The Glory of the Alphabet

By:  Sam Blumenfeld
07/05/2011
       
The Glory of the Alphabet

Most people take the alphabet for granted. It has been a part of our culture and civilization for so long that most of us haven't the faintest idea of how or where it originated. Yet the idea of using abstract symbols — which we call letters — to stand for the speech sounds of a language is one of the greatest intellectual inventions in all of human history. Prior to the widespread use of the alphabet, the earliest known form of writing was pictography. Ancient scribes drew pictures on the walls of their caves, and in that primitive way they were able to communicate some simple stories. The pictures looked like the things they represented. An animal looked like an animal. A human being looked like a human being. A tree looked like a tree. You didn't have to go to school to be able to "read" these pictographs.

Most people take the alphabet for granted. It has been a part of our culture and civilization for so long that most of us haven't the faintest idea of how or where it originated. Yet the idea of using abstract symbols — which we call letters — to stand for the speech sounds of a language is one of the greatest intellectual inventions in all of human history. Prior to the widespread use of the alphabet, the earliest known form of writing was pictography. Ancient scribes drew pictures on the walls of their caves, and in that primitive way they were able to communicate some simple stories. The pictures looked like the things they represented. An animal looked like an animal. A human being looked like a human being. A tree looked like a tree. You didn't have to go to school to be able to "read" these pictographs.

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