Saint Ved Vyas relating the Bhagwatam to Shukdeo (3100 B.C.)

The Encyclopedia of Authentic Hinduism by H.D. Swami Prakashanand Saraswati (the most important site on Hinduism, the Upanishads, modern Physics, Bhartiya, Sanatan Dharm and more)

(13) The origin of alphabets and the languages of the world.

The origin of alphabets.

Linguists have no idea how, when and where the languages of the world began, diverged, or mixed; because they did not look towards the Sanskrit language whose vowel system was partly adopted by the Greeks and whose apbhransh words are still found in the languages of the world. They believe that Semites and Greeks are the main people who originated and developed the alphabetic system of writing which is used by most of the languages of the world. Semitic system had only consonants, Greeks added vowels to it. The North Semitic Phoenicians developed the first form of graphic signs around 1500 BC and the Greeks developed the vowel system of alphabetic writing around 800 BC.

Phoenician and Greek alphabets and languages.

The earliest (deciphered) Phoenician inscription is of 1100 BC. Phoenicia is the coastal part of Canaan (now called Lebanon) and it had the earliest and easiest readable inscription. That’s how it became the ancestor of all the western alphabets. Phoenicians and Hebrews were the tribes of Canaan that settled there from about 3000 BC. Thus, the style of their alphabets was also called the Canaanite.

The Phoenician language is now extinct. It was spoken on the mainland from 2000 to 1000 BC. It barely survived in certain Mediterranean islands until early Christian centuries, and then became extinct. They spoke a dialect of Northern Central Semite language that was related to Hebrew and used the cuneiform script of writing. Later they developed their own alphabet that had 22 consonants but no vowels in about 1600 BC. They were seagoing traders, good ship builders and sailors, believed in many gods and practiced sacrifices as other Semitic people did. They gathered many mythological tales of creation and flood etc. from the Babylonians. They specialized in ivory and wood carving and metal works, and their trading expeditions reached up to Spain where they established colonies along their southern coast. The Phoenician language was superceded by the Aramaic language during the 1st century BC.

The Greeks of Mycenae (a small town in the south of Greece) developed a system of writing called Linear B around 14th c. BC which was purely syllabic, having 90 signs (graphic forms) one for each syllable. Although systematic, it had limitations and was incomplete to produce a proper spoken language. Then, around 900 BC the Greeks adopted Semitic (Phoenician) graphic-signs which were a kind of mixed consonant-vowel syllabic single-character type of graphic-signs. Their graphic-signs were based on the idea of representing a single specific sound used to indicate the commonly known objects and things; and they were kept in a series of 22 signs. They were like an individual speech sound instead of syllables. For example, their sound for ox was ‘aleph which was a single sound but that ‘one single sound’ collectively incorporated the sound images of all the letters of ‘aleph. That may have been enough for the people of those days when they needed to speak or write in a very limited scope. Although it was an inefficient system of writing, still it was a great creation of the Phoenicians which became the guideline for introducing a true alphabetic writing.

The Greeks took the 22 names and their graphic-signs with some modifications. For example: the Phoenician letter pronounced as ‘aleph (meant for ox) became alpha of Greek; and beth (meant for house) became beta of Greek.

Later on they refined and enhanced their alphabetic system. They deleted four letters (signs) out of the twenty-two which had some kind of ambiguity. Again, they used six of their letters (signs) to represent the correct sound of the vowels and added six new letters to their alphabet, thus making it a twenty-four letter alphabet. In this way they produced the true alphabetic principle of consonant and vowels. The first letter is called ‘alpha’ in Greek, so the term alphabet was coined for all the consonants and vowels. Previously the idea of separate vowels and consonants was not in use. Almost all European languages adopted the Greek alphabet because it deleted the ambiguity of all the previous systems of writing and developed a method to accommodate the existing demands of progressive writing. Thus their creation of a 24 letter vowel-consonant alphabet is being used in the Greek writings of today. The oldest inscriptions ran right to left as in other Semitic writings; later on in a ploughing style they ran alternatively right to left and left to right; and finally around 500 BC they ran from left to right.

Descendants of Greek alphabet.

The direct descendants of Greek alphabet are Etruscan, Latin (and Romance) and Cyrillic. The language used by the Etruscan people was called the Etruscan language. They were the inhabitants of western Italy (now Tuscany) sometime before 900 BC. Their language is now extinct and not yet understood. In the beginning they used Greek (Phoenician) alphabet of 22 signs (with Greek phonetic values) and later on added 4 more letters, thus making it 26. Etruscan writing was always from right to left. The earliest inscription of their writing is of 8th c. BC. The Etruscan alphabet had several offshoots and it did not have a fixed standard of writing. It went through many changes. However, after 400 BC the classical Etruscan alphabet took its final shape of 20 letters, 16 consonants and four vowels. The language is still undeciphered. They were very prosperous between 500-400 BC, traded their handcrafted goods in the Mediterranean area and believed in sacrifices. The communities living in Latium (near Rome) came into their contact around 700 BC. Etruscan kings ruled early Rome, but after 300 BC the Roman conquest totally finished their kingships.

Latin alphabet was taken from Greek through Etruscan affiliation around 700-600 BC. They took 21 letters from the Etruscan (Greek) alphabet including k. Later on y and z were added to it around lst century BC when the Romans took over Greece. Thus, the Classic Latin had a 23 letter alphabet. In the medieval times during the development of Old English, the letter i was exaggerated as i and j, and v as u, v and w; thus making it a 26 letter alphabet.

Early writings of Latin ran from right to left. Later on they developed their writing system and borrowed a great number of Greek words. The languages that were developed from Latin are called the Romance languages.

Based on the Greek alphabet the Cyrillic alphabet was created by two Greek brothers for Slavic speaking people like Russians, Ukrainians, Bulgarians and Serbs, etc. Originally it had 42 letters but it was reduced according to the needs of the language of that country, for instance, Russian has 32 and Bulgarian has only 30 letters. There are more than twenty Slavic languages (with their dialects) and each one has its own grammar and vocabulary.

Hebrew, Aramaic, Arabic and Persian alphabets and languages.

Hebrew language is one of the oldest known languages of the world. Early Hebrew language was closely related to Phoenician language which had a 22 letter alphabet and no vowels. It was spoken by the Hebrews of Palestine since the 13th century BC. Later on, between 600 and 300 BC, the Hebrew language was under the influence of Aramaic language, so the style of Hebrew writing was changed to Aramaic script. Some parts of the Old Testament were written in early Hebrew, but the sections of the Old Testament written in that period were in Aramaic script.

The collection of the description of Jewish traditional rules about religious prayers, marriage and rules of family living, civil laws, temple sacrifices and offerings etc. is called Mishna, which is supposed to have been orally produced between 600-400 BC. Talmud (100-500 AD) is the explanation of the religious beliefs, and Torah generally refers to the first five books of Moses.

The period of Early Hebrew could be given to be around 1000 BC and of Aramaic Hebrew up to around 300 BC. After 300 BC there was a major development in the writing structures of Hebrew language and a new style of alphabet, like a cross between the alphabets of early Hebrew and Aramaic Hebrew was developed which displaced the Aramaic alphabet probably before 200 BC. It was called Square Hebrew.

During the Christian era the language was further modified and standardized, and, around 7th century AD, proper vowels (as dot and dash) were added to it. It took more than 1,500 years to take the shape of Modern Hebrew alphabet and the language as well. Square Hebrew scripts are found mostly between 800 and 1400 AD. Modern Hebrew is a refined version of Square Hebrew. It has a 26 letter alphabet out of which some are stressed ones like kaph, khaph and seen and sheen. Apart from aleph, he, waw and yod, which were employed as long vowels in Square Hebrew, there are quite a few vowel signs that are also used in Modern Hebrew writing. They are dot and dash under or on the top of a letter like:

It is written from right to left. As a spoken language Hebrew declined from the 9th century until the 18th century. It revived again in the 19th and 20th centuries, and now it is the official language of Israel.

Aramaic: The oldest Aramaic inscriptions belong to the 9th century BC. Aramaic was the spoken language of the North Semitic people living in northern Mesopotamia and Syria since the 13th century BC. The script that developed around 1000 BC to write the Aramaic language was called the Aramaic alphabet. It writes right to left and has 22 letters, all consonants. Square Hebrew, Arabic and Persian alphabets were developed from Aramaic. Some of the Dead Sea Scrolls are in Aramaic script (150BC).

Jesus and his apostles spoke the Aramaic language.

A sample of latest Aramaic script: 

 Arabic script was evolved around 4th century AD by the Aramaic speaking people of northern Arabia. The Arabic language (related to the Southern Central Semitic group, mainly spoken in Arabia) originated before the 5th century BC.

The colloquial Arabic has a number of spoken dialects of which some of them are mutually unintelligible and are spread around Middle East, Arabia, Iraq, Syria, Egypt, Algeria and North Africa etc.

Persian: The Persian language belongs to the Iranian group of languages. The earliest civilization of Persia goes back to around 3000 BC. Later on some tribes of nomads came from around the southern Soviet Union and settled in Persia (now Iran) in about 1000 BC and slowly created an empire which saw its peak in 600 BC, extending its territory from North Africa (Egypt) to the western parts of India. But, it lost its glory when Arabs conquered it in 641 AD. Its linguistic development could be divided into three periods: (1) Old Persian (up to 300 BC) which used cuneiform script; (2) Middle Persian, also called the Pahlavi, (3rd century BC to 9th century AD) which used Aramaic alphabet for writing; and (3) Modern Persian which used Arabic alphabet. The Persian language went through many changes in its alphabet, style of writing, vocabulary and also the grammar. The Modern Persian grammar is much simpler as compared to Pahlavi or Old Persian which has no comparison with the present system of writing. Persians follow Zoroastrianism named after Prophet Zoroaster who emphasized on one god Ahura Mazdah which means “the wise spirit.” His teachings, called ‘gatha,’ are collected in Avesta that tells about the religious rituals, prayers, sacrifices, ritual rules, civil laws of good and evil, and fire ceremonies etc. Their followers are called ‘Parsis’ in India. They worship fire as a representation of Ahura Mazdah.

Avesta and Pahlavi.

The period of Prophet Zoroaster is very much disputed as being sometime between 1400 BC and 600 BC. But the majority of opinion is that he was born in the early 600’s and according to their religious belief he was assassinated at the age of 77. He is believed to have written his teachings called Avesta, which of course must be in cuneiform script, and as such, it must have been in small pieces of writings. Later on the Zoroastrians kept on adding their writings to it. Zoroastrianism declined after 300 BC and was further suppressed after 600 AD due to Muslim conquest.

Due to political disturbances the greater part of the original Avesta was lost. From the remaining fragments and from the royal favor between 531 and 578 AD it was reconstructed, expanded and redesigned in the form of a proper book in the Middle Persian (Pahlavi) language in Aramaic script. But most of its parts were again destroyed by the Muslim conquest in 641 AD when they changed the entire culture of the state, the script, the religion, and everything.

Pahlavi language in which Avesta is written has a lot of Sanskrit words and its apbhransh as well, and also the description of the deities and the style of the rituals in Avesta sometimes resemble the Vedic rituals to some extent. The reason is that its homeland Iran is very close to India (called Aryavart) where Sanskrit was the main scholarly language. At one time in the remote past the whole area from Iran to Indonesia was the land of Aryavart. In Indonesia the stage shows of Bhagwan Ram’s story from the Ramayan are still being played in their own style every day as their national historic culture. The word ‘gatha’ used in Avesta itself is the apbhransh of the Sanskrit word granth, which was commonly used by the Buddhist writers.


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