Cambridge researchers recently found out the social setting of an age-old text.
A novel project, called Contexts of and Relations between Early Writing Systems, at the University of Cambridge will elucidate the history of writing.
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It will lead to links between our modern-day alphabet and the scripts of ancient cultures. Thousands of years back in history, the sort of textual samples that were used were explored thoroughly.
The project, termed CREWS for short, and it focuses on how writing evolved from the 2nd to the 1st millennia BCE. The regions of interest are the Mediterranean and the Near East. It is a creative and multidisciplinary view into the evolution of writing.
An enrichment of our savvy about the language, the culture and the social set up of those times will occur thanks to the project. Take the modern alphabet and what is commonly known as alphabetical order.
It is used to arrange dictionaries and telephone directories. It arose some 3000 years ago in the form of the Ugaritic text. This text was written in cuneiform on clay tablets.
It was employed in the city of Ugarit which was present in modern day Syria. Some of the tablets are known as abecedaria which means the ABC’s of the modern alphabet.
When Ugarit was destroyed in 1200 BCE the alphabet system survived. The Phoenicians of modern day Syria and Lebanon used this text as the basis of their own alphabet.
Although their language was related to the Ugaritic language, their written script was not. They employed linear letters. These bore an uncanny resemblance to the modern day English alphabet.
This alphabet went like aleph, bet, gimel and dalit which resembles our modern A, B, C and D. This bond between the past and present is not an accident. Take the Greeks who kept the same order with their Alpha, Beta, Gamma and Delta.
This was given in a relay race of sorts to the Etruscans and the Romans. The fact that such a simple concept remained such a stable constant throughout thousands of years of history remains an enigma.
The answer to this mystery cannot be purely linguistic. It probably has more to do with social bonding. In the Mediterranean and Near East, the interactions between various people of different cultures led to a common lingua franca of sorts.
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Thus we see that globalization is not a new phenomenon. It has occurred many times in the past. Thanks to the CREWS project, these ancient interconnections which led to the universalization of the modern English alphabet may be known in greater depth.