THE GLAGOLITHIC ALPHABET,ANOTHER HELLENIC SCRIPTURE (VIeL)


(BEING CONTINUED FROM  14/09/18)

3.2.5. Others
Thus far, it has been shown that Glagolitic was created based on several models: Greek, Armenian, Hebrew, and arguably Latin. The link between these scripts is not only phonetic but also structural and formal. However, the debate over the “Russian letters” and “strokes and carvings” in the old narrative sources, combined with the formal similarities between Glagolitic and inscriptions found in Slavic areas, has led certain scholars (e.g., Ivan Ohienko, Emil Georgiev, Michael Hocij, and G. Sotiroff) to propose the existence of an indigenous proto-Slavic script. For instance, Sotiroff (1970) argues that there was a proto-Slavic script that was genetically related to (or evolved from) the Linear B letters in the tablet inscriptions found in the Aegean region, which arguably represents Mycenaean Greek, dating back to 1500 BC. His arguments are mostly based on formal resemblance, but Linear B letters are no more similar to Glagolitic letters than cursive Greek letters of the ninth century. I illustrate some pairs of letters from Glagolitic and Linear B below:

A more important shortcoming of arguments along this line is that despite the apparent similarities of some letters, letter forms are selected in a random fashion without consideration of sound-matching. About half of the pairs in Table 5 do not correspond in terms of sound value. There are indeed many instances of formal resemblance across many scripts in the world. However, similarity itself cannot make any particular hypothesis reliable. On the one hand, we can find similar shapes in genetically unrelated scripts, such as Glagolitic and Medieval Korean. On the other hand, a script influences another upon historical physical contact, so it is unlikely that formal similarities in temporally and geographically severed alphabets share the origin. In this respect, what is important is probability rather than the random matching of similar forms in distinct alphabets. In the case of Linear B, the period succeeding the Mycenaean civilization, known as the Greek Dark Ages, provides no evidence of the use of such writing. Even though it is possible to conjecture that the script from 1500 BC happened to be available to Constantine, this cannot be proved in any way.

Even if the forms provided in Table 5 were taken to indicate similarities between Glagolitic and Linear B letters, this does not necessarily mean that Glagolitic was inherited from an ancient alphabet and referred to as the proto-“Russian letters” in VC. If that “Russian” script had been used around the ninth century productively enough for elaborate Glagolitic documents to be produced in the script, it would be strange that neither manuscripts in that script nor Greek manuscripts that mention about the script were preserved in any way. It would be more reasonable to suggest that if Constantine happened to encounter or learn this script (without leaving any evidence of this contact), he adopted some forms to represent certain sounds. If one decides to pursue this possibility, s/he would have to resolve further questions, such as: (i) How did this script, the traces of which were not found during the two millennia, come to be

used by the Slavs in the ninth century and found by Constantine? (ii) If they were available and accessible, why is there no textual evidence that supports the proto-Slavic script, except for the controversial two phrases? (iii) Would the use of the proto-Slavic letters to create Glagolitic have been adequate for Constantine’s missionary purposes? The third question is crucial, because it is hard to imagine any cultural and religious associations between Glagolitic and the letters of 1500 BC, the trace of which was not found until recently. Constantine, who was sent to propagate and enlighten the Slavs using biblical texts as primary media, would not have adopted any ancient script without considering whether it was justified from political and religious points of view. It should be noted that the possible sources enumerated above (Greek, Latin, Armenian, Hebrew, and Samaritan) were already in use for propagating Christianity.

3.3. Recapitulation and assessment
Table 6 summarizes the discussion so far of the formal sources of Glagolitic letters.

As shown in the table, there are still nine letters lacking any clues with a few more uncertain cases. However, a few observations can be made from this table. First, for Constantine, the structure of the Glagolitic system and the forms of the letters constituted distinct two levels of work. While Constantine minimized the number of the structural models for the alphabet as much as possible, relying on Greek and inevitably on another source (Armenian), he imported letter forms from various sources.
Second, Constantine seems to have sought letters with phonetic values similar to the given Slavic sounds in other scripts. This may look so because scholars only considered sound-form matching cases. Otherwise, however, almost an infinite number of sources must have been open to Constantine as well as to contemporary scholars, and it would have been virtually impossible for him to obtain any sensible result.
Third, regarding the letters from unknown sources, we can speculate that Constantine created his own shapes on purpose. There existed Greek and other alphabet letters available for some of those sounds represented by letters from unknown sources but Constantine chose not to use them and instead created different forms. Notably, some of the letters from known sources appear in more or less distorted forms with ornamental designs. The formal discrepancies between Glagolitic and source scripts can hardly be regarded as the result of natural evolution or change, given that the Cyrillic alphabet that appeared no more than a century later than Glagolitic has maintained an obvious formal identity with Greek. This indicates that Constantine, when choosing the forms, did not consider practical convenience (for creating on his part or for learning on the Slavs’ part) the first criterion, obscuring the formal association with other alphabets.17 Why, then, did Constantine intentionally adopt this rather complicated patchwork-strategy, rather than the much easier path of simply adopting Greek (and Armenian) forms?
One logical answer to this question might be that Constantine wanted to differentiate his new alphabet from the source alphabets, except for letters for some Greek-only sounds. While modeling the established alphabets, he might have wanted a certain degree of originality for his alphabet. This could be why even allegedly sound-matching forms show significant deviation from their Greek counterparts; Constantine could have intended to endow his new alphabet with a certain degree of independence from the influence of the Roman bishops, along with authenticity coming from a more or less clear association with Greek. In this respect, it is suggestive that during the religious debate in Venice, in response to church scholars who expressed doubts of the legitimacy of the new Slavic letters and endorsed only three holy languages (Hebrew, Greek, and Latin), Constantine defended his alphabet by enumerating various people turning glory unto God in their own languages (VC chapter XVI). This episode proves that Glagolitic looked very distinctive to the eyes of those who were versed in Greek and Latin languages.

  • Conclusion
    Thus far, I have explored the origin of Glagolitic by weighing various arguments on controversial phrases in old manuscripts about the Moravian mission and by investigating the structural and formal similarities between Glagolitic, on one hand, and Greek, Armenian, Hebrew, Latin, and others (such as Linear B), on the other hand. It has been shown that there is no direct evidence to interpret rusъskymi pismeny as referring to ‘Slavic,’ based on its lexical meaning, while there are some textual and circumstantial grounds supporting the interpretation of the phrase as a scribal error. This leads us to the conclusion that there was no systemic alphabet before Constantine’s Moravian mission, although we can admit the possibility of primitive transliteration schemes utilizing Latin and Greek letters.I have also shown that Constantine did not devise Glagolitic from scratch and had to depend on various existing scripts to formalize the structure and forms of the Glagolitic system. The task of creating Glagolitic proceeded through three steps. The first and most important step was to organize the structure of the system. The backbone of this system was Greek, from which Constantine brought the basic organizing principle of his new alphabet (the names, phonetic values, numerical values, and the order of letters). The second step was to look for letters for Slavic-only sounds in scripts other than Greek. The third step was to devise forms for both Greek-Slavic common sounds and Slavic-only sounds. He depended on various sources (Greek, Latin, Hebrew). Glagolitic has affinities with various ancient scripts of that time, but the extent of the resemblance varies from one script to another. This may be ascribed to Constantine’s intention to make the Slavic letters assume both independence from the influence of the Roman church and Bavarian bishops and authenticity rooted in Greek. Indeed, the emergence of Glagolitic was an event that was controlled and performed by its creator, rather than the consequence of natural development.

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Discussion: On the origin of the Glagolitic alphabet
CHIO Sung-ho
Chunbuk National University, KOREA

This paper discusses various issues related to the origin of Glagolitic, an extant script that is believed to have been used for the translation purpose in the medieval Slavic world. The main point to be made in the discussion is that Constantine, the creator of the script, had recourse to various existing scripts to formalize the structure and forms of Glagolitic, The reviewer agrees with the author in most respects, and has no detailed counterarguments to the claim made in the paper. The followings are just the reviewer’s speculation-based questions.

  1. Is there any possibility that glagolitic letters be decomposed to some “letter features”?. For example, circle, vertical line, horizontal line, diagonal line, and its position relative to the circle, etc., each of which, of course, does not convey any phonetic “distinctive feature”. It may be unlikely to construct combinatorial rules to govern the formation of each letter, but, in consideration of the fact that most letters contain circles and lines, this may be at least worthwhile to give some research.
    This may be related to Cubberley’s speculation that Slavs may have had some writing “base” (his term) or “strategy” (the author’s term) before Constantine’s creation. It may not have been formalized or even internally contradictory in its actual use, but still could have given some primary data or idea for the Saint’s effort to create Glagolitic. Further, the “decomposition” idea is not incompatible with the manuscript wordings, “strokes and carvings”, which may be “less formalized, pre-Slavic scriptoids,” whose primary purpose is not to express elaborate religious thoughts, but to express some mundane commercial matters. Needless to say, this does not suggest that there existed a “Proto-Slavic script” before the Contantine’s creation, but in his effort to make a new alphabet, this “primitive and native” way of writing the language might be utilized by Constantine in addition to other existing alphabets, including Greek and others.
  1. The author, citing Schenker 1995, sees that there are formal similarities in some of the letters representing Greek-only sounds between the Glagoltic and Greek original. Cf. Table 3 to page 8. It seems that some discussion better be provided regarding the apparent similarities. It appears not very similar between the letters of [d], [t], [i] or [p], for example. As for the letters of [r], the circle is positioned differently.
    On other hand, the letter of Greek theta is very much similar with that of the glagolitic counterpart, but their phonetic value is different. The phonetic value of “jat’” is most likely [front], but its Greek epigraphic letter, it seems, is [back].

(TO BE CONTINUED)

JUNG Hakyung

Seoul National University, KOREA

NOTES

17 Matthews (1953: 364) also notes the characteristics of Glagolitic as a mask to conceal its Byzantine origin.

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