Tuesday, October 16, 2012

For the Love of Funny Alphabets

 This fall I'm taking Russian 101. Just for fun because I enjoy studying languages and have a slight obsession with funny alphabets. To be honest this is probably due to the fact that my real desire when-I-grow-up is to be Mara and overthrow evil-ancient-egyptian-pharaohesses by acting as a-double-spy-translator-bad-ass-chick-who-runs-around-bare-foot. Since these dreams of being an blue-eyed-ancient-egpytian-bi-lingual-secret-rebel will most likely never be a reality, I have to settle for attempting to be bi-lingual . . . or more actually jump at any chance to study a language that has a funny alphabet. Although I am miles away from fluent in anything but English, I very much enjoy my kindergarten-level-of-skill at sounding-letters-out-painfully-slow-to-attempt-to-read-words, because the fact that those foreign squiggles mean anything intelligible to me makes me happy.

Funny alphabets have always been my favorite part of languages. It's like the little codes we made up as kids, except hundreds of thousands of real people actually use it. At one point when I was little I used our World Book Encyclopedias to copy out the alphabet in Braille, Morse Code and Sign Language, teaching myself how to draw hands, and all three alphabets. Sadly I only remember the ASL alphabet now, let's hope I never end up on a sinking ship in the 19th century because I've forgotten even S.O.S. in Morse code. I loved having the entirely-useless-ability to tell what the Braille said, yes I know it says exactly what the sign says above it in plain english, but where's the fun in that?

In high school I took Italian despite the fact their alphabet is boring, for the actually-logical-reason of studying aboard in Rome. By the time I was in Italy I was capable of asking basic directions and almost understanding most of their response, plus it's never too hard to follow along since Italians all talk like Italians, aka with their hands explaining everything.
Heheh...yeah ...  I have no good defense of why this is funny to me.
At Thomas More everyone took either Latin or Greek, I took three semesters of ελληνικά because it's just so much cooler than latina. I had the terrifying-but-amazing Mr. Shea, the unbeatable Ms. Enos and hours upon hours of lexicon-searching to translate Antigone at the pace of a comatose-snail with the poetic flare of a one-legged-grasshopper. Plus I know the greek alphabet.  Studying ancient greek at TMC also led to a pretty funny moment when I transferred: the first few weeks of school everyone at AU debated if they wanted "to do Greek". As a Thomas-More-er, the phrase "do greek" meant slaving through the Sophocles's sequel to Oedipus. Then I realized when AU students said it they meant to rush for a frat or sorority and be a part of greek life, you know, like a normal college kid, who doesn't read plays in ancient languages.

When I got to AU the advising department all acted utterly and entirely idiotic and like totally brainless morons and I needed a few more credits to be a full time student, so I decided on Arabic. How could one possibly resist taking Arabic? Because seriously have you seen how funny their alphabet looks? العربية  was one of my highlights of going to American University. One of my Arabic teachers would lecture us all the time about how silly we would look if we did not know our "ABCDs" by heart, but have you ever tried to learn an Arabic alphabet song? The whole song is like the l-m-n-o-p section of out song on steroids.
These little kids are super cute though 

So now I'm taking Russian with my brother as a practice buddy. Russian is brilliant and the alphabet is almost greek, but with enough random letters and switched-up-symbols to confuse you and I imagine entertain the original greek missionaries who came up with the alphabet:
Thumbnail for version as of 07:05, 9 October 2008
Yup that's how you
write the letter T
in Russian
Not nice.

"Hehe you know what would be funny? If lowercase Ts looked just like Ms!"

"But why would we do that [greek-missionary-name-here]?! We already have Ms and lowercase ms that look like Ms! If we make Ts inexplicably look like тs when they are written down that'd be so mean! Why would we do that?"

"Because we can muhahahah! (evil-ancient-greek-missionary-laugh)"

In Greek lowercase Τs look like: τ, you know, exactly like a T and not at all like an M so it certainly feels the Cyrillic alphabet is mocking Russian students. In theory I will attempt to gather some sort of insights about culture or language and whatnot to round out my ramblings-of-interest-to-only-myself. Until then since I have no lord Sheftu to help on adventures and pharaoh-over-throwing I'll be over here attempting to learn один, два, три, or my Russian 1,2,3's.


  1. "Mara, Daughter of the Nile" references duly appreciated.

  2. Русски язык? Очень хорошо!