THE very word “literature” indicates the belief of our linguistic ancestors that ideas must necessarily be recorded through the use of an alphabet. Yet the letters of an alphabet signify not ideas, but sounds. Their assemblage into a written word corresponds to a spoken word, and to an idea only indirectly through the latter. And yet the inventors and first users of our letters intended them for ideographs—their employment to mean elementary vocal sounds came later. In some quarters of the world this modification was not made, and an ideographic system still obtains. This is the case notably in China.
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