One of my Internet pals, Dmitri, has taken it upon himself to help me learn to write and speak Russian via emails. His help came about a year ago, after I expressed to him that one of my long-term goals has been to break through my personal English/Russian language barrier.
Sometimes, the teacher becomes a student. This week, Dmitri expressed curiosity about the “&” symbol. I explained that just as the Russian Cyrillic alphabet was derived from the Greek script, the Western Latin alphabet was rooted in the Roman script. The &, ampersand, is said to be a ligature for the latin word for “and”, “et”. The combination of the letters morphed into a single symbol.
I told Dmitri that when I learned the latin alphabet, the & was included on my learning toy. At that time the ampersand was used much more frequently than it is today. I loosely compared it to the Cyrillic letter “Ы”. He wrote back, saying it was a very poor comparison, but now he understands the & symbol better.
I mentioned there is a letter in the German alphabet that might be also considered a ligature. ß, the Eszett, I learned that it is used instead of “ss”. There is a loose similarity to the Scandinavian and Old English symbol “Æ”.
Dmitri mentioned that neither of us are linguists, but in a non-scholarly way, it is fun to explore means of communication that differ from one’s own native language. Dmitri remarked that when he reads and attempts to speak in Mandarin his mind goes into “Chinese mode”. His outlook is different
at those times. I email back saying that I used to have the same thing happen when I was able to communicate in Japanese. That skill has long since disappeared, though.
When my step-mother was still alive, I tried learning Thai. Even though she was a great cook, she wasn’t skilled at teaching me her native speech. Her tolerance level ended at my inability to learn Thai script.
Dmitri mentioned that French adds a tail onto some of their letters, and he finds that amusing. The Spanish language has “ñ” which sounds different from the Russian “й” but both are loosely linked to the English “y” sound.
Many languages have two dots over certain vowels, like the German and Scandinavian Umlaut. Sometimes we find a vowel with a small circle above it “Å” or an O with a horizontal line through it “ø”
I wrote back to Dmitri that I enjoyed our email sidebar conversation about some of the intricacies of alphabets and characters.