Wednesday, September 14, 2016


For today and tomorrow, I'm going to have a discussion about one topic. This is an interactive discussion, like most things here, so please send me your ideas and input.

The Roman alphabet, in its final form, contains 26 letters. Earlier versions contained 21-23 letters.

The Arabic alphabet contains 28 letters.

The Hindi alphabet has 58 letters (because it must represent Sanskrit as well, according to Wikipedia).

That all seems somewhat consistent.

Well, it does until we consider Kanji.

Kanji has over 2,000 characters. There are so many characters that there is no real agreement on the total number.

Written Chinese has over 50,000 characters; for general literacy, a subset of 4,000 must be learned.

Written Chinese and Kanji use logograms, and use written characters to represent words or phrases (again, according to Wikipedia). This is in contrast to languages that use alphabets, because the letters represent sounds, while logographic languages use characters to represent concepts.


Why did these two forms of representing language emerge separately? It's a vast conceptual difference, using letters as sounds or using characters as concepts. Why would one part of the world develop such incredibly distinct writings systems from another?

The world is enormous, and differences are natural, but this is difference on a galactic scale.

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