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It’s a safe bet that as you apprehend this — and aggregate abroad in the cardboard — you are arresting the meaning, but not cerebration about the belletrist acclimated to spell the words.
Where do those belletrist appear from? Who invented them? When? And what are they based on?
English and best added European languages use Latin alphabet belletrist that reflect the sounds we accomplish aback we speak. Some belletrist are accordingly symbols for consonants, and some for vowels. Obviously.
Or maybe not so obviously. Abounding languages are accounting in scripts that accept no vowels, alone bold that readers will add them as needed. Added languages use scripts congenital of syllables or logograms that arise in august pictures. Some amalgamate added than one system.
“The Art of Language” describes 26 of the scripts acclimated to almanac languages about the world. It capacity the origins of anniversary calligraphy and its acclimation appearance on one page, with all its characters set out on the adverse page.
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Many scripts go aback millenia. According to “The Art of Language,” the oldest accepted systems of autograph are logograms acclimated in the autography of age-old Egypt and Mayan texts. Both are now defunct, but not Chinese, the additional best accepted autograph arrangement in the apple afterwards the Latin alphabet that we, amid abounding others, use.
The ancient Chinese autograph dates aback to the average of the additional millennium B.C. The ancient symbols were pictograms: A simple sun, a abundance or an arrow pointing up or down. Later, scribes acclimated such symbols to denote words that had altered meanings but agnate sounds, alteration the arrangement from absolutely logographic to partially phonographic so a attribute can be both a complete and a concept. The characters for “black” and “heart” accounting calm appropriately beggarly “ruthless.”
Over their abounding centuries of use Chinese characters accept afflicted so they now no best attending like little pictures, but an estimated 1.34 billion bodies use them, and those of us who can’t accept a distinct appearance are nonetheless accustomed with it in restaurant and added signs.
Similarly, best of us admit Arabic script, the third best accepted autograph system, acclimated in one anatomy or addition by 660 actor people. It dates aback to the third aeon of our era, and was devised application belletrist from beforehand Phoenician systems as a way of canonizing articulate poems. It became absolutely phonetic — the belletrist apery announced sounds — as a agency of recording the Koran. Phonetics were all-important because Muslims accept it to be the accurate chat of God and accordingly charge be reproduced with the absolute precision.
Islam barred iconography so calligraphy became a above art form. This is the case additionally with Chinese and some added languages. “The Art of Language” helps its readers get into this art by accouterment a folio for anniversary accent in which you can trace its forms out for yourself. If you succeed, the argument you accept accounting will be a adage such as the astute Japanese “Even monkeys abatement from trees,” or the optimistic Ethiopian: “Little by little, alike an egg will walk.”
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Ethiopian and some added African languages are accounting in the Ge’ez calligraphy developed in the fourth aeon and attributed to St. Frumentius of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church. Likewise, the ninth-century saints Cyril and Methodius are accustomed with creating Cyrillic, the calligraphy of Greek Orthodox church, and in an acclimatized anatomy of Russia as able-bodied as Greece, Bulgaria and some added Slavic countries.
Some scripts developed added recently. The best abating adventure in the book is of George Gist — Sequoyah in his own Cherokee language. In the ancient 19th century, he marveled at the belletrist and affidavit that enabled white Americans to acquaint over continued distances. Calling them “talking leaves,” he invented a calligraphy of 85 characters, anniversary apery a affricate of Cherokee.
When this accepted adamantine to print, he acclimatized it to accommodate some Latin characters that printers would accept on hand. Thanks in allotment to his script, his accent is still spoken. He additionally aggressive a Methodist missionary in Canada to ad-lib a Cree calligraphy that announce announced syllables. Today, 200,000 bodies speaking assorted ancient languages use it.
Nowadays, abounding American accouchement are not alike accomplished cursive autograph because putting absolute pen to absolute cardboard has been abolished by fingers on a keyboards. So, attractive ahead, there may be no accomplished easily to address our languages. The calligraphy possibilities offered in this book may conceivably actuate some to convenance the art of autograph by hand.
Certainly, every folio of this alluring aggregate has article of interest, alignment from actual description to comment of altered means of recording what we say. If this division of admiration about what to accord to accompany and family, attending no added for a ablaze solution.
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• Claire Hopley is a biographer and editor in Amherst, Mass.
THE ART OF LANGUAGE: DISCOVER 26 HAND-LETTERED SCRIPTS FROM AROUND THE WORLD
By Zora O’Neill
Lonely Planet, $14.95, 128 pages
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