Thursday, December 18, 2003

In Our Time on the Alphabet

In Our Time this morning focused on the origins of the alphabet; one of the contributors was Alan Millard whom I know from his Reading and Writing in the Time of Jesus. The programme featured one of those great radio moments when one of the other contributors said that ancient scribal schools were about as big as "this room"; Melvyn Bragg then had to describe the room to listeners. You can listen on-line:

In Our Time
At the start of the twentieth century, in the depths of an ancient Egyptian turquoise mine on the Sinai peninsular, an archaeologist called Sir Flinders Petrie made an exciting discovery. Scratched onto rocks, pots and portable items, he found scribblings of a very unexpected but strangely familiar nature. He had expected to see the complex pictorial hieroglyphic script the Egyptian establishment had used for over 1000 years, but it seemed that at this very early period, 1700 BC, the mine workers and Semitic slaves had started using a new informal system of graffiti, one which was brilliantly simple, endlessly adaptable and perfectly portable: the Alphabet. This was probably the earliest example of an alphabetic script and it bears an uncanny resemblance to our own.

Did the alphabet really spring into life almost fully formed? How did it manage to conquer three quarters of the globe? And despite its Cyrillic and Arabic variations and the myriad languages it has been used to write, why is there essentially only one alphabet anywhere in the world?
The other contributors were Eleanor Robson and Rosalind Thomas.

And speaking of radio programmes, Stephen Carlson has posted comments on Fresh Air featuring Bart Ehrman.

No comments: