Early Semitic alphabet

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The first partly alphabetic spellings can be found in the Middle Kingdom (Sass 26). According to Bauer (Coulmas 1998: 141) the Semites borrowed the principle of consonantal alphabetic orthography (Skoyles) from the Egyptians. Gardiner (1916, in Coulmas 1989: 140) and Praetorius (1916, ibid.) saw the origin of the Semitic alphabets in the Cretan syllabaries (Linear A and B) and Cypriote syllabic writing. Sayce (1910, ebd.) was convinced that the Hittite script was the predecessor of Semitic writing. The most probable case, however, is an extensive Egyptian influence and a at least graphic influence from other sources.

In the beginning, the Semitic alphabets did not contain vowel graphemes. That is why some scholars see these alphabets as syllabaries (Gelb 147 ff., Powell 238 ff.). However, syllabaries consist of items that always designate a "consonant + vowel" or in some cases "vowel". Consonantal alphabets, on the other hand, only have signs that designate consonants. It is not clear why the Semites in the beginning did not designate vowels - some scholars claim that this has something to do with the paucity of vowels present in early Semitic (as in Classical Arabic), others state that the system of Semitic roots is the cause of this system: Daniels (DB 27) claims that "[t]he Semitic abjads do fit the structure of Hebrew, Aramaic, and Arabic very well". A syllabic system would not be fit for Semitic languages - due to the phonological properties of those languages. In Japanese, on the other hand, a consonant is always followed by a vowel, therefore syllabic writing is in a way more than fit for Japanese. The English word hotel for example is written as ho-te-ru and is also pronounced trisyllabically. Greek on the other hand is hard to write syllabically. Greek skhizein for example would have to be written as *su-ki-ze-nu. Hence, the syllabic Linear B which was used by the Mycenaeans and was derived from the earlier Minoan system (Linear A) was a system that was not created for Greek, but for a still unknown language with a phonetic structure probably similar to Japanese. Miller (18 ff.) gives the following example: Greek /p_h_ásgana/ was written as pa-ka-na (id. 19) in Linear B.

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