What I Did This Weekend…

What I Did This Weekend. Sounds like a kindergarten essay or something, but here we go.

I am in a wonderful literacy class in the hopes that one day, living in the the jungle, I and whoever else the Lord would put into a team with us, will be able to teach a tribe full of people how to read and write in the their own language. To make literacy–and thereby the Bible–accessible to them for the first time. Ever.

This is not a simple task. And I have only learned about it hypothetically. But what I have learned is that when you want to teach people how to read and write in a language that has never before been written you must start at the beginning; namely, you must create an alphabet.

Okay, class? Class? Are you ready? Here is our lesson for today. Where did our alphabet, the very words I am typing right now, come from (and I might insert a few artistic photos that I took of words throughout this post for dramatic affect).

Have you ever wondered how we got an alphabet? Perhaps why it’s called ‘Times New Roman’? Hmm. Well, I don’t want to spoil everything for you, but it is really interesting.

The first true alphabet was invented in Phoenicia by the Semitic people between 1500 and 1000 B.C. This, at least, was the first time  symbols were chosen for specific sounds(that is what an alphabet is). Now, these were only consonants, mind you…no vowels yet. That’s where our friends the Greeks enter the picture; they introduced vowels into their alphabet(Thank you, Greeks!). They used some of the Semitic consonants and threw in some vowels.

Then, the Estruscans living in the Italian peninsula borrowed from the Greek alphabet, changed a few things to create their alphabet and then the Romans came in and took over that alphabet and basically spread it wherever they conquered, much of the time because of the need to translate the Bible into the unwritten languages that were around. And that, essentially, is the answer to where we get our alphabet.

Now, there were obviously other alphabets being developed around the world. My favorite is Sequoyah’s. He was a North American Cherokee Indian who was completely illiterate. He sees the white people using their words and decides that his people also needed a written language. And that is just what he did.

He developed a syllabary (where each syllable is represented by a symbol instead of each sound) and he is the only illiterate person known to have created a writing system.

Well, I could spend all day writing about this because I am so thankful that I can read and write today! I never even thought about it before this class; it was as natural to me as breathing. But now I do. I can read! I’m like one of those T-shirts. I can read! And I can read the Word of God.  And here I am, with this long post and I haven’t told you about my project. Here it is in a nutshell:

We are supposed to create our own alphabet based on the English language. We can borrow symbols from the Roman alphabet, but it’s trickier than that because our alphabet only has 26 letter in it and–this may shock some of you–there are actually 41 sounds in the English language!

So, what to do about all those extra sounds? That is what we have to decide. Do we use brand new symbols for them? For example, we have an ‘m’ and we have an ‘n’….but we also have an ‘ng’ sound, right? We represent it with two letters: an ‘n’ and a ‘g’, but it is only one sound.

Or, how do we distinguish between ‘e’ in ‘elephant’ and ‘e’ in ‘eight’ and the ‘e’ in meet’? Wouldn’t it be so much easier if each of these sounds had a different letter so that anyone, just anyone, that wanted to learn English and knew the alphabet could just pick up a book and be able to read it?

So, that’s our job. It’s due on Friday so we’ll see how it goes.

The steps we go through in this (after creating our alphabet, making a dictionary, a sample story, etc.) is what we will one day, Lord willing, be doing on the field. The challenges we face in a theoretical way in this project are helpful to work through so we can anticipate some possible challenges in the future. And so I am thankful for this class.

You are dismissed.

1 Comment

  1. Wow! I found it interesting that the driving force behind the Roman push for an alphabet was also the translation of the Word of God! It IS a blessing to be able to read and write. Thank you for reminding us never to take this gift for granted. Enjoy?? your project.


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