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Guest Blogger Merrill Wasser on The Alphabet: A Mundane Topic?

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photo of Merrill Wasser

Today’s guest blogger is a cousin of mine, Merrill Rose Wasser. She lived in Kunming for about a year while on a Fulbright Scholarship, researching ethnic minority handicrafts and their commercialization in relation to tourism (often Chinese government-sponsored tourism). She spent most of her research time in Western Yunnan, along the Myanmar border. Yunnan province, in southwest China, has over 25 officially recognized minority groups, and was therefore a fitting location for this type of anthropological study.

You will want to check out her travel blog which intelligently (and hilariously) depicts all the amazing experiences she’s collected from August 2009 until June 2010. She did it all: from losing her Passport to getting scratched by monkeys. From getting crazy sick on a wild bus ride to visiting a Little People colony.

Merrill currently lives in Hong Kong and works in digital advertising.

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We eat alphabet soup. We sing the alphabet song. Little children learn to scrawl the letters out on lined paper in kindergarten class, and go home to their ecstatic parents who tape up the ugly, uneven lines on the refrigerator and coo over the achievement. I personally remember practicing my letters at home (somewhere between the ages of 6 and 8 years old), and even recall a serious spelling altercation at age 6, when I vehemently stood by my claim that the word “from” was spelled f-o-r-m.

But when we sit down and think of it, isn’t learning to spell an exciting, and even intriguing activity? Even more fascinating is the way people spell in different countries.

Google Images

Take China, for example.

There’s no alphabet in Chinese.

Just characters.

Each character is made up of a collection of symbols with recurring themes and meanings.

One character is one word.

And to those of us who are born and raised in the west, learning to read and write a native language without an alphabet is a seriously intimidating and amazing feat.

So the next time you think about the alphabet, remind yourself of just how powerful the human brain is. To us in the West, it’s just the alphabet – prevalent everywhere, even in our soup. But in the grand scheme of things, it’s just one part of the world’s way of expressing communication in writing and passing it down through generations.

Do you have a favorite letter of the alphabet above? Which character do you love? Tell me why!