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SCOTT'S MONTHLY JOURNAL 197 Illlllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllll .
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THE ALPHABET I
By Inga Hackh
THERE is something fascinating about the writings of the world. If we remember that all and every idea and thought is expressed by words, and to preserve words it is necessary to record them in some kind of writing,-we realize that the letters of the alphabet are the foundation of civilization. Without recording and preserving facts, happenings and thoughts, no progress could be made, for all of us had to depend upon the uncertain and fleeting spoken word. It matters not in what form of alphabet the words are recorded, provided they are put down in some symbolic or decipherable way.
One of my hobbies besides stamp collecting is always the study of alphabets and their history. Why do we write our letters as we write them, and why do the Chinese, Turks, Hindus, Jews, Irish, Greek, etc., write as they do? For everything in this world there is a reason and cause, and to know it increases our understanding of things. To begin with the alphabets look different from each other and while we may group them in families, such as e. g. Roman or English, German, and Irish, with Greek, Russian, Bulgarian and Serbian, and thus indicate that there is a relationship in a “certain fa.rnily,—we cannot see a relationship among the families, for the differences between Arabic, Hebrew, Corean, Sanskrit, Ethiopian, Siamese, etc., etc., appear too great, and seem to indicate a different: origin.
It is surprising then to find that all these dififerent alphabets ARE related, and with the exception of Chinese and Japanese can be traced back to a common origin, the Egyptian hieroglyphics. This was, like the ancient Chinese a picture writing. If you want to indicate a man or horse, simply draw a picture of it. It is simple in principle and difficult in execution, and its improvement took centuries and was slow but necessitated by the demands of commerce. The Egyptian priests evolved in time a kind of shorthand of their heiroglyphics, in which only a few strokes, characteristic of the picture, where made. Then came the time when these strokes and symbols did not only indicate the object, but were used phonetically for a syl
lable or a sound. In other words, at that time man had acquired so many ideas and thoughts, that they could no more be pictured by concrete objects. For instance, if we wanted to express the idea of “Charity” we would. have to draw a picture of a Chariot, a Ribbon and Tiles. But as the two last named objects are not characteristic enough, the consonants were usually neglected and we would have, a chair, a rose and a table, or ch-r-t,—this is still the way the Arabs, Persians, and Turks write their words, likewise in Hebrew the v0wel_s are often omitted and only consonants written. This phonetic alphabet was a great advance, the symbols for these phonetic sounds were more and more simplified, and became the businessscript of the Phoenicians and other Semitic tribes. Then they travelled north, south, east and west and gave rise to the different alphabets.
To the West were the Greek colonists in the Ionian Islands, the place where the early Greek philosophers were found, and here they evolved from primitive forms into the dilierent Greek alphabets. The Romans copied and improved on some of the letters, added a few new symbols and dropped a number. From the Romans it went northward to Germany and the Anglo-Saxons, which modified it again, especially during the invention of printing in the middle ages. From some of these early Gothic letters the Irish is derived.
The Greek alphabet was likewise the source of the Slavic letters, brought there by religious missionaries and branching out into the modern Russian, Serbian and Bulgarian.
To the South the Phoenician letters were carried by other Semitic tribes into India, and at an early time the famous King Asoka of Northern India had developed an alphabet which, derived from Semitic sources, has become the ancestor of the many Indian alphabets modified and embroidered throughout the ages, now written above the line, now below the lines,—— now in square forms, now in rounded forms, yet the greatly diversified forms. from Nagari or Sanskrit to Singalese and Siamese, can be traced back to Asoka, and from there to Semitic origin. They trav
SCOTT’S MONTHLY JOURNAL
eled even as far as Corea, for the Corean , of some of the more frequent alphabets,
is closely related to Thibetan, and this to Syrian and Arabic.
From ancient Egypt it is not far to Abyssinia, and strange to say, the Abyssinian, Ethiopic, or Amheric letters are the most closely related ones to the ancient shorthand of the heiroglyphics.
With the exception of Chinese and Japanese, all alphabets can be traced back to Egyptian origin, and their characteristic differences have come about by modifications, necessitated by the different way of writing either upon papyrus, stones, or tablets, or monuments.
In Philately the different alphabets add to the charm of collecting, for the smart collector soon gets educated to decipher at least the Greek, Russian, and Bulgarian inscriptions.
The examples of stamps given on the opposite page show that from the hundreds of different alphabets only about two dozens are of sulficient national importance, —the latest comer being the Irish alphabet which is being revived in the new nationalistic spirit of the St. Patrick-ians. The majority of stamps are mono-alphabetic, that is, contain inscriptions in only one alphabet. Some are di-alphabetic, having two or bilingual inscriptions, and a very few are tri-alphabetic, having tri-lingual inscriptions. To the later few belong the well known Palestine stamps with surcharge in Arabic, English, and Hebrew, likewise some stamps of North Borneo and Labuan having the values in English, Chinese and Malay characters, while Corea used to have English, Chinese and Corean characters.
The English and Italian colonies extend the courtesy to the natives of having their stamps, when necessary, bilingual, as e.g., in Hong-Kong and Libia. The French and Spanish colonies are denied this right. Arabic and Turkish are found, next to the Roman or English alphabets, on quite a number of countries from Afghanistan to Zanzibar,—next in importance is the Greek and Russian group of alphabets, and finally the Indian States with predominantly Sanskrit or Devanagari. Other alphabets are usually found only on the slznnps of one particular country,
It is hoped that perhaps some readers of the Journal will prepare for the benefit of collectors a short philatelic vocabulary