Archive for the ‘Swiggers, Pierre’ category

Swiggers, Pierre, “Transmission of the Phoenician Script to the West” in The World’s Writing Systems, ed Peter T Daniels and William Bright. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1996, 261-270.

August 28, 2007

Swiggers approach is to describe the transmission of the Phoenician script to the Greeks was “geographically diversified but structurally unified.” The Dorian alphabet represents an archaic stage, which then branched into Eastern and Western alphabets. Structurally, the Greeks notated vowels by exploiting the use of consonantal letters used to transcribe long vowels. Later in the 6th century BCE they further distinguished long and short vowels in the case of /e/ and /o/ by introducing ēta (based on ḥet) and ōmega. Geographically the alphabet was adapted to meet local needs, but the basic structure is unchanged. Thus, while letter shapes and writing direction may vary, the same inventory of letters is used. Swiggers accepts a date of borrowing around 800-775 BCE based on convergent evidence from typological analysis of the scripts and the dating of the oldest Greek inscriptions. He argues against a purely Aramaic origin of the Greek alphabet based on the letter names iōta and rhō which show evidence of the vowel shift /ā/ > /ō/ which is absent in Aramaic. He also rejects Naveh’s earlier date based on comparison to proto-Canaanite letterforms, arguing that script direction is often variable in the early stages of adaptation and that the Phoenician inscriptions provide the strongest parallels for Greek letters. The use of archaic forms in the Tell Fekheriye inscription further weakens Naveh’s argument.


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