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?