Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 42.djvu/259

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dynasty, or three or four thousand years before the Christian era, the inhabitants of the valley of the Nile had twenty-two different articulations, and used one or more alphabetical signs for each of them.

The Egyptians did not employ these alphabetical characters to the exclusion of all others. They also preserved some ideograms and a considerable number of syllabic signs, of which M. Maspero gives the list in his Histoire Ancienne. Thus, their writing was one of the most learned and most perfect, but also the most complicated, that could be imagined. The Phœnicians charged themselves with the duty of simplifying it, and they kept of the immense quantity of signs only those which corresponded with simple articulations, or consonants, and obtained twenty-two characters, which were sufficient to represent all the sounds of a language and all their possible combinations. Some Orientalists have looked for the origin of this alphabet in the cuneiform or Cypriote writing. M. Berger, discussing their theories, holds in the end, with Champollion, M. de Rouge, and M. Maspero, that the twenty-two signs were borrowed from the Egyptian writing, as it also came by natural development from the ancient pictographic writing. Greece adopted these characters, but not without adapting them to its limpid and sonorous language, which could not be satisfied with a writing exclusively composed of consonants; and, after having retouched them, it added a few signs expressive of the vowels. It gratefully acknowledged its indebtedness to the Phœnicians. It boasted of many things, but never boasted of having invented the alphabet. It called the primitive letters whence its classic writing was evolved, Phœnician or Cadmean characters, and showed its appreciation of Cadmus by making him a son-in-law of Jupiter. The Phœnician alphabet spread gradually through Asia as well as Europe, supplanting everywhere the cuneiform and hieroglyphic characters. Only China was the exception to this rule, and shut its doors against the alphabet. It has been discovered that even India, so proud of its chimerical antiquity, was indebted to the Phœnicians; and that the Sanskrit alphabet was not indigenous, but is derived, if not directly from the Phœnician, from one of its derivative alphabets, the Aramaic alphabet. "Nothing," says M. Berger, "is so imposing as this march of the alphabet to the conquest of the world. There is in it something of the irresistible and fatal character of the great invasions. In the face of the migrations of peoples which periodically precipitated the East upon the West, the Phœnician alphabet went against the current. Having established itself in the Mediterranean basin, it penetrated to the center of Asia from three sides at once; while its derivative, the Indian alphabet, occupied gradually the whole country south of