Kim H. Veltman, Keynote, Christianity and the Alphabet, Human-Computer Interaction, Tourism and Cultural Heritage (HCITOCH 2015). Strategies for a Creative Future with Computer Science, Quality Design and Communicability, Ravenna, September 22 – 24, 2015.


There are several histories of Western alphabets. One claims that Hebrew was the source of all Western alphabets, which makes them a product of the Judeo-Christian tradition. Another claims that the Phoenicians invented an abjad, that the Greeks added vowels, thus creating the first alphabet and subsequently Latin alphabets. In this narrative, vowel alphabets were largely a pagan invention, through a Greco-Roman tradition, which is often contrasted or opposed to a Judaeo-Christian tradition.   
Historical evidence suggests a more complex story. In the 3rd century B.C., the Hebrew Old Testament was translated into Greek as the Septuagint. This translation added alphabetic vowels to an abjad tradition without vowels. In the centuries that followed, this Greek version became the model for translations which also became the principal alphabets of the world: Coptic, Latin, Armenian, Georgian, Arabic, Cyrillic, Chinese and even Sanskrit. So it is a Greco-Christian tradition rather than a purely Judeo-Christian tradition that spreads the alphabet.
At least five centres contributed to this story: Rome, Alexandria, Antioch, Constantinople and Jerusalem, which were subsequently reduced to three centres of orthodox Christianity. These centres did much more than translate the bible and develop new alphabets. The new alphabets also became linked with new branches of Christianity. Adding vowels changed the names of God, and the names of protagonists of the Bible. It also introduced new gematrias, linking letters with numbers and cosmology. Hence each translation into a new alphabet also entailed a new cosmology.    
The Wolff-Sapir hypothesis claimed that the structure of languages affects concepts of the world. The early alphabets suggest that the structure of alphabets affects not only cosmological concepts but also varieties of religious belief. The essay explores some implications for interfaces.

  • Introduction
  • Pre-Christianity
  • 5 Christianities
  • 3 Orthodox Christianities
  • Key Letters
  • North and South
  • Letters as Symbols
  • Changing Names
  • Changing Gematrias
  • Implications for Interfaces
  • Conclusions


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