Questions that have always intrigued you about the world will appear in this, your section,
and be answered by other readers. Please address your answers and questions to ‘Curiosities’.
Most alphabets have a similar order even where the script is different. For example, the Russian and Greek alphabets have a similar order to the Roman. Where did this order come from?
The Greek, Russian and Roman alphabets are similar because they are close cousins. The Greeks learnt about alphabetic writing from the Phoenicians (we think) in the ninth century BC. The Etruscans in Italy took it from the Greeks around 800 BC, and the Romans from the Etruscans in the sixth century BC. The Russians took it from the Greek missionary St Cyril of Thessalonica in the ninth century AD.
All their alphabets were based on the Greek alphabet at the time. Modern differences arise firstly from gradual evolution and simplification. For example, the Greek ‘sigma’ with its bottom bar knocked off became ‘s’ and the Greek ‘gamma’ turned on its side a little and became ‘c’.
Each nation topped-and-tailed the Greek alphabet to suit the sounds of its own language. The Russians added new signs to stand for sounds which did not occur in Greek while in Western Europe the problem was handled by introducing pairs of letters like ‘ch’, ‘sh’ and ‘th’.
Similar orders and groupings occur in many widely separate cultures which suggests the order is not an arbitrary one.
Take the consonant ‘m’ for example. It is always found in or near the middle of these alphabets and holds this position with remarkable phonic stability.
Classical linguistics tends to look for derivational cause-and-effect type relationships between alphabets, whereas cutting-edge thinking is more in line with the non-locality concept which is causing such excitement in quantum physics.
Our approach to this question will anyway be directly related to our ideas about the origins of language itself.
I would welcome a dialogue with Robert Fletcher, the reader who asked this question.
awaiting your answers
What was the ‘World Citizens Movement’ and who was Gary Davis? Where can I read about them?
I have been looking for a UK-based car insurance company that offers some ethical content but have drawn a blank. Does anyone know of one?
Is the inter-tribal sign language of the Native North Americans completely extinct? Have there been any other cultures – apart from modern Western societies – that have developed a sign language?
If you have any questions or answers please send them to Curiosities, New Internationalist, 55 Rectory Road, Oxford OX4 1BW, UK, or to your local NI office.
THE VIEWS EXPRESSED IN THIS SECTION ARE NOT NECESSARILY THOSE OF NI.
1 Success – taking out a real return when following the leader (6)
4 Ring article at first, applying to area of land down south... (8)
9,11 ...where a watery end awaited this colourful soldier? (7,7)
12 Yield the whip-hand (4)
13 Tour about river mouth in Cornwall (5)
14 Element of the pursuant American company adhering to the letter at last (4)
17 Row back – with Chinese mob about – to the island (8)
18 Make a start with Israeli head – already late (5)
20, 19 (down) It is said that Batman dogged the tennis player in the Lebanon (5,6)
22 He was sunk by Khrushchev – blown up on lake in merchant ship (8)
26 Important Asian hostelry (4)
27 French city to fabricate internal laws (5)
28 Sea mist concern... (4)
31 ...12 chaps in distress (7)
32 Metal used on edges of yacht and topless atrium (7)
33 They are 8, these first two anonymous slogan sets (8)
34 German city where pain is confined by sodium treatment (6)
1 A torch I use for 12 (7)
2 8 port from where expedition to oil was made (7)
3 White blemish contained when turning over the German flower (4)
5 Perhaps where the nurse is on duty, towards the front (6)
6 In Australia, sounds more like atmosphere than mere water... (4)
7 ...precipitating ruling by ear! (7)
8 Continent’s character far removed from Inca form (7)
10 Witnessed the conflict above the capital (6)
15 Like going in and out of badly-laid tiles, to start with (5)
16 Prior home of Turkish governor has superior rating (5)
19 See 20 across
20 ‘Boss’ – aka ‘dangerous 8 with imperial delusions’! (7)
21 See 29
23 Describing these tribespeople, they – it is said – have the heart of the French on food (7)
24 Without the East, developing Vietnam requires one important additive (7)
25 Plant revolutionary in no-return situation (6)
29,21 Saint, then king, breaking bread for republican ex-Prime Minister (4,7)
30 Upping the ante will make the Sicilian fume! (4)
1 Fascist son of a customs official (6)
4 Commonwealth country of the South Pacific (8)
9,11 Greenpeace’s vessels (7,7)
12 Harvest or growth (4)
13 County town of Cornwall, England (5)
14 Metallic element, atomic number 30 (4)
17 Caribbean island, administratively combined with Tobago (8)
18 Likud Prime Minister of Israel, 1977-83 (5)
20, 19 (down) Lebanese stronghold of Hezbollah in the early 1980s (5,6)
22 Stalin’s short-lived successor (8)
26 Caravanserai, or medieval Chinese emperor (4)
27 French city where the world’s first automatic subway service started in 1982 (5)
28 Worry, brood (4)
31 Plant of the goosefoot family, the leaves of which are eaten as a vegetable (7)
32 Silver-grey metallic element, symbol Y (7)
33 Inhabitants of country whose largest ethnic group is the Ovimbundu (8)
34 German border city – French Aix-la-Chapelle – birth place of Charlemagne (6)
1 Ragout, or the bean that gives it its name (7)
2 Coastal city of Libya or Lebanon (7)
3 North Sea river which has its source in the Czech Republic (4)
5 Advancing or further on (6)
6 Largest lake in the Antipodes – at least in the wet season! (4)
7 Bestowing lavishly (7)
8 The ________ Queen – John Huston’s 1951 classic (7)
10 European city, on the Vistula, where Marie Curie was born (6)
15 Descriptive of the rise and fall in sea level during the lunar cycle (5)
16 Convent or monastery (5)
19 See 20 across
20 President of Central African Republic, proclaimed himself emperor 1977 (7)
21 See 29
23 Culture of peoples living in the border country of Iran, Iraq and Turkey (7)
24 Organic compound, a nutritional supplement (7)
25 Organism comprising algae and fungi, sometimes moss-like in appearance (6)
29, 21 Labour Prime Minister of Australia 1991-96 (4,7)
30 Europe’s highest volcano (4)
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