Alphabet

Our letter ‘A’ started his career as Aleph, the first letter of the semitic abjads or writing systems, including Aramaic, Syriac, Phoenician, Arabic, Armenian, and Hebrew. The Phoenician letter was derived from an Egyptian glyph depicting the head of an ox. The Greek alfa has its origin in this Phoenician letter, and it’s obvious how it became our A from there.

Miru likes to write As and search them when we’re going for a walk. Here in Portugal, the A is abundant, including a prominent presence in her favorite snack, pastel de nata. When we are out for a walk, Miru often alerts her dad when she has spotted another A. Together, we admire the slanted serifs, or robust legs of the glyphs she has found in a shop window, a street name or on the license plate of a car.

Today, her world is now full of As, where yesterday there were not even bovine heads. Miru is absorbed in the Aleph in a way that calls to mind Jorge Luis Borges eponymous story. Borges’ Aleph is a point that contains in it all other points. In his tale, mediocre poet Carlos Argentino Daneri uses the Aleph in his basement to write a universal epic poem that describes all of the world in excruciating detail.

Tomorrow I’ll teach her Bs. I’ve written a small program that you can access from anywhere with an Internet connection, to help her with this quest. It is, like everything else I create, public domain and can be found here. It will take a week until she knows the Latin and Korean alphabet, and the fun can begin. Miru will devour all bits of knowledge we throw at her and by the end of the month she will be a contributing editor of the Journal of Quintessential Cosmological Quandaries.

Or perhaps not.

She also started to draw eyes in the portraits she makes of me. I gave in to my impatience and asked her for the nose. She drew another circle. Less than a minute later I had ears too, and a smiling mouth. The dizzying pace at which toddlers develops can make their parents pleasantly convinced they’ve bred something extraordinary. Of course, I’m fully aware that this behaviour is safely within the bounds of the ordinary, but thank heavens at the age of three springs it is not yet called mediocre.

Learning can wait. Although Miru’s playful exposure to the alphabet and her exploration of visual semantics might give her a “head-start” on others, I hope their biggest effect will be the urge to share with others all that she discovers, carrying in its wake a surge of empathy in herself and those around her.

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