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43 votes
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Why do many Arabic letters look exactly like other letters except for dots, yet have no similarity in sound?

The first thing to understand is that the Arabic alphabet derives from the form of the Aramaic alphabet used by the Nabataeans, itself derived from the Phoenician alphabet, and ultimately Egyptian ...
Tristan's user avatar
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41 votes
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Is the Cyrillic letter 'Z' the same as the number 3

The two are unrelated. The letter З developed from the Greek letter zeta (Ζ), through an intermediate form with a tail (Ꙁ). This shape got simplified in handwriting until it became the modern form. ...
Draconis's user avatar
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41 votes
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Why was "zh" picked to represent /ʒ/, and where does it come from?

It's based on an analogy s : sh :: z : zh, where the first three graphemes already existed in English spelling. Since ⟨z⟩ represents the voiced counterpart to ⟨s⟩, at least some English speakers find ...
brass tacks's user avatar
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30 votes

Why were writing systems invented independently during roughly the same period across multiple civilizations?

From the source: Full writing-systems appear to have been invented independently at least four times in human history: first in Mesopotamia (present-day Iraq) where cuneiform was used between 3400 ...
Draconis's user avatar
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28 votes
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Is there some relationship between the modern u and μ?

No, there is no relationship. The lowercase form μ is just a calligraphic development of the uppercase form. Here's an illustration with colored dots to indicate the corresponding parts: It's just a ...
brass tacks's user avatar
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26 votes

Why does “&” look nothing like e and t

To put it simply, it evolved over time and generally isn't seen as a ligature of E and t any more. chasly on ELU offers this demonstration: Other fonts may show the Et connection more clearly.
Draconis's user avatar
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24 votes

Languages which changed their writing direction

Really lots of languages have experienced a change from Arabic writing (right to left) to either Latin or Cyrillic writing (left to right) during the 20th century. Notable examples are Turkish, Azeri, ...
Sir Cornflakes's user avatar
24 votes

Are there any diacritics not on the top or bottom of a letter?

Hebrew is one of those languages. The dagesh is placed inside the letter. For example: Bet without dagesh: ב Bet with dagesh: בּ‎ The shuruk vowel point (nikkud) is placed to the left of the letter (...
Robert Columbia's user avatar
24 votes

Writing systems that do not preserve spoken order

Hieroglyphic Egyptian has a feature called "honorific transposition", where certain nouns can be written at the beginning of a noun phrase (regardless of their actual syntactic position) if ...
Draconis's user avatar
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23 votes
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Why were vowels secondary citizens in many of the worlds sound-based writing systems?

In Ancient Egyptian, like many Afro-Asiatic languages, the consonants generally determine the root of a word, while the vowels inflect it. Sāḏam means "to hear", saḏma means "might hear&...
Draconis's user avatar
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23 votes

Was cuneiform ever drawn on a surface, as opposed to carved?

I wonder though, given that it remained in used for thousands of years, was this the only way it was ever utilized? As fdb mentions, it was also sometimes carved or hammered into other materials. ...
Draconis's user avatar
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22 votes

Languages which changed their writing direction

Chinese is classically written top-to-bottom from right to left, e.g., 9 5 1 10 6 2 11 7 3 12 8 4 but it is becoming increasingly common to also see it written left-to-right from top to ...
Jeff Zeitlin's user avatar
22 votes

Languages which changed their writing direction

Probably the oldest example — being one of the oldest known examples of writing to begin with — is Sumerian cuneiform writing. Like Chinese, Sumerian cuneiform was originally written in vertical ...
Ilmari Karonen's user avatar
22 votes

Should orthographies represent phonemes or phones?

Consult the speech community. The orthography must fit the needs of the speech community, they are the primary users of it. When the speech community wants a phonetic representation (helping ...
Sir Cornflakes's user avatar
21 votes

Is the Cyrillic letter 'Z' the same as the number 3

Draconis explained the origin, but I'll go into another aspect of your question: For practical purposes, yes, it is the same glyph. Native Cyrillic speakers will frequently write the same shape for ...
rumtscho's user avatar
  • 347
20 votes
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How to identify a foreign language from handwriting?

Problem 1. Identify the language I found this diagram (in Russian). It seems to be pretty simple, and it amazingly covers a vast majority of world's languages. I took my liberty to adjust it slightly....
Be Brave Be Like Ukraine's user avatar
18 votes
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How well do Semitic languages preserve consonants over time?

Semitic languages don't always preserve consonants perfectly. In fact, I don't think that there is any Semitic language without multiple classes of conjugation to account for irregularities. All ...
b a's user avatar
  • 2,785
17 votes

Writing systems that do not preserve spoken order

There is a whole class of languages that use Abugida writing system which shows this phenomenon on a regular basis. Most prominent examples are Hindi and Thai. Using Thai writing for examples below. ...
Be Brave Be Like Ukraine's user avatar
16 votes

Is use of sorting expected and used in East Asian languages (Chinese, Japanese, Korean)?

Yes, all of these cultures expect and use sorting pretty much just like alphabet-using cultures do. Japanese has a set of some 46 phonetic characters called kana. They're arranged by phonetics in a ...
melissa_boiko's user avatar
16 votes

Is it possible to have a word-based language completely without word inflection?

The problem is, things like "word-based" vs "character-based" as you put it (the standard words are alphabetic vs logographic) apply to writing systems, not languages. Languages, both historically and ...
Draconis's user avatar
  • 66.8k
15 votes

Writing systems that do not preserve spoken order

German numbers. 42 is read as "Zweiundvierzig", literally "Two and Forty". This order swap only happens for numbers between 20-100.
Thomas's user avatar
  • 151
14 votes

Is the Cyrillic letter 'Z' the same as the number 3

BTW, this similarity was confusing people in XX century, so they agreed to change the number 3 glyph to slightly differ from the letter. This difference is still maintined in the technical ...
user488399's user avatar
14 votes

Are there any diacritics not on the top or bottom of a letter?

Some examples: d̵ which does not render well here (using the separate diacritic), but exists in Ð and đ, as well as e.u. o̵ (again, rendering problem), that is o-bar, and do on. The latter is ...
user6726's user avatar
  • 83.1k
14 votes

Why were writing systems invented independently during roughly the same period across multiple civilizations?

I will answer from a different point of view. I will not care if it happened here at 3500 BC while at the other place at 1500 BC and consider it, as in your question, both as almost at the same time ...
Vladimir F Героям слава's user avatar
13 votes
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Recognize this script?

Sorry for digging up this old question but we finally have an answer. I reposted this question to puzzling stackexhange thinking they would be better equipped to solve it. Surely enough, within ...
cyco130's user avatar
  • 2,185
12 votes
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The term "proto" in "proto-language"

By convention, the prefix proto- is only assigned to reconstructed languages predating the extant records of related languages. In rare cases it happens that older records show up and a proto-language ...
Sir Cornflakes's user avatar
12 votes

Are there any diacritics not on the top or bottom of a letter?

Comanche uses “U bar” <Ʉ, ʉ> in the official orthography for /ə/. Other languages that use this letter in their official orthographies include Kanakanabu (an Austronesian lanuage of Taiwan) and ...
Yellow Sky's user avatar
  • 18.5k
12 votes

Are there any diacritics not on the top or bottom of a letter?

In the Japanese hiragana syllabary, the softening mark (dakuten) on the symbol て (te) is technically inside the letter, giving で (de).
Jan's user avatar
  • 1,160
12 votes

Why were vowels secondary citizens in many of the worlds sound-based writing systems?

One reason is that vowels are much less important for distinguishing words than you might think. Years ago I did an analysis of the Carnegie Mellon Pronouncing dictionary. I asked what would happen if ...
adam.baker's user avatar
11 votes

In what way is Japanese related to Sanskrit?

Due to the study of Buddhism and its scriptures in the source language (either Buddhist Hybrid Sanskrit or Pali) Japanese scholars were aware of the structure of the Indic scripts finally coming from ...
Sir Cornflakes's user avatar

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