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THE ALPHABET A Key to the History of Mankind

THE ALPHABET A Key to the History of Mankind


Item Code: IDD824

by David Diringer

Hardcover (Edition: 1996)

Munshiram Manoharlal Publishers Pvt. Ltd.
ISBN 81-215-0748-0

Language: English
Size: 9.8" X 6.8"
Pages: 520 (B & W Figures: 255)
Price: $40.00   Shipping Free
Viewed times since 18th Mar, 2014


About the Book

Writing is one of the most important means of communication - the only one that can defy time and space. Whenever there has been civilization there has been writing and reading in the remote past as in the present day. Written language has become the vehicle of civilization and so of learning and education. Writing is thus one of the main aspects of culture which clearly distinguish mankind from the animal world.

The purpose of this book is to provide an introduction to this fascinating subject of the history of writing or the alphabet. In the first part a historical sketch of the development of the non-alphabetic scripts is discussed and the second part deals with the origin and development of alphabet. More space is devoted to less-known problems, to those which present more interest from the standpoint of the history of writing, to the origins of some single scripts, to the connection between the various system, and so forth rather than deal with all the alphabets of all the modern nations of the world.

The book is intended for two different type of readers. The general readers will, it is hoped, welcome the information supplied by the notes on the history of some little known people and on the linguistic and ethnic problems presented by others. The student on the other hand, who may use the book as an approach the study of different scripts and alphabets, will undoubtedly find the bibliographies a valuable aid to further study.



    Study of history of writing. Writing and early civilization. Various stages of writing: embry-writing; iconography and "sympathetic magic" -rock picture; mnemonic devices; symbolic means of communication; pictography or picture-writing; ideographic writing; transitional scripts; phonetic writing: syllabries or syllabic writing; the alphabet.



    The name. Beginnings. Development of system. The peoples who employed cuneiform writing: Sumerians; Babylonians and Assyrians; other peoples Elamites; Early Elamite script; Neo-Elamite writing. End of the cuneiform writing. Decipherment. Bibliography.


    The name. Origins. History of hieroglyphic writing. Hieratic writing. Demotic writing. Decipherment of Egyptian scripts. Bibliography.


    Minoan civilization. Undeciphered scripts of Crete: Pictographic scripts ; Linear scripts. Origin of Cretan scripts. Attempted decipherments. The Phaistos disc. Bibliography.


    General sketch. Exploration, excavation and studies. Cultural and chronological relationships with other civilizations. The Indus Valley script. Origin. Attempted decipherments. Supposed influences on other scripts. Bibliography.


    Hittites. The peoples: their language and civilization. Main historical events. Hittite hieroglyphic writing. Origin of Hittite hieroglyphic writing. Bibliography.


    Chinese. Origin of Chinese culture. Origin of Chinese writing. Earliest inscriptions. Story of Chinese characters: External form of Chinese symbols; main varieties of Chinese writing; systematization of Chinese characters; Phonetic dictionaries. Classification of Chinese characters. Modern Chinese writing; representation of Chinese by Latin alphabet. Bibliography


    General sketch. "Mystery" of ancient Mexico. Study of ancient Mexico and Central America. Cultures of ancient Mexico and Central America. Main peoples who developed ancient Mexican and Central American cultures: Mayas; Zapotecs; Toltecs; Aztecs. Indigenous scripts of pre-Columbian America: Aztec character; Aztec codices, Aztec script. Maya script; Maya system of writing. Bibliography.


    "Mysterious" problem. Facts. The script. Origin. Connection with other scripts. Bibliography.


    General sketch. "Ideographic" scripts of non-Chinese people of China: Lo-lo-Mo-so group;Lo-lo script; Mo-so scripts; Man group: Central and northern China; Tangut script; bibliography. West African "ideographic" scripts; Nsibidi; the name; origin; the script; bibliography. Bamun scripts; bibliography. Recent ideographic scripts of American Indians; bibliography. Minahassa script. Chukcha script; bibliography.


    Syllabaries. Pseudo-hieroglyphic script of Byblos: the inscription; the script; decipherment. Cypriote syllabary; bibliography. Japanese scripts: prehistoric Japanese "writings"; origin of Japanese scripts; Japanese ideograms; Japanese syllabic scripts; bibliography; suggested introduction of Latin alphabet. Cherokee syllabary: the script; origin. Morice's and Eubanks' Cherokee scripts; bibliography. Vai syllabary: bibliography. Artificial scripts of native Canadian tribes: Cree syllabary; bibliography. Southwestern China: the pollard and allied systems.


    The scripts. Early Persian cuneiform script: the script; origin and end; inscriptions; decipherment; bibliography. Meroitic scripts: Meroe; the scripts; orgin; influences; bibliography.


    The problem. Egyptian theory. Other theories. Cretan theory. Prehistoric-geometric signs theory. Ideographic theory. Sinaitic theory. Ugarit cuneiform alphabet. The pseudo-hieroglyphic script of Byblos and the origin of the alphabet according to M. Dunand. Undeciphered inscription found in Egypt. Balu 'a inscription. Other attempts at alphabetic writing. Early Canaanite inscriptions and "missing-link" theory. North Semitic inscriptions. Original alphabetic writing. Where was the alphabet invented? Influence of other systems. Decisive achievement. Absence of vowels. Names of letters. Order of letters. Main branches of early alphabets. Bibliography.


    Ancient South Arabia. South Semitic alphabets. South Arabian inscriptions. North Arabian inscriptions. Origin of South Semitic alphabets. Ethiopic script: origin; development of Ethiopic writing. Bibliography.


    Cannanites. Early Hebrew alphabet; inscription; the script. Samaritan alphabet and script on Jewish coins. Scripts of Moabites, Ammonites, and Edomites. Phoenician laphabet. Bibliography. Probable offshoots of Phoenician alphabet: Libyan scripts; bibliography. Iberian scripts; bibliography.


    Th Aramaeans; Aramaean states; spread of Aramaic speech. Aramaic alphabet; development; "dog-Aramaic"; Armazi Aramaic. Offshoots of Aramaic alphabet; classical Hebrew alphabet: origin; inscriptions and manuscripts; varieties of Hebrew alphabet; modern Hebrew alphabet; vowel marks; other diacritical marks; origin of punctuation marks and their employment; Yiddish and Judezmo. The Nabataeans and their script. Neo-Sinaitic alphabet. Arabic alphabet: Arabic language and script; origin of Arabic alphabet; early development of Arabic alphabet; development of Arabic script: Kufic and Naskhi; modern Arabic alphabet; diacritical points; adaptation of the Arabic character to other languages. Palmyrene alphabet. Syriac scripts: character to other language. Palmyrene alphabet. Syriac scripts: Syrians; their scripts; syriac; Christian Palestinian or Palestinian Syriac; Syriac alphabet; vocalization; punctuation; direction of writing; varieties of Syriac scripts: Estrangela and its descendants; "alphabet follows religion": Nestorians; "Assyrians"; Jacobites; Melkites; development of Nestorian, Jacobite and Melkite scripts; Neo-Syrian character; Garshuni; Greek in Syriac script. Mandaean alphabet. Manichaean alphabet. Bibliography.

    APPENDIX TO CHAPTER IV. (Section on Arabic alphabet).
    Malagasy script - problems awaiting solution. Yezidi cryptic script. Balti alphabet. Somali alphabet.


    "The alphabet follows religion." Kharoshthi scrip and the problem of Indian writings; coins and inscriptions; other documents; the script; bibliography. Persian or Iranian scripts: general sketch; Pahlavi; Aramaic "ideograms"; Pahlavi alphabets; the scripts; the Avesta; bibliography. Sogdian alphabet; bibliography. Kok Turki runes; bibliography. Early Hungarian script; bibliography. Uighur alphabet; Buriat alphabet; bibliography. Probable offshoots of Aramaic branch; Armenian scripts; Armenian alphabet; origin of Armenian writing; bibliography. Georgian alphabets: Georgian; Georgian scripts; origin; bibliography.Alban or Alvan alphabet.


    Origin of Indian writing: theories concerning origin of brahmi script. Indian inscriptions. Development of Indian scripts: Early period (up to fourth century A.D.); main type of early Indian or Brahmi scripts: (1) script written from right to left; (2) Early Maurya type, third century B.C.; (3) Early Kalinga type - the "Dravidi script; (4) Early western Deccan or Andhra script; (5) Late Maurya type; (6) Sunga type; (7) Prototypes of North Indian sub-division; (8) Prototype of South Indian scripts. Further development of Indian scripts: North Indian scripts (fourth century A.D. -fourteenth century): North Indian monumental type known as Gupta; Central Asian Gupta sub varieties: Central Asian slanting Gupta: Agnean and Kuchean; Agnean and Kuchean charactyers; bibliography; Chinese in cursive Gupta character. Western branch of eastern gupta; bibliography. Tibetan scripts and their offshoots: Passepa Character; Lepcha character. Adaptation of the Tibetan character to other language; the Nam language; Chinese in Tibetan writing. Siddhamatrka character; Deva-nagari script; Nandi-nagari; deva-nagari character; Sarada script; Proto-Bengali character; Oriya script; Maithili character; Early Manipuri character; Assamese character; Kaithi character; Gujarati script; Bihari character; eastern Hindi character; Mahajani character; Modi character. Modern north-western script; Takri character and its varieties: Dogri character; Cameali character; Mandeali character; Sirmauri character; Jaunsari character ;Kochi character; Kului character; Kashtawari character. Landa scripts: Multani character; Sindhi Varieties; Subdgu cgaracterl Gurmukhi script. South Indian scripts: Dravidian languages; development of South Indian character: Western variety; Centeral Indian script; Kanarese and Telugu character ;Later Kalinga script; Grantha character: early Grantha; middle Grantha; transitional Grantha modern Grantha; Tulu-Malayalam character. Tamil character. Vatteluttu character. Sinhalese character: Island of Cylon; development of Sinhalese language and script: Pali-Prakrit Sinhalese; proto-Sinhalese; mediaeval sinhalese; modern Sinhalese; bibliography. Maldivian scripts: General sketc; Evela Akuru; Dives Akuru; Gabuli Tana. Syro-Malabarese alphabet; bibliography. Textof specimens of modern Indian scripts. Bibliography.


    Saurashtran script.

    General sketch. Indo-China ; bibliography. French Indo-China: the Chams; the Khmers; development of Cham-Khmer characters; Chakma character. Burma:the Mons ; the Pyu; the Burmans; bibliography; the Karens; Taungthu and Yao. Siam: the Shans; Lao character; Lu and Hkun characters; Ahom character; Siamese character: origin; development; modern Siamese alphabet; bibliography; Siamese character adatpted to Miao; scripts of "British Shans"; Khamti character; Aitonia character; Thai Mao or Thai Khe'; Chan Lao of Tongking; "Chinese Shans." Indonesia: Borneo; Malaya; ancient Java: old Javanese or Kavi Cnaracter; origin; Kavi inscriptions; modern Javanese character; Sumatra: Sumatran native character: Batak; Lampong and Redjang characters; Celebes: Celebes scripts; origin; Buginese character; conclusion. Bibliography. Philippine Islands: general sketch; ancient characters; Tagalog character; Tagbanua and Mangyan characters; varieties of scripts; vowel-signs; punctuation; peculiar postal service; direction of writing; origin of Philippine scripts.


    Korean character: Un-mun; vowel and consonants; is the Korean alphabet perfect? Origin of Korean alphabet. Woleai syllabary (?): the island; native script; origin; bibliography.


    The Greek. Origin of the Greek alphabet. Changes introduced in the Greek alphabet. Varieties of Early Greek alphabet. Greek vowels. Greek sibilants. Additional consonantal signs. Classical Greek alphabet. Development of greek writing. Greek inscription and manuscripts. Conclusion. Bibliography. Asianic alphabet: Lycian alphabet; Phrygian alphabet; Pamphylian alphabet; Lydian alphabet; Carian script; conclusion; bibliography. Coptic alphabet; bibliography. Nubian character; bibliography. Messapian alphabet; bibliography. Gothic alphabet; bibliography. Early Slavonic alphabets: Cyrillie alphabet; adoption of the Cyrillic alphabet for, and its adaptation to, other language; reform of Russian orthography; Bukvitsa; Glagolitic alphabet; origin of Cyrillic and Glagolitic alphabets; bibliography. Local Albanian alphabets; bibliography. Alphabets of western Europe.


    The Etruscans. Etruscan inscriptions. Etruscan alphabet. Origin of Etruscan alphabet. Development of Etruscan scritp. Last stage of Etruscan alphabet. Offshoots of the Etruscan alphabet: alphabet of the Piceni; Ventic alphabet; North Etruscan alphabets; Italic scripts: Oscan alphabet; Umbrian alphabet; Siculan alphabet; Latinian alphabets: Faliscan alphabet. Bibliography.


    Runes: the name; inscriptions and written documents; runic manuscripts; inscriptions found in sweden; Denmark and Schleswig; Norway; the British Isles; other countries; earliest inscriptions; origin of runes; the Futhark; development of runic writing: Early or Common Teutonic of Primitive Norse; Slavic runes; Anglo-Saxon or Anglian runes; Nordic or Scandinavian varieties; Haelsinge runes; the Manx runes; the dotted runes; cryptic varieties; end of runic scripts; bibliography. Oghams: the name; oghamic inscriptions; origin of the oghams; oghamic scripts; bibliography. Pictish oghams; the Picts; the script; heraldry (?); bibliography: Teutonic oghams(?); bibliography.


    Early Latin inscriptions. Origin of the Latin alphabet. Development of the Latin alphabet. Latin cursive scripts. Varieties of the Latin alphabet. Mediaevel Varieties of the Latin alphabet: Italian semi-cursive minuscule; other continental hands; Insular or Anglo-Irish hands: Irish hand; Anglo-Saxon hand. Caroline or Carolingian hand. "Black letter" or Gothic. "Italic" and "Roman" type. Adaptation of the Latin alphabet to other languages. English alphabet. Problem of a standard international alphabet. Bibliography.


    Specimens of adaptations of Latin script to African languages: Nyanja; Twi; Yoruba; Efik. Oberi Okaime Script.

    Adaptation of alphabetic scripts to other languages; adaptation of scripts to Turki dialects. Other unknown scripts. External development of letters. Numerals - abbreviations - stenography.


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Customer Comments

  • Oberi Okaime and Nsibidi scipts are both of Ibibio origins.


    The Ibibio word "Nyibi" which means turn in English, is the root of Nyibidi. Nyibidi means turning. The play was usually accompanied with drummings. The drum is called Ibit in Ibibio. The drum for the ruling Crown is called Ibit Itam. Itam means crown, hat, or headgear. Ekpe(leopard) was indeed the governing deity and Ibit Itam was one of their major plays. Ukara means governance or government in Ibibio. Ukara cloth is worn by those in the government of Ekpe. The Ekpe and even Ekpo masquerade of old used to dance in a circular motion in order to induce a trance-like effect or feeling. Hence Nyibidi. Ibibio is the largest language of the Cross River and Akwa Ibom territories. Efik, Ekoi, Annang, Oron, Eket, Qua, Ibeno, Okobo,etc. are all variations of Ibibio. The Ibibio owned and controlled Arochukwu until they lost it in 1634 to the allied forces of the migrating Igbo and the Akpa. The Igbo slaves of the Ibibio rebelled and joined forces with the Akpa who were themselves of Ibibio origin. The Ibibios left both Arochukwu and their ancient Long Juju, but those who remained continued to run the oracles and influence the Igbo converts/practitioners of Ekpe. The Ibibios and Efiks taught Nsibidi to the Igbos through the Ekpe society. The chief language used in Ekpe is Ibibio. The Ibibios and Efiks knew Arochukwu as Ibom and Mbot Abasi. Mbot means creation. Abasi means God. Therefore, Mbot Abasi means the creation of God or, simply, the people of God. While in Arochukwu, the Ibibio leaders had a secret society called Ekpe. Ekpe means leopard or lion. The leadership operated (and still does)in an esoteric manner. Only members are privy to the innerworkings of the group. They developed an elaborate system of logograms through which their ideas, knowledge, and activities were recorded. Nyibidi which means turning (going in circles), evolved into Nsibidi. Nsibidi is Ibibio for what is at play or, what's playing? Nso = what. I(as in letter "e" = is. Bidi = play or playing. NSO-I-BIDI (NSIBIDI) or NSO-I-BIRI(NSIBIRI) means what's playing? What's at play? Therefore, Nsibidi means what is playing or, what's at play? The language and words used in Nsibidi ceremonies are mostly if not all Ibibio words. Ikpo is Ibibio word for funeral. Ikpe is also Ibibio for judgment. Enyong or eniong is Ibibio word for North or upper strata. Ekpe is Ibibio word for leopard and Esop is Ibibio word for court. Nsibidi was later adopted as the name for the writings associated with Ekpe society. It is true that the Europeans found most of the Nsibidi script among the Ekoi, but it is really of Ibibio origin. When Aro and their allies conquered the Ibibio in 1634, they took over the oracle but retained its priests, with Loesin as the chief priest. It was he who later initiated Aro indigenes into the cult as priests. IBINI UKPABI is the IGBO corruption of IBIT UKPABI. Some say the Igbos used the word IBINI as homage to the slave-raiding Oba of Benin who caused their migration to Arochukwu. After the IBIBIO lost AROCHUKWU, the Igbos renamed the Ibibio deity IBI ITAM (Drum of the Crown). They called it IBIT UKPABI. IBIT is IBIBIO for DRUM. UKPABI is an IGBO name. The corrupted version, IBINI UKPABI, is what they use these days. Since Arochukwu(Mbot Abasi in Ibibio or God's creation/people in English) is the spititual center of the Igbo race, you can say that their 'holyland' is actually of Ibibio origin. I'll call it the IBIBIO CIVILIZATION OF AROCHUKWU. The Ibibio created it and that explains why the Aro deities have mostly Ibibionames.

    The Igbos could not fully adapt Nsibidi because translation from Ibibio into Igbo had too many constraints. Original meanings of Ekpe society's Nsibidi often got lost in translation.

    "There was no war between Aros and Ibibio -what happened was what one would accurately describe as a coup. The Aros who were assistants (slave by Europeans) at the Ibritam Shrine organized a coup with the help of Ekoi, Akunakuna, and Igbos and seized the shrine from their Ibibio masters. Talbot** put the date at 1300 -1400 based on the geneaology and calculation of the ages of relatives of informant who claims their forebears were in charge of this shrine -we dispute this because the informant forebears couldn't have been incharge since religious affairs in Ibibio land was entrusted to the group known as Annang today ,and this informant came from a different group. However, Talbot also based his date from Aro informant. We still think that the date was much earlier. However the consensus is that the Aros were in possession of the shrine before trade with the Portuguese and later Slave trade with Efik and later the Ijaws-Bonny and kalabari when Ibibios prohibited transportation of people across their territory." “Obot Okon Ita or Obinkita(an Igbo corruption of the name) was the capital of the Ibibio kingdom of Obong Okon Ita and Ibom(nation in Ibibio) before its conquest by Igbo and Akpa invaders in 1690–1720. This town is significant in Aro History because Obinkita became the center where defeated Ibibio warriors were judged. This is why all Aro villages assemble at Obinkita during the Ikeji festival. Obinkita is now one of the 19 villages of Arochukwu.” “Agwu Inobia or Eze Agwu the man that was the founding father of igbo Arochukwu

    Agwu Inobia or Eze Agwu was one of the founding fathers of the city of Arochukwu, the third largest city in Abia State in southeastern Nigeria. He was the descendant of Nna Uru (a immigrant from the Igbo heartland to the Obong Okon Ita area) and king of the Eze Agwu clan centered in their capital the Amanagwu city-state. As new settlers, the Eze Agwu clan was resisted by the regional power Obong Okon Ita which led to the start of the Aro-Ibibio Wars. The war initially became a stalemate. Both sides arranged a marriage between the king of Obong Okon Ita and a women from the Eze Agwu clan in an attempt for a peaceful coexistence. The marriage eventually failed to bring peace but eventually played a decisive role in the war.

    King Agwu Inobia invited Priest Nnachi from the Edda group near Afikpo to help him break the stalemate and win the war. When he arrived, Nnachi and Eze Agwu allied with prince Kakpokpo Okon of the Ibibio kingdom of Obong Okon Ita. Kakpokpo Okon was the son of the marriage between the Igbo women of the King of Obong Okon Ita. The Eze Agwu/Nnachi faction decided to help Kakpokpo attempt to overthrow his brother king Akpan Okon and the coup was heavily resisted. Nnachi called on an Eastern Cross river group known as the Akpa for help. The Akpa are said to have possessed guns and are credited for introducing the weapon to the region. Princes Osim and Akuma Nnubi led Akpa soldiers to help fight against the Ibibios. The alliance between Eze Agwu, Nnachi, Kakpokpo Okon, and the Akpa eventually defeated the Obong Okon Ita forces (1690–1720) under the leadership of Osim Nnubi. As a result of the Aro-Ibibio Wars, the alliance formed the Arochukwu kingdom. Akuma Nnubi was appointed king of Arochukwu in the place of his brother Osim Nnubi who died during the end of the war. Prince Kakpokpo Okon died and the Ulu Okon dynasty was assimilated into the Eze Agwu lineage. The Amanagwu was incorporated as the first of the 19 city-states of Arochukwu and Eze Agwu became one of the three lineages of Arochukwu.”

    "The other major slave-exporting state was a loose confederation under the leadership of the Aro, an Igbo clan of mixed Igbo and Ibibio origins, whose home was on the escarpment between the central Igbo districts and the Cross River. Beginning in the late seventeenth century, the Aro built a complex network of alliances and treaties with many of the Igbo clans. They served as arbiters in villages throughout Igboland, and their famous oracle at Arochukwu, located in a thickly wooded gorge, was widely regarded as a court of appeal for many kinds of disputes. By custom the Aro were sacrosanct, allowing them to travel anywhere with their goods without fear of attack. Alliances with certain Igbo clans who acted as mercenaries for the Aro guaranteed their safety. As oracle priests, they also received slaves in payment of fines or dedicated to the gods by their masters as scapegoats for their own transgressions. These slaves thereby became the property of the Aro priests, who were at liberty to sell them."
    - Amah Jones
    9th Feb 2013
  • origin of letters
    - dholl
    27th Jun 2007
  • i would like to review this item
    - missy
    5th Oct 2006
  • the book
    - Shawn Ray Wilcox
    1st Aug 2006
  • oberi okaime's script
    - stella
    9th Feb 2005
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