes just writing their names is an effort.  Read, yes.  Tap computer and phone keys, yes.  But - handwrite legibly — no!  Actually enjoy writing?  Oh my!  That’s a tipping point, yet they really haven’t been given opportunity or guidelines.  Young children are usually eager to learn to write, and to write cursive.  And, it’s these growing years that writing skills are established.  Habits formed in childhood are often rooted for a lifetime.
  In modern times, researchers have found that when we write by hand, we are connecting to neurons in our brain.  We literally stimulate brain cells, and we are forming pathways for nerves to send messages.  When we repeat certain patterns in our handwriting, we are establishing patterns of pathways in our neuro-centers.  These become our habits of thinking, where or how we most often work on our problem solving skills, or approach new situations, or learn new skills.  Some people learn best by hearing, some by seeing, some by doing.  There is no right or wrong way, but there can be more efficient ways to think about things and easier ways of doing them.  Writing the Vimala Alphabet™ is key to opening that door to innovative thinking.
  Studies have found that children who enjoy writing learn better, faster, and are higher achievers than those who don’t.  Perfection is not the goal, rather, the purpose is to let handwriting flow onto the page with clear, casual, legible script that engages the writer’s attentiveness and is fun to write.  Learning to read and handwrite is one of the most important skills a child can acquire.  Helping a child learn to write fluent cursive letters, always ending to the right, is one of the most rewarding gifts you can offer.
  Why not take five minutes a day … just five minutes, to write with your children?  Just a few minutes with a letter or two or three, maybe a sentence and some thoughtful insights into the letters themselves.  

  Begin a routine practice of writing letters every day.  Including some of the aspects of the letters and Alphabet symbolism can make handwriting much more engaging.  Using the Vimala Alphabet™, begin with the communication letters … just one or two lowercase at first.   

Handwriting and the Alphabet have come down to us through centuries.  We’ve visited some ancient scripts and writing styles through this series of blogs.  It’s amazing that we can decipher the thoughts, feelings, and accomplishments from our ancestors who lived so long ago.  What does your child feel when he or she sees these writing systems?  Consider the complexities involved in how writing evolved over time.  Consider the form and style of some of the scripts pictured in earlier blogs.  Think about how the individual letters or symbols were made.  How easy or how hard would it be to use these scripts?  

Boustrophedon writing

Boustrophedon writing

Can you read the paragraph below?

Literally, it reads (translated left to right with spaces, but no punctuation):

boustrophedon was written in rows as an ox would plow them in a field
originally there was no spacing or punctuation used how hard is this
to read without any spaces or uppercase letters or periods or commas
just letters in fact words were just split where ever the line ended 

Papers and parchments were scarce and expensive.  Nothing went to waste.  Often people would deliberately wash and fade pages, turn them in a perpendicular direction and reuse them, writing over the previous writing.  They also wrote in the boustrophedon style shown above.  Leonardo Da Vinci wrote like this.  It was most confusing until it was finally decided that every line of Roman Alphabetical writing would begin at the left side and end on the right side of the page.  Finally, when spaces between words and punctuation were added, it became much easier to read and understand what was written.

Writing mediums ... inks and dyes

One of the first inks people used was Sepia.  Sepia ink is extracted from a small cuttlefish found in European coastal waters.  The cuttlefish squirts its inky liquid into the water when it feels threatened, much like a skunk sprays when it’s startled.  Sepia is a reddish brownish color that darkens when applied, then later fades with age.

People also tried soot mixed with oils and gums to make a dark writing fluid. 

There were color dyes and pigments made from plant materials that could also be used for painting or writing.

Calvatia Craniformis (Puffball mushroom) 
Used in Tibet for making ink.

Plant materials like the Puffball mushroom above had to be processed to make ink. These were burned, ground, then soaked in water with a little glue, pressed and left to dry into little ink cakes.   The Chinese were probably the first to make cakes or sticks.  There was a lot of experimentation with soot, plant materials, resins and glues to make a good ink.

Sometimes it would mold or fade or crumble.  Dry ink cakes and sticks can be stored and transported easily, then mixed with water to make the fluid medium when needed.  Ink sticks are often formed into beautiful art forms of their own like the two pictured at right.  

One of the first inks people used was Sepia.  Sepia ink is extracted from a small cuttlefish found in European coastal waters.  The cuttlefish squirts its inky liquid into the water when it feels threatened, much like a skunk sprays when it’s startled.  Sepia is a reddish brownish color that darkens when applied, then later fades with age.

People also tried soot mixed with oils and gums to make a dark writing fluid. 

There were color dyes and pigments made from plant materials that could also be used for painting or writing.

In China, the “four precious things of the library” are given much respect and attention to care.  They are the brush, ink, inkstone, and paper.  Above right is the inkstone used for liquifying the ink stick and loading the brush.  Ink sticks and brush are pictured to the left above.

Writing instruments through time ...

Before Pens and ink ….
Writing has come a long way since its beginning, when people had to use a hammer and chisel to carve their letters.

Engraving or carving Alphabet symbols on walls of stone was the work of artists.  Only the most holy priests and scribes could perform this important task.  Such detail work required skill and patience.  Special pointy and blunt edge tools called chisels were used with a hammer to chip out the stone surface in the pattern of the writing.  Some scholars believe this is why these early writings read from right to left.  Since the majority of people are right handed, meaning that their right hand is stronger and more skilled than the left, they used their right hands to wield the hammer against the chisel which was held with the non-dominant left.  It made sense to work across the rock face inching the chisel leftward after each hammer blow from the right hand.  This kept the pattern of symbols in clear view as the scribe carved.  When people started using just one tool, a brush or a stylus, to draw images on parchments or wax boards, they continued writing from right to left.  

Finer tools were needed to write on wax boards and scrolls.

The Greeks and Romans used a metal stylus to make letter impressions on their wax boards.  Both ends could be used for different effects.  The wider end could also be used to smooth out mistakes much like the erasers at the end of our modern pencils rub out our own errors in writing.  Bone and ivory were also used to make styluses.

When pens were adopted, people sometimes wrote in boustrophedon fashion, moving across a page one way, then turning their letters backwards and writing across in the opposite direction.  Finally, when inks came into use, our Roman letters became fixed in one direction, left to right.  Since most people are right handed, it was easier to keep the right hand in front of the pen so they could write without smearing the ink. Left handed writers can avoid smears too, by positioning their paper properly.  Right or left (and most especially for left-handers), line the paper up with the elbow of your writing hand.  


Writing Instruments through time

With the invention of the reed pen, people could use ink to form finer letters.  Reed pens were made from the hollow stems of certain plants like papyrus.  A writing point was fashioned and the hollow stem was filled with ink.  

Quill Pens are made from the flight feathers of large birds.  Feathers have a hollow shaft that holds the ink.  The best pens came from feathers plucked in early Spring.  Goose feathers were most common.  Swan feathers were the most expensive.  Crow feathers made very fine lines.  Turkey, eagle and owl feathers could all be used.  It takes time and skill to trim and fashion a pen.  Writers had to be careful of the fragile writing point, or nib.  If someone was very good at it, they could trim the same feather four or five times before having to discard it.  The term “pen knife” came from the little knife used to trim the nibs.  A quill pen was used to write our Constitution, and for signing it as well.  

While our modern fountain pens are completely fashioned of stronger, manmade metal parts, they follow the same principle as the original reed pen.  Care must be taken that they don’t leak.  

Brushes are still in use today for Chinese writing.  Brush writing is an art form and lends itself to the writing systems it serves.  Pencils with lead points offer the ability to rub out mistakes.  They are much less expensive than pens or brushes, and won’t leak like a fountain pen, but they lack the finer qualities that facilitate cursive handwriting.  The ball point pen seems the perfect solution to giving a lovely trail of ink without those troublesome leaks.  Even so, some folks still prefer the beautiful quill.


Tuesday, March 3, 2020

Check out the many benefits of handwriting!

Ivy Fenswick has created a wonderful, informative infographic on the many benefits of handwriting!  Please take a few minutes to read this one.  Beautiful presentation and so very important!!!  Children need to learn handwriting and practice handwriting from an early age — not only to establish proficiency, but also to enjoy the many benefits it offers as well!

20 Ways Handwriting Is Good for You and Your Studying

Thursday, February 27, 2020

The Sanskrit Syllabary

The Sanskrit Syllabary is written with the baseline drawn above the letters, or what we would consider placement in the upper zone of our Roman Alphabet.

Spoken, Sanskrit has a beautiful musical quality.   Written Sanskrit is an alphabet-syllabary.  Every consonant is voiced with a short a sound, “ah”.  This “a” sound is always implied with consonants in words unless another vowel letter is attached to them.  Vowels are only written out in their full form if they begin a word.  Otherwise, simple diacritics are added to the consonant to represent these sounds.  The written form places the baseline at the top of the upper zone.  The baseline is drawn in above the letters.  Each word is made by joining the letters with a baseline.  In the Sanskrit alphabetical order, the letters are grouped according to where they are produced in the throat and mouth.  The Devanagari script pictured at below begins with the sixteen Sanskrit vowels.

The Devanagari script is revered for its beauty, clarity and tradition.  Sanskrit serves in many traditional, religious, and ceremonial rituals throughout India.  Though there is much debate on what and where the first language was, Sanskrit is considered one of the oldest languages in the world, and many believe it to be the 'Mother of all languages.'  The written letters are soft and flowing.  Try to write a few ... the last stroke is the horizontal baseline at the top.  Sanskrit is written left to right just like our Roman letters.

Saturday, February 22, 2020

The Phoenicians spread the sound-symbol technology

The Phoenician or Proto-sinaitic Alphabet gave birth to many other alphabets including our own Roman letter.  Phoenician letters have the same name as the letters of the traditional Hebrew Alphabet although they look very different.  Each letter is named for something, not just a sound.

The Phoenicians were a sea faring people who could travel to many coastal cities and trade different goods.  They had an alphabet that other people used as a model to make their own alphabets. Though the letters looked similar, often the sounds were different for  different languages.  This Alphabet wasn’t a true Alphabet either because it only contained consonants.  
In order to speak, we must give breath to our words.  Vowels are expressed with air; we breathe into them.  Consonants give distinction to our words.  They are like little stops between the vowels.  Try speaking a consonant without any vowel sound — without any breath of air.  Can you do it .. are you sure?  Listen closely as you sound out ”b-ook”.  What happened?  The b sound needs a little puff of air to make a sound.  Even the k needs a little puff of air after it stops the oo vowel sound. 

There are twenty-two consonants in the Hebrew Alphabet, and five of them have additional, special forms when they end a word.  Some also have a couple ways to pronounce the letter, so a little line or dot is added to note that.  Although the Aleph and the Ayin transliterate (a big word that means to translate from one Alphabet to another Alphabet that uses a different set of letter symbols) as A and O, they are not vowels in the Hebrew.  They are glottal stops.  A no-sound is made by the Aleph as if one would say something, but doesn’t.  The Ayin is similar.  It is a little like saying the word ‘bottle’ by swallowing the ‘t’ sounds, “bah-ul”.


All Alphabets evolve over time to reflect the thinking patterns of the people who use them.  Above are pictured two more modern versions of the Hebrew Alphabet.

Wednesday, February 19, 2020

Greeks added vowels creating a true Alphabet

By adding vowel letters, the ancient Greeks created a true Alphabet for their language.

The Greek Alphabet was adapted from the Phoenicians, but here we have a true alphabet with letters representing both consonants and vowels.  Because the Phoenician, Hebrew, and Arabic scripts have languages of words that begin with consonants, all their letters represent consonants. Greek has many words that begin with vowel sounds, so they designed their alphabet to include symbols for the vowel sounds too.  Ancient Greeks created a truly phonetic alphabet that carries all the sounds of their language.  They also abandoned the custom of associating letters with things, and simply assigned letters to sounds in the Greek language.  There was still no punctuation or spaces between words, and all the letters were uppercase, or majuscule.  The letters were very angular until smoother parchment and vellums came into use.  These made it easier to draw softer, curved forms called uncial. 



In the second century, the Egyptians borrowed the Greek letters and added five of their own Demotic symbols to make the Coptic Alphabet. 

This new writing system included vowels for a total of thirty-two letters in all.   While the Egyptian language had sounds that did not match the Greek, they adapted the letter forms to their own vernacular.  The Coptic was replaced in the 1800’s with Arabic, but is still used today for religious purposes.  The Coptic script helped scholars to better understand the Egyptian language, which made it possible for them to  decipher the ancient  Egyptian Hieroglyphs.

Sunday, February 16, 2020

What is a 'true' Alphabet?

Everywhere we look there are signs and advertisements, some with the letters of the Alphabet.  We read books and magazines and information on our computer screens every day.  The world is filled with letters that string together to make words; words that are grouped together to make up sentences.  We take this all for granted, so commonplace in our lives, it seems simple.  It wasn’t always so simple.    Fifteen thousand years ago, people were drawing pictures and symbols in caves and on rocks.  It took several thousands of years to learn to make the symbols represent sounds.  Finally the Alphabet and handwriting evolved over many centuries to become the letters we write today.

Abjad is a consonantal writing system used like an Alphabet with letters that represent consonants, but not vowels.

ideogram is a symbol that represents an idea or concept, usually a whole word or several words.  A Chinese character.  Also called an ideograph 

logogram is a symbol used to indicate a word or phrase
Also called a logograph.

phoneme - the smallest unit of a language sound, usually represented by a single letter.

phonics is a method of reading by relating sounds to letters or syllables in an alphabetic writing system.

pictograph is a picture symbol for a word or for certain sound, used in early Egyptian and Cuneform writing.

printscript is a term used for a simplified handwriting that incorporates both cursive and printed letters, usually simplified uppercase letters such as with the Vimala Alphabet™.

syllable - a small unit of sound that contains both a consonant and a vowel, or a single vowel sound.

syllabary is a writing system based on syllables, used like an Alphabet.

symbol is a written mark, character, ideogram, or letter that represents something else.  In our Roman Alphabet, a letter represents a certain sound.

technology - applying knowledge and / or skill for a practical purpose, especially scientific knowledge.  Handwriting is a technology!

transliteration means using a letter from one's own alphabet to translate, or stand for, a letter from another language's writing system.

Vimala Alphabet™ - a writing system created by Vimala Rodgers, Ph.D.  The Vimala Alphabet™ letters incorporate all the best aspects of the Roman letters.

vowel is a language sound produced with breath, or without much restriction.  a, e, i, o, u, sometimes y.

Tuesday, February 11, 2020

Sequoyah's Cherokee Syllabary

The Cherokee Alphabet is a syllabary of eighty-six letters created by the Cherokee Indian Sequoyah, also known as George Gist, to preserve the Cherokee language for posterity.

Over many years, Sequoyah worked with symbols and the sounds of his own native language.  Many people laughed at him for such a ridiculous task.  They couldn’t see the value of having an alphabet, but Sequoyah knew how important it was to have a written record of his language.  He knew with an alphabet that represented the unique sounds of the Cherokee language, his people could write down their history for generations to come.  His children’s children would be able to read about the stories he grew up with and the customs and culture of the tribe from long ago.  When he finally finished his alphabet, he taught it to his daughter, and with her help, he convinced the Cherokee leaders that an alphabet is a most valuable tool.  They could now leave messages and keep a record of important things.  In 1825, the General Council of the Cherokee Nation inscribed a silver medal honoring Sequoyah for his great gift.  The great Sequoia Redwood trees in California were also named for him.

Happy Valentine's Day!


Seasonal holidays are the perfect opportunity to practice handwriting skills with flourish!  Tucking in all good wishes for a happy Valentine's Day is definitely a day-brightener for grandparents, aunts, uncles or special friends.  Provide paper, scissors, crayons, colored pens and any other decorative items to inspire young writers.  Take time to admire their efforts while making the process fun.  Let them know how very thoughtful and appreciated their greetings are!

Friday, February 7, 2020

Arabic writing has artistic flair

The Arabic Alphabet is another one that reads from right to left — just opposite the way we write our Roman letters.  It has very elegant and free flowing letters.

See how some of the names are very similar to the Hebrew and the Phoenician.  Alif (transliterated "A') retains its status as the first letter, but most of the other familiar letters have changed in the Alphabetical order.

Sunday, February 2, 2020

Numbers played an important role in the invention of writing

Writing is really a most valuable technology.  Did you ever wonder how it all started?  People several thousand years ago didn’t have pencils or pens or paper or even ink!  In some places they would carve notches or symbols on rocks or trees to tell other people something important like how a place was used or where to find some drinking water.  Then when settlements formed with larger groups of people living together like in our modern towns and farming communities, people began to trade for the things they needed.  There wasn’t any money like we have now, so they would have to trade for real things like a sheep for a basket or some seeds for wool to make a blanket.  With lots of things being traded, a system was needed to keep records.  That’s why people started writing things down.  At first they would make a little hollow ball or oval egg shape out of clay, and mark a picture of what was being counted; then they put some small stones inside, one stone for each thing being counted.  The little ball of clay would be sealed. One day someone decided to use a symbol to mark the number for easier reference.  Later someone realized that pictures could represent sounds, not just things.  That way people could have a more complete written record to help them remember.

Counting and accounting in Mesopotamia 

Clay “envelopes” like the ones pictured at left and below are thought to be the precursors to ancient cuneform writing.  There is a lot of disagreement among scholars, but some think these little balls of clay that hold small stones and clay figures were used to keep track of things traded and kept in inventory.
From numbers of clay pieces to pictures to numerals to writing ...
Each little stone or clay figure represented a certain item.  Different shapes represented different kinds of items, like sheep or baskets of wheat.  Someone figured out that it was much easier to press the little clay figure into the ball of clay so that it didn’t have to be opened to see what was being counted.  Then a numeral symbol was created to see how many things were inside without having to break it open.  People realized they didn’t need to keep track of all the little pieces anymore.  Instead, they could just use pictures and numerals.  The pictures were simplified further into groups of wedge marks that could be made with a pointed stylus.  Scholars nicknamed this writing “nail writing” because of the way it looks.  What do you think of the samples on the next page?  Can you see the nail shapes?

Wednesday, January 29, 2020

In Mesopotamia, Ancient Sumerians wrote Cuneform

Cuneform began with pictures pressed into clay tablets.  Later wedge shapes replaced the pictures.  Can you see why this was nicknamed 'nail writing?' 


 'Nail writing' developed using the tip of the stylus, a wedge pointed writing instrument that could make impressions easily on the clay.  The wedge shapes replaced the pictures.  Cuneform served two very different languages in Mesopotamia, Sumerian and Akkadian.

Children who were lucky enough to be chosen to be scribes had to sit on the ground for hours practicing how to make the signs with their stylus on wet clay tablets.  It was an honorable job to be a scribe, yet it was not an easy one.  

To learn more about the history of writing and writing systems, read Dorling Kindersley's Book - an Eyewitness Book.  It is a filled with wonderful illustrations and rich in historical insights about the people who created and used scripts from ancient to our own modern times.  It's a great resource for all ages and a good conversation starter to discuss the impact writing has had on cultures over time.  Ask kids what they think about different scripts and how writing has evolved throughout different cultures and over time.

Saturday, January 25, 2020

A History of Writing ... Egyptian scribes

The Egyptians developed a form of writing that was chiseled or engraved in stone.

This writing was not really a true alphabet, but rather a pictography, a set of symbols called hieroglyphs. Hieroglyph means sacred carving.  The pictures may have represented the actual objects shown or they may have been a symbol for the beginning sound of the things pictured.  Sometimes they worked like a rebus, a picture puzzle that uses picture words to sound out the real word intended.  

Elaborate pictograms were engraved and painted on great stone monuments or walls.  A simpler form of writing called hieratic was used to write on papyrus, a kind of paper made from water reed plants.

Great kings and other important people had their names written as a cartouche.  The letters of the name were written or inscribed vertically, top to bottom, and circumscribed with an oval outline.  The example below simply says “name”.  

You can create your own cartouche at

No one knows for sure how the Egyptian language sounded.  We transliterate the symbols into our own alphabet for convenience only.  Many scholars believe the Egyptians carved pictures to represent their ideas before attaching sounds to the symbols.  It was only later that they chose some of these pictures to actually represent the hard sounding consonants in their language.  Using fewer symbols that actually represented these sounds made it much easier to master reading and writing.


Eventually the Egyptians learned how to make paper to inscribe a more simplified form of writing.  In ancient Egypt, most writing was reserved for priests and temple scribes.  They drew with a kind of brush made from the same reed plant used to make their paper, the Papyrus plant.  Their writings are called Hieratic.

Hieratic means sacred or priestly.  Hieratic writing was simplified for use in record keeping and preserving information in texts.  Eventually hieratic writing evolved into demotic, an even simpler cursive form of writing that served the wider population for administrative purposes.  Later still, the Greek Alphabet was adapted for use with the Egyptian language, and became a writing system called Coptic.


Thursday, January 23, 2020

Writing Through the Centuries ...

Writing through the Centuries 

  Thousands of years ago there were no pens or pencils or paper.  When ancient people wanted to leave messages, they had to carve them on wood or stone.  The landscape around them was their point of reference.  One of the early systems of “written” symbols were actually notched lines on tree branches or sticks that the Celtic (pronounced “Kel-tik”) people carried with them or left staked in the ground as signs.  Their alphabet was called the Ogham (pronounced “oh - yum”)  Sometimes these letter symbols were carved on stones or large rocks also.  Originally there were only twenty letters, all consonants.  Five more, representing vowels, were added sometime later.  Each letter was named for a tree and stood for the first sound of its name.  This Alphabet of lines was also used to “speak” with sign language.  The Celts used the fingers of one hand laid across their nose or across a leg to spell out messages they didn’t want strangers in their midst to understand.   

   The Runic Alphabets also related to trees.  Each letter was called a Rune, and stood for a particular tree as well as a sound.  The letters were ordered by the trees’ seasons. There was an Elder Futhark and a more simplified Younger Futhark.  Both were used for the Proto-Germanic and Norse languages. 

   Another Runic Alphabet was used for the Anglo Saxons, but they related their letters to a broader index of nature, rather than just the many trees of the Futhark Runes.


The Chinese people used eight sets of three lines each as symbols for things.  These were the eight basic tri-grams.  They combined these in sets of two to make up sixty-four more symbols of six lines each called hexagrams.  As the solid and broken lines shift for each symbol, they represent the ever changing nature of life.  The story goes that Emperor Fu-Hsi saw a turtle coming out of a lake, and the eight tri-grams were revealed to him from the patterns on the turtle’s shell.  Then the eight tri-grams produced the sixty-four hexagrams with six lines each.  Later still a calligraphy form of the symbols was created.  This was a more artistic ideographic system that enlarged the original sixty-four symbols into hundreds of signs.  The original sixty-four hexagrams are still recognized today as the contents of the I-Ching (pronounced “E-ching”), or Book  of Changes, which is often used as a form of fortune telling. The I- Ching is really a book that talks about the continually changing nature of life and how opposite things weave a pattern of becoming and dissolving.  It’s like the mountain that eventually wears away into the valley below; or the lake that gradually dries up and becomes a desert.  In time, the mountain will rise again; and rains will drench the land so that the desert fills up and becomes a lake once more.

Chinese symbols represent whole words or ideas, and are therefore not a true alphabet.  Chinese ideograms are both beautiful and complex.  A brush and ink are used to create the artistic and flowing symbols that are drawn from top to bottom.  China’s characters have evolved over time from simple lines into an intricate writing system with many hundreds of symbols.  Each row below shows a Chinese character evolving.  There are many dialects in the Chinese language making it difficult or impossible for people from one region of China to understand people from other different regions.  Although the spoken language may not be similar or understandable between regions, the Chinese people can “read” the meaning of what’s written in Chinese no matter which dialect they speak.