Our current alphabet is derived from an ancient system of representational icons. These icons were once pictures of actual objects, but have been simplified to an easier-to-write form over the millennia.
For example, according to the inerrant source of knowledge known as Wikipedia (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Phoenician_alphabet):
The letter “Q” used to be one of these:
This is the head of a needle, called “qop.” Presumably the ancient Phonecian word for “head of a needle” sounded something vaguely like “qop.”
Similarly with “K,” which used to look like this:
Supposedly this was the palm of a hand, called “kap.” Just like above, presumably the ancient word for “palm” started with a “k” sound.
So in the modern era, whenever we want to write out a “k” sound, we draw a tiny pictogram of the palm of a hand, all because the word for “palm” started with a “k” three thousand years ago.
Some letters are indirectly derived from ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs.
So if we ask why a specific letter is shaped in a certain way, the answer is because it looked like a sketch of an owl that some scribe drew 5000 years ago!
The predicted future:
In the future, we expect that these trends will continue.
In the example below, we see the icon of a floppy disk (which also represents the word “Save”). A floppy disk is a device that was once used by the ancestral people of Silicon Valley to store written knowledge.
Here are two predicted possible evolutions of a new character (the final form of which is based loosely on Chinese characters), which may represent one of three things:
- In a fully ideographic system, it would continue to represent the verb “to save.”
- In a syllabic system, it would represent the syllable “sa” or “say.”
- In an alphabetic system, it would represent the sound “sss.”
Fig 1: In the distant future, the “save” icon (left) will become an ideogram via one of the two paths seen at right. The two paths (top row and bottom row) represent different ways of abstracting away the floppy disk; in the top path (green arrow), the angled edge is exaggerated, while in the bottom path, the metal slide cover is emphasized.
Just as obsolete iconography of the past continues to live on today (the head of a needle, the Egyptian owl, etc…), our Emoji of the beginning of the third millennium will undoubtedly influence the writing systems of people in the distant future.
PROS: Since this is inescapably our future, it has no “pros.” It merely is.
CONS: As above, there are no cons to this vision of the future. We must simply accept it as destiny.
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