Oppose Structuralism

            At the beginning of the semester Professor McCoy exposed the class to the quote “it is incredible that a sentence is ever understood” by Percival Everett. This quote became the steppingstone for my curiosity about different types of alphabets and the “ABC” order we so religiously follow in English speaking countries. I began to wonder if it was necessary, considering the vast differences in other alphabets and languages. Everett seems to play with this idea of opposing alphabetical order in his book of poems, re: f(gesture), in the first section titled “Zulus” he writes a poem for each letter, but in specific poems the letter correlates with a word not beginning with that letter. Everett along with other languages pushes this idea of the purposelessness in alphabetical order; both promoting this idea of getting the message across without having to write in the chronological order everyone expects and defying the structures set into place by people and time.

            The English alphabet has a specific order in which we follow strictly in our education system, in dictionaries, attendance rastas, and in seating arrangements. The English alphabet started with the Proto-Sinitic people who developed a specific writing style in Egypt between 1800 and 1900 BC. Using this as a foundation, the first widely used alphabet was created by the Phoenician’s, seven hundred years later. Followed by the Greeks, Latin, and Romans who would use the Phoenician’s alphabet to create their own versions. The Latins combined their version of the alphabet with the Etruscan language and adding the characters “F” and “S”, but by the third century the Roman alphabet, derived from the Latin alphabet, would be so developed that it looked similar to the one we use in modern-day English.  Looking at other alphabets that have derived from the Phoenician alphabet that today looks vastly different from when they started off. For example, the Ethiopian languages, Amharic, Tigrinya, and Ge’ez, use a writing system that is in a different order and we still understand them today. Also, the Greek alphabet does not use alphabetical order even though it is taken from the same source. It seems to be such an arbitrary order to have to follow for the rest of your life without knowing why.

            When looking up other languages alphabets in google it is shown to the searcher in English ABC order. For instance, the Greek alphabet is not in the same order as the English and it does not have letters such as “h”, so my name, for example, Sarah would be spelled without the “h” in Greek. Some other differences between the languages are that there are seven vowels in Greek and only five in. In Greek, you can read a passage without knowing the language because the letters sound the same but this is not true for English because in different words letters make different sounds. Even though some letters that we have are none existent in Greek we find a way to communicate with them and learn from them. Comparing both alphabets and languages it can be determined that order does not matter, but the idea of a sentence being understood in any language especially if it is translated reiterates my belief that Percival Everett is pushing forward, the ordering is arbitrary as long as the point the speaker is making is clear even if it’s not in chronological order.  

            Another example of ABC order is in Percival Everett’s “re: f(gesture)”, a book of poetry. The first set of poems uses the letters of the alphabet and bases the structure of the poem around it; however, in some of the poems the letters are not correlated with the words at all. For example, on page 15 the Everett writes “So, A is for Solomon”, in this line he addresses the wit of Solomon and then returns back to the letter “A” by talking about Aristotle and Plato. In doing so Everett’s shows his readers that it is alright to stray from the strict guidelines as long as they are connected; all the men are connected by their intelligence. Along with this in his “G” dedication poem he writes “G is for sodomy” (p21), at the beginning of the poem he talks about Zeus who is seen as a sex figure and the word sodomy means sexual intercourse involving anal or oral copulation. Again, Everett comes back to the bigger idea of his poem; as I’ve interpreted it as focusing on the Greek god Zeus.  

            After reading these poems Everett makes it clear that he believes in not following these preset guidelines but making sure his points relate back to his central topic. Looking at the Greek language as a prime example of this, the difference in the way they speak and write their alphabet. These differences serve as a link to Everett’s quote, “it is incredible that a sentence is ever understood”; these differences add to a sense of objectivity to predisposed rules as shown through Everett’s book and the other alphabets.

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