Which Came First: The Alphabet or the Alphabet Block?
Consider the old question, “which came first, the chicken or the egg?” It’s a classic paradox. The answer has eluded people for centuries.
No one knows which came first. It’s possible we’ll never know.
So imagine our delight when we see the alphabet defined as “the fundamental building block of language.” Your Uncle Goose makes building blocks. And our popular Classic ABC Blocks feature the letters of the alphabet.
This leads us to our own paradoxical question: which came first, the alphabet or the alphabet block? If the alphabet is a building block of language, is this a chicken-and-egg type of situation?
A quick reading of history tells us, no. The alphabet came first.
The ancient Phoenicians developed the earliest alphabet somewhere around 1000 BC. By contrast, alphabet blocks were first mentioned in the late 1500’s in a book by an English writer, Sir Hugh Plat.
And that should be the end to the “which came first” question. But it’s not.
If the ancient Phoenicians created the alphabet in 1000 BC, how did they do it? What tools did they use?
Imagine it’s 1000 BC. You’re trying to organize an alphabet. You need to think things through. You need to discuss your concepts with others and gain their input and buy-in.
To do this work, you need to move things around. You need to sort and stack. You need to demonstrate and describe; scribble and scratch.
How do you do that work without using props? You may not have used wooden blocks. But you must have used some sort of movable object: a building block, of sorts.
Is it so hard to imagine that each letter ended up on a stone? Or a twig? Or a plate or papyrus? Or some other kind of building object?
It's likely that the alphabet and the alphabet block were co-created. That’s because we need concrete tools to help us build and describe abstract concepts like alphabets and alphabetical order.
Concrete objects always come before abstract ones. That’s why we’d like to say the building block came first.
After the building block, the alphabet building block and alphabet were co-created. That's our theory, at least. It makes the most sense. Because how can an alphabet exist without a concrete expression of letter shapes and order?
But what do you think? Which came first, the alphabet or the alphabet block?