The evolution of languages ​​illuminated by a script from Liberia

Do the writings tend to become simpler over time? In order to answer this question, researchers studied the evolution of the Vai script, originating in Liberia, which was invented by illiterates in 1833.

You will also be interested

[EN VIDÉO] Is the world written in mathematical language?
Nature is a book written in mathematical language, whose letters are triangles, circles and other geometric figures, according to Galileo. While practical and effective in explaining phenomena, math is not all powerful.

The question ofevolution of languages is based on long time series of writings as well as on the diversity of languages ​​that exist or have existed. There is a theory that alphabets become simpler over time. One of the known examples of this trend is the existence of the ox’s head in Egyptian hieroglyphics, which became a more abstract form in the alphabet of the Phoenicians and eventually and probably evolved into the Roman letter A. In order to To test this trend on a larger scale, researchers have studied theevolution of writing Vai from Liberia and published their results in the journal Current Anthropology.

A primarily figurative writing

The Vai script was invented in West Africa in 1833 by eight illiterate men. The first elements of this writing were complex and figurative since they could represent water, a ball and a pregnant woman and there were about 200 of them.

The transmission of this writing was then carried out between a teacher and an apprentice. Thanks to archives from several countries, the authors of the study show that the Vai script has undergone a compression as well as a simplification of its most complex symbols. They explain that the establishment of a complex visual system is important at the origin of a writing so that the first illiterate users can apprehend all the nuances. The natural simplification of the system over time by collective memory is therefore a natural phenomenon and seems to be common to many many languages.

Interested in what you just read?

Leave a Comment