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Professor Toy's Lecuture.

The Alphabet.


Professor Toy of the Semitic department lectured on the alphabet yesterday afternoon in the Jefferson Physical Laboratory. He said that nothing seems simpler to us than forming words and indicating sounds by letters but that the analysis of even the shortest words is hard to make. Until lately it has been universally thought that the formation of an alphabet was a task beyond human power to perform, and the Talmudic Jews claimed that the letters were given to Moses on Mount Sinai, by God. It is only in the last part of the present century that the alphabet has been found to be as much human as any other part of the languages. There has probably never been a community of men that has not had some means of intelligent communication, and the most primitive way was by pictures. These at first represented objects, then actions, then adjectives and prepositions, and finally determinatives, expressing genera and species, were introduced, which eliminated much of the former obscurity. The next stage of development was the representation by signs of syllables, instead of whole words or ideas. The final step, the employing of signs to represent single letters is no harder to trace than the preceding transitions. The Egyptians had the first real alphabet, real in the sense of having a sign for each letter. Babylonian and even Arabic have signs for only three of their vowel sounds. The Phoenician people in their commercial relations and in their position as intermediaries between the great nations of the earth, were the first to make a script that was extensively used in the world. Without exception all alphabets have been developed in one way or another from the Phoenician. As to the origin of the Phoenician tongue we know little; Hittite has been thought to be its parent, but this is only attempting to explain one obscurity by another and darker one.

Professor Toy concluded his lecture with the exhibition of some lantern views of hieroglyphics and sign-language which he fully explained.

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