This morning the blogosphere has obligingly brought me the answer to a question I couldn’t answer yesterday. Natalia Elvira Astoreca, of the CREWS project in Cambridge, has written a blog post on the different ways that people learn the alphabet in modern Europe. A colleague asked me a question about this at my talk yesterday, which I couldn’t give a full answer to – is there just one way of learning to read and write, assuming your language uses an alphabet? My initial answer was no, and Natalia offers some great evidence of that from both her own experience and her knowledge of ancient language learning:
Instead of learning the names of all the letters, to begin with, we would go letter by letter learning its name, its value, its shape and we would also say some words that had that letter to make sure that we had learnt its value properly. We would learn all the vowels first and then for each consonant we would follow that method as well and then we would write down repeatedly the syllables that resulted from combining the consonant with each of the vowels. But we didn’t learn the order of the alphabet until much later, when we were already comfortable with reading and writing.
The use of all possible syllables is a little different than how English-speakers usually learn their letters, and much more like the ancient systems of learning to read that we were talking about yesterday. Many thanks to Natalia for this new information!
Read the full post over here, and please add comments for Natalia if you know of any other good sources for how people learned the alphabet in the ancient world.