Day: November 16, 2015

No, Chinese Characters Are Not Ancestors of the Alphabet


In 1861, the scientist and mathematician Pliny Earle Chase proposed that the Chinese script was quite possibly “indications of alphabetic genesis”; that is, the ancient Greek and Latin alphabets was modeled after Chinese characters. Here’s a page from his work above indicating his suggestions (notably that 單 led to delta Δ, 旦 to theta Θ, and 切 to t.

Of course today we know that this hypothesis is utterly ridiculous – however, Chase’s work predated the identification of oracle bone script later in the 19th century. If you’d like to read some bad linguistics (and have access to JSTOR), however, you can check his original article “Chinese and Indo-European Roots and Analogues” in Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society here.