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Origins: ABC's: when the 'Twinkle Twinkle' link?

CapriUni 07 Mar 12 - 08:47 PM
GUEST,Grishka 08 Mar 12 - 12:55 PM
CapriUni 08 Mar 12 - 03:16 PM
clueless don 09 Mar 12 - 09:17 AM
Nigel Parsons 09 Mar 12 - 09:44 AM
CapriUni 09 Mar 12 - 03:21 PM
Nigel Parsons 09 Mar 12 - 08:16 PM
CapriUni 10 Mar 12 - 03:13 PM
CapriUni 24 Jul 12 - 12:23 AM
Jack Campin 24 Jul 12 - 01:27 PM
CapriUni 24 Jul 12 - 02:14 PM
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Subject: Origins: ABC's: when the 'Twinkle Twinkle' link?
From: CapriUni
Date: 07 Mar 12 - 08:47 PM

I have long wondered why "Alphabetic Order" is the order that it is, and have failed to find the answer beyond:

"It evolved from the order assigned by the Ancient Greeks, and was later adapted by the Romans."

...But I've found no reason behind Alpha being first and Omega last, et cetera (alas!).

So -- since that knowledge seems to be lost to the mists of time, perhaps some kind soul can tell me why "Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star" (aka "The Star," aka "Ah! Vous Dirai-Je, Maman") is now taken as the tune for the alphabet.

What tune, if any, did children use as a mnemonic before this melody was composed?


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Subject: RE: Origins: ABC's: when the 'Twinkle Twinkle' link?
From: GUEST,Grishka
Date: 08 Mar 12 - 12:55 PM

Unfortunately, "Twinkle..." does not give much mnemonic aid.

The Greek alphabet was a reinterpretation of the Semitic alphabet, taken over from the Phoenicians. Nothing misty about that, since ancient Greeks were generous enough to pass on the story.

Semitic languages have quite different sounds (only consonants are written), nevertheless the order, shapes, and even some of the Semitic names were preserved more or less respectfully. Later some letters were added or "multiplied", others were omitted. Often pronunciation changed more quickly than spelling.


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Subject: RE: Origins: ABC's: when the 'Twinkle Twinkle' link?
From: CapriUni
Date: 08 Mar 12 - 03:16 PM

Unfortunately, "Twinkle..." does not give much mnemonic aid.

Perhaps not, but, it does group the 25 letters into four musical lines that all rhyme with an "Eee" sound. And two rhyming couplets are easier to remember than 25 random abstractions, that have no meaning on their own. Though it is true that many early learners of "The ABC's" (thanks to that melody) often mistakenly think that "Elemenopee" is a single word.

Interesting about the Phoenicians; any idea when (or whether) they ever recorded their written symbols for phonemes in a particular order? I've read in several brief histories (including the introductory pages to individual letters in The American Heritage Dictionary) that the Phoenician letters started out as ideograms.

But why should Alf (Phoenician for "ox") come first? And why does Bet (Phoenician for "House") come next?

And so forth... That's the question no one seems to have an answer for.

But in any case, right now, I'm asking about when the tune that starts:

"C, C, G, G, A, A G ..." mismatched as it is, became the music with which our current version of the alphabet is taught.


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Subject: RE: Origins: ABC's: when the 'Twinkle Twinkle' link?
From: clueless don
Date: 09 Mar 12 - 09:17 AM

On 08 Mar 12 - 03:16 PM, CapriUni wrote, in part:

"Perhaps not, but, it does group the 25 letters into four musical lines that all rhyme with an "Eee" sound."

True, unless one insists on expressing the last letter as zed. To me, this is the ultimate proof that the correct expression of the last letter is zee!

Don


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Subject: RE: Origins: ABC's: when the 'Twinkle Twinkle' link?
From: Nigel Parsons
Date: 09 Mar 12 - 09:44 AM

As (I believe) I have stated in another discussion.
The idea of alphabetical order goes back to pre-Christian times.

In the Hebrew, the words we know as Psalm 119 include 176 verses, split into 22 sections of 8 verses.

The first 8 verses (in Hebrew) all start with the letter Aleph the second 8 (verses 9-16) all start with Beth and so on.

This makes Psalm 119 a very early alphabetical acrostic.

Cheers

Nigel


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Subject: RE: Origins: ABC's: when the 'Twinkle Twinkle' link?
From: CapriUni
Date: 09 Mar 12 - 03:21 PM

Don, I don't remember all the lines, but there's a "mother goose" rhyme (though its true origin may be somewhere else) that starts out:

A was an Apple Pie
B bit it
C cut it
D dealt it
E "et" it

...
And it ends with

X,Y,Z and ampersand (&)
All wished for a piece in hand.

So I suppose, that, if you do insist on calling Z 'zed,' there are ways to steal, beg or borrow a closing rhyme.

Nigel --

This makes Psalm 119 a very early alphabetical acrostic.

Fascinating. And that's part of why I'm interested in this question...

I mean, having a fixed specific alphabetic order is very useful and practical in this age of telephone directories, dictionaries, and governmental land deed offices.

But what purpose did alphabetic order have when most of the culture was oral, and the written alphabet was reserved for priests and magic-workers? ...There's a reason we calling "spelling," after all.


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Subject: RE: Origins: ABC's: when the 'Twinkle Twinkle' link?
From: Nigel Parsons
Date: 09 Mar 12 - 08:16 PM

CapriUni:

If you look at Psalm 119 in an old family bible (King James version) you will normally see Ps 119 split into groups of 8 verses, each one headed with a letter from the Hebrew alphabet (or should I say alephbeth

Another bit of trivia is that it deals with the 'word of the Lord', or scripture/statute. Every verse (with one exception) has a word or phrase with this meaning. This may, or may not, have been retained in more modern versions.

Cheers

Nigel


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Subject: RE: Origins: ABC's: when the 'Twinkle Twinkle' link?
From: CapriUni
Date: 10 Mar 12 - 03:13 PM

Okay, yes. So we know that alphabetic order had some sort of meaning to early peoples (and it was presumably important some time before Psalm 119 got into writing, or else, the scribe writing it down wouldn't have been so careful in picking the words).

But -- that still doesn't answer the question I've been wondering for most of my adult life: why is alphabetic order in the order that it's in?

According to Wikipedia (take the spoonfuls of knowledge with caution),
Alf is Phoenician for ox. Bet is Phoenician for house. Gimel is Phoenician for camel, Det is Phoenician for door....

I've now got an image camel standing across the threshold of someone's house... and that just seems wrong, somehow.

But, be that as it may, that's not actually the question I'm asking in this particular thread:

When did the tune "Ah! Vous Dirai-Je, Maman" become the melody for what we know as "The ABC's?".

It wasn't composed until the mid-late 1700s, if my memory serves, and didn't get attached to nursery rhymes until the 1800s.

What melody (if any) did children sing before then, to help them learn this quaint and abstract bundle of knowledge?

BTW, in terms of scansion and economy, I have found, personally, that the 26 letters of our alphabet fit much better inside the melodies to "Row, Row, Row, Your Boat" and "Frere Jasques."

With the former, you have to slide in one extra quarter note to get around the three-syllable W, and with the latter, you have three notes left over, after Z, which can be comfortably filled with: "That's the end!" or "Now we're done!"


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Subject: RE: Origins: ABC's: when the 'Twinkle Twinkle' link?
From: CapriUni
Date: 24 Jul 12 - 12:23 AM

Refresh:

I'm currently in a conversation with a woman who grew up in New Zealand, and, until the broadcast of Sesame Street and its Americanisms, her mother at least, had never even heard the "Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star" linked to the Alphabet; she learned the ABCs to the tune of "Jack and Jill Went Up the Hill."

...Her folks (kith, kin, and people around) thought it was a Sesame Street Invention...

Now, I'm even more curious as to when and how this tune and this assortment of letters got hitched. And became so ubiquitous.

Could it have something to do with the early public school system? and mass-produced "readers" for the different grades?


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Subject: RE: Origins: ABC's: when the 'Twinkle Twinkle' link?
From: Jack Campin
Date: 24 Jul 12 - 01:27 PM

I'm currently in a conversation with a woman who grew up in New Zealand, and, until the broadcast of Sesame Street and its Americanisms, her mother at least, had never even heard the "Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star" linked to the Alphabet; she learned the ABCs to the tune of "Jack and Jill Went Up the Hill."

I grew up in England and New Zealand and never heard of any tune being associated with the alphabet.

The first I heard of such a thing was right here, five minutes ago.

It isn't ubiquitous.

I would guess it arose in the post-WW2 American school system and never got any further than that. Or maybe "Sesame Street" invented it.


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Subject: RE: Origins: ABC's: when the 'Twinkle Twinkle' link?
From: CapriUni
Date: 24 Jul 12 - 02:14 PM

No, "Sesame Street" did not invent it. Sesame Street first aired in 1969, when I was five, after I'd already started to learn the Alphabet to "Twinkle Twinkle" from my mother (born 1934) and paternal grandmother (born 1884).


I fully concede that it is American in origin, and not known world-wide, since the scansion and rhyme scheme work best with the American pronunciation of the letters. But it is ubiquitous within the States, regardless of regional variations that show up in almost every other children's song across the country (Though, granted, lyrics in the conclusion, to fill out the last 14 notes of the melody do vary).

And it shows up in scattered, random, pockets outside the U.S., and before Sesame Street. In this thread: twinkle, twinkle, MudCatter Wilfried Schaum remembers learning his alphabet to this tune, in Germany, and likewise, Mo the Caller in London in 1940. ... Granted, it might have been imported with the Americans who were in both places during WW2...

But that's precisely why I'm asking -- that it's completely taken for granted here, and completely unknown elsewhere, suggests a more richly textured and bumpy history than we've been told (which is, as far as I can tell, naught).


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