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Nature volume 162, pages 8182 (17 July 1948) | Download Citation



IN one of those fanciful stories for children included in the “Just So Stories”, Rudyard Kipling takes us in imagination back to Neolithic times and describes how an alphabet might have been devised. A stranger came upon a man and his small daughter, and the little girl thought she could send a message back to her mother by the stranger. Her message consisted of ‘pictures' scratched on birch bark, but unhappily the pictures were completely misunderstood, with sad consequences for the stranger. As a result of this misadventure, the little girl started to draw signs to represent sounds, and in a short time with the help of her father produced an alphabet —it may seem curious that this alphabet should consist of the very letters used in modern English, but any other would clearly be pointless in a child‘s story written in English. Kipling must have realized when he wrote these two fascinating little stories, one showing the inadequacy of the picture language, and the other purporting to describe the origins of writing, the natural attraction of signs and symbols for children. The simplicity of the symbol in contrast with the complexity of a pictorial representation for conveying a message has always attracted children, and in these stories he gives the child struggling with the alphabet something tangible on which to base the written characters it is trying to recognize and reproduce.

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