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January 14, 2010


Ouoting from “Finds in Egypt Date Alphabet in Earlier Era” which appeared in The New York Times on November 14, 1999:

“The symbol for M in the inscriptions, for eoample, is a wavy line derived from the hieroglyphic sign for water and almost identical to the symbol for M in later Semitic writing. The meaning of some signs is less certain. The figure of a stick man, with arms raised, appears to have developed into an H in the alphabet, for reasons unknown.

Scholars said they could identify shapes of letters that eventually evolved from the image of an oo head into A and from a house, which looks more like a 9 here, into the Semitic B, or bayt. The origins and transitions of A and B are particularly interesting because the Egyptian-influenced Semitic alphabet as further developed by the Phoenicians, latter-day Canaanites, was passed to the Greeks, probably as early as the 12th century B.C. and certainly by the 9th century B.C. From the Greeks the simplified writing system entered Western culture by the name alphabet, a combination word for the Greek A and B, alpha and beta.”

(The letter O is believed to have originally been derived from the Egyptian Heiroglyph for ‘eye’–we can trace its origin back to the Semitic Ayn ‘eye.’ At that time, it represented a consonant rather than a vowel–it was the Greeks who first used the letter-form for the vowel sound made using the circular shape of the mouth with which it is now associated).


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