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History of runic alphabets

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History of runic alphabets

Fulfilled by the second year student of

Rostov State Pedagogical University

Translation Department

Neustroev Cyril

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From ancient times mankind was appealed by unknown writings: half-forgotten antique languages, Egypt hieroglyphs, Indian inscriptions… The fate of runes was much happy – their sense wasn’t lost in the course of time, even when Latin alphabet became dominating one in Europe. For instance, runes were used in calendars till the end of the 18-th c.

Modern linguists think that runes posses another kind of meaning, which we cannot find in ideograms, hieroglyphs or in modern exotic alphabets – this meaning exists in subconsciousness level. Runes were the personification of the surrounding world, essence of outlook. With the help of special links between runes a man could express nearly everything, compiling them (so called combined runes). In different times runes could change their meaning, so we can say this adjusting system created dozens of meanings of one and the same symbol. (Linguists find confirmation of this theory in the following example – every rune in different languages had separate and original meaning, which didn’t fully coincide with another one in the second language.

Like all others components of language, runes endured numerous changes: in form, style of writing, system of sounds and letters, which expressed them. We can say, that these alphabets took wide spreading not only among Scandinavian and German tribes, but we can also trace its penetration in Celtic and Slavonic languages. Now runes keep their main original meaning - in the beginning they were the symbols of fortunetelling lore with sacred sense and mystic signs (The general matter why they didn’t get wide diffusion before AD). Even the word “rune” corresponds as “secret” (compare old Celtic “run”, middle welsh “rown”, modern German “raunen”). The last 1000 years in Iceland runes have been used for divination. In Anglo-Saxon England the hours of king council were called “runes”.

The most important sources about runic history are ancient texts of Scandinavian pagan religion – Old Edda by Brynolf Swesson and Lesser Edda by Snorri Sturlusson. They were two missionaries who discovered these manuscripts in the time of Christian expansion. Another documents containing the information about runes origin are Northern king sagas “Red leather” and Icelandic kin chronicles. Tombstones, altars, pagan pillars called “runic stones” played quite catholic role in scientific researches - usually they are found dappled with miscellaneous writings (Gothland, Upland, Norway). The most famous is Cilwer stone, which dates from the 5-th c. So we can find a lot of writings on jewels and weapon, for barbarians believed things had to posses their own names (breakteats).

German and Slavonic runic writing was the letter system of peculiar look, accounted by the writing technique on bone, wood and metal. Nowadays we have the main runic alphabet, consisting of 24 signs, may be more, but another ones are regarded as variants or combined runes. Letters of any language can have several sources of origin, for a taste Greek language, which gave the birth to North Italian writing, had a good many of meaning for every sign. This tradition was inherited by Etruscan alphabet and later by runic one. However, Christian chronicles of 9-12c, known as «songs», revealed information about rune names and their meanings. Every rune in it conforms to one strophe, which begins with this rune and its name. In its turn, the name begins with its sound. The whole system is divided into 2 parts – futarks (arises from the first symbols – F, U, Th, A, R, K: Old futark (runes of Old German origin – o.f.) and Late futark (modifications of o.f. in Northumbrian, Frisian and Anglo-Saxon alphabets). 24 signs traditionally gradate into 3 groups of 8 symbols called atts (“part of land “ or “kin” compare Scot. "airt”, Ireland “aird).

Comparing scheme of different futarks and their development

Anglo-Saxon futark

The origin of futark remains the matter of severe debates between historians, linguists and philologists. There are two main theories: 1) Runic writing appeared on the basis of Latin alphabet; 2) cradles of these signs are in transalpine and North Italian scripts. Scientists have a lot of historical facts, approving that Etruscan merchants used this system. Probably they brought it to the North (6-th c. B.C.). However some researchers think that runes cropped up in German tribes from ancient Rome Latin writing. Comparing 3 letter types we have: 10 runic letters in Etruscan language, which absolutely coincide each other; 5 coinciding runic letters and 8 resembling ones in Latin. Latin, Etruscan and some symbols from Greek originate from Akhiram alphabet (10c. B.C.). But the construction of runic alphabet (RA) different from others – for example, order of the first letters. The main period of development is one, when occult signs, used in Alpine region and in the North, became combine sole system. Many runic symbols were used as icons, showing various things and animals. Some runologists suppose that even in the most developed variant they are close to pictures: rune “Fehu” f symbolizes cattle, Thurisaz q l, – thorn, Wunjo w – weathercock, Algiz z – elk, Zin xxs– lightning, Yr u – bow, Edhwaz m – horse.