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Runic Alphabets
Runes are also called Futhark, which actually is an analogue to our "alphabet", in that f, u, th, a, r, and k are the first 6 Runic letters, while alpha and beta are the first 2 Greek letters. Why this order? It must have had some mneumonic function that was not preserved. (Just like why aleph, beth, and gimmel are the first 3 letters in Phoenician/Ugaritic). Runes have always been seen as possessive of mystical properties in the popular culture. Once in a while a fantasy computer game comes with puzzles written in runes. One reason behind this false conception is that fact that one possible etymology of the word rune is the Germanic word *run-, meaning "to conceal", "a secret".

This meaning be explained the following way: at first runes were used as a sacred writing system, and later became not only the magic, but also the civilian script. The first Runic inscriptions appeared around 200 AD, but its origins may lie much deeper in the pre-history of Northern Europe. A clue lies in the letter for æ. Since the very first Runic inscriptions this letter had been extraneous. It is never used in any texts because the sound [æ] (like in "sad") has disappeared at the time of the earliest surviving records, but it exists in the alphabet (that is, in a listing of all the letters it always appear). However, from linguistic reconstruction it seems that Proto-Germanic, the ancestor of various Germanic languages, had that vowel. So, if Futhark was adopted by a Proto-Germanic population in the first millenium BC, then the existence of the vowel [æ] can be explained.
For the next thousand years it was used in Germany, Scandinavia, England, and Lowlands, and only in late Middle Ages it was replaced by the Roman script everywhere in Northern Europe.

Runes usually were inscribed on metal, stone or wood boards, this is the reason for their strange sharp forms. The most ancient of the inscriptions found is the one from Norway written on the edge of the spear in about 200 AD. Since the alphabet, which was probably invented in Scandinavia, was spreading to the British Isles and to continental Europe, its symbols changed somehow, as well as the number of them. Modern science makes a distinction between the Elder Runes (up to the 9th century), and the later Younger Runes, or Scandinavian Runes. A speacial variety existed in Anglo-Saxon England from the 7th to the 10th century.

The Elder Runes, used mostly for magic purposes, contain many personal names and their lexicon is sometimes hard to understand, though the language is clear. We know about 150 runic inscriptions of this period, and some of them contain just one or two symbols. The Younger inscriptions are more numerous (about 3500), and are mostly documents written in particular Germanic languages.

Though the origin of Futhark is unknown, its connection with the alphabets of Southern Europe and the Mediterranean (Greek and Italic) is doubtless.

Languages which used the script: Germanic (Common Germanic, Old Norse, Old Swedish, Old Frisian, Old Frankish, Old Saxon, Old English, Old Frisian).


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