Would it surprise you to know that the piano that was invented 1709 is quite similar to the pianos being sold today? Despite huge leaps in technology over the past couple of centuries, the basic function of the piano haven’t actually changed much. We take a look back in time at the invention of the piano.
In our last post, we discovered the runic alphabet and the Futhorc, and now we are going to look at what came next. The Latin alphabet.
The Futhorc was gradually replaced by the Latin alphabet. However, it seems that the Latin alphabet was not perfectly suited to represent English, which contained sounds that did not exist in Latin, and so people adapted it with the addition of a few runes: thorn to represent ‘th’ and wynn to represent ‘w’, as well as a few adaptations in usage of the already existing Latin letters in order to make them better suited to representing English sounds.
Did you know that English hasn’t always been written using the alphabet that we know today? There have been several changes in the way we write over the centuries. We shall start by looking at the runic script. You may already have heard of runes, and perhaps you know that the term refers to some form of writing. We’ll look at runes and the early English alphabet called Futhorc.
First of all, what are runes? Contrary to what legend and hazy modern stories may tell us, runes are not magical, and they are not an exclusive part of an ancient Celtic religion or only associated with druids. Neither are they symbols of the mysterious or spiritual. It is very simple. Runes are letters.
Runic script is a system of writing that is surprisingly close to what we use today in its concept: runes are the letters in a set of alphabets (sometimes called ‘runic alphabets’). These alphabets were used to write Germanic languages. Not simply German as we know it today, but other languages in the same family. This means that it includes English. In fact, the earliest form of writing for English was runic.
The very early form of English that evolved from a language we call Proto-Germanic, which we believe gave rise to many other languages such as German, Dutch, Swedish and others, is known by the term Old English and sometimes also Anglo-Saxon. The second term reflects the names of the Germanic tribes which are believed to have formed the main group of speakers that arrived on the British Isles to displace Celtic languages. It is this early form of English, Old English, which was written in runes.
The Futhorc or Fuþorc
The version of runes used to write Old English is known as the Futhorc. It was developed from the older system of runes used to write other, earlier West Germanic languages, known as the Futhark (fuþark). This Futhark consisted of 24 runes, and the early English speakers found it necessary to expand that and add extra runes to reflect the changes in pronunciation, or the sounds that gradually became part of the language.
They started by adding two extra runes, and this gradually increased until the Futhorc consisted of as many as 33 runes, or letters. You may be thinking that this is rather a lot – but then consider that our modern alphabet uses combinations of more than one letter in order to represent one sound, such as ‘th’ or ‘sh’ and so on. The Futhorc has a separate letter, the thorn þ, to represent ‘th’.
Now, in modern English, we use the Latin alphabet with a few modifications to write our language. The Latin alphabet was first adapted from the Etruscan alphabet, which was in turn derived from the Greek alphabet, and this is where we get its name from.
We call it ‘alphabet’ from the first two letters, A and B, which in Greek are alpha and beta: alphabet. So what about this ancient runic system? Where does the name ‘futhorc’ come from?
There is nothing mysterious about it. It is not an arcane word with some sort of symbolic meaning requiring years of study to understand. When we break it down, it is the same idea as the alphabet. The name ‘futhorc’ derives, or comes from, the first six letters of the runic alphabet. These are feoh (F), ur (U), thorn (TH), os (O), rad (R) and cen (C); FUTHORC, as you can see.
It is essentially the same concept as the alphabet that we use today: each rune, or letter, was used to represent a phoneme, or sound, the basic building blocks of our words.
The Futhorc was used for several centuries to write down English, and for a while when the Latin alphabet was first used for English, the two were both in use at the same time. You can even see some early monuments which have both systems of writing side by side!
Runes were used from around the fifth century to the ninth or tenth centuries in English, although the Germanic Futhark is much older than that.
In our next post, we’ll take a look at the Latin Alphabet, and tell you where you can go to take a look at RL examples of the Futhorc and the Latin Alphabet.
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Throughout history girls and women have been told, ‘You can’t do that! You are a girl!’ Luckily, this attitude is becoming less common in many countries and cultures, but what did women do in the past? If they wanted to be a doctor, a musician, a sportsperson or even a soldier?
Most women put aside their dreams or practised other activities that were deemed appropriate for women. Some women protested, like the suffragettes who demanded to be allowed to vote. And a small number of women went much further. Today we are taking a look at the women who disguised themselves as men in order to follow their dreams.
The first woman to circumnavigate the world – to go all the way around the globe. Born in France, and with an interest in botany (the study of plants), Jeanne became first the housekeeper, and later the partner of a famous botanist Philibert de Commerson.
Sam blogs about all kinds of science at www.samanthagouldson.com.
One of the best known landmarks in Bristol, UK, the Clifton suspension bridge first opened in 1864. It was built by the famous British engineer Isambard Kingdom Brunel, but it has recently become public knowledge that it was designed by a woman. Our science editor Sam Gouldson explains who she was and why her work isn’t more widely known.
Who really designed the bridge?
The Clifton suspension bridge was designed by a woman called Sarah Guppy. She was born Sarah Beach in 1770, but when she married her husband Samuel Guppy she took his name. She was one of the great British inventors of her time and the bridge isn’t the only thing she came up with.
What else did she design?
The invention that earned Sarah the most money was her device to prevent barnacles forming on the hulls of ships. Without barnacles the ships would be able to cut better through water and travel more quickly, and the Royal Navy paid her £40,000 for it. That may not sound like much for such a valuable design, but today it would be more than £2.3 million. Her other inventions included a kettle that not only boiled water for tea but could cook an egg and keep toast warm, a candle holder that could keep candles alight for longer and a way of treating boats so that they were more watertight. She also came up with the idea of planting willow and poplar trees on the embankments of new railways, to hold the earth together and prevent landslides.
Why isn’t she more famous?
Sarah lived during the Georgian and Victorian eras. In those times married women weren’t allowed to own property in their own name, and intellectual property such as Sarah’s inventions were no different. Her husband had to file the patents on her behalf, as the property of the Guppy family. The patent for her method of piling bridge foundations in order to create a new kind of bridge was filed in 1811, but she refused to charge others to use the idea because she felt it was for the benefit of the public. Thomas Telford, a civil engineer, used her design to build the Menai bridge in 1826, and when the competition to design the Clifton bridge was announced Sarah gave her work to Brunel. When she wrote to him to suggest the use of willow and poplar trees to reinforce railway embankments, she explained that she didn’t want the credit for her idea because she felt that women “must not be boastful”.