Wednesday, August 15, 2007

On the Possible Origin of Vowel Writing

I wanted to elevate one of yesterday's comments to a post of its own, the comment by one of my Hebrew students, Episcopal friar Thomas Bushnell. As part of our discussion of the origins of the alphabet in Western civilization, Thomas mentioned the interesting theory that the Greeks' addition of vowels to the previously all-consonant Semitic alphabet had a lot to do with Homer's strong use of different dialects of Greek in his literature. These dialects could not be indicated in writing very well, or at all, without the use of vowel symbols. Hence, the Greeks, and all of us today, now write with vowels. Interesting theory! In yesterday's comment, he added that this theory is very well expressed in the nifty book Homer and the Origin of the Greek Alphabet, by Barry B. Powell. Thomas states, "It has not, by any means, achieved any kind of consensus. but it's a fun story."

For a neat animation tracing the Semitic alphabet through the Greeks to us today, click here.


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