Let's Talk About Elder Futhark

As much fun as graduate school is, it can be difficult to keep your focus through class. I especially have a hard time with zoning out in a music history class filled with fellow students who need to be told again what a Neapolitan chord is or how Sonata-Allegro form works. (Come on!)

Tracing of the Möjbro Runestone
in Eldar Futhark
But my reaction in these trying times is not to sit in pouty, disgruntled angst, nor to slip into lethargic oblivion. No. If you have any time to kill and you aren't learning anything new, you might as well learn something else on your own! Ideally you want something that can be adapted to the situation and not be insulting to your professors. So, even if you already know what the Ordinary of the Mass consists of, take notes on it... in another alphabet.

My love of languages and alphabets was undoubtedly inspired by the amazing mind of my brother Nathan. He started learning kione Greek in elementary school and I, probably with a mixture of competitiveness and admiration, tried doing it too. (θεος εν πετρος!?!) He even went so far as to use this technique to take notes (in Tolkien's Tengwar) when he was in Basic Training for the Air Force, but that was more for the purpose of keeping sane and grounded in a difficult, demoralizing situation. We even had a brief stint at learning Gregg Shorthand when we had a Language Club in Jr. High. (It consisted of myself, Nathan, and my cousin Sarah. I shamelessly put it on my college apps.)

My linguistic passions (Jessica calls me a "language whore") have spread far and wide since those days and I constantly revel in practicing my German, or French, or Gaelic, or Russian, usually by reading folk stories. In terms of alphabets I could use for note taking, I can read, very slowly, in Cyrillic, but if I'm going to be writing in it, I'd like to be writing Russian words, not English.

My boredom solution therefore has fallen upon the alphabet used by the northern Germanic speaking peoples of the 2nd to 8th centuries: Elder Futhark. Anyone wanting to learn anything about this, or any other alphabet, should check out the impressive collection at omniglot.com. Here's the standard table below. It's pretty close to English in some respects, especially the F, S, R, B, and A. P is way out in left field, NG and TH are handy, but E makes for some incredible confusion. The alphabet is very simple and perfect for that student looking for the next first challenge in multi-graphetic note-taking!

Elder Futhark

Since there are only 24 runes here, you have to tweak it a bit to get it to fit with modern English. My transliteration paradigm is not structured. The phrase "so many voracious foxes devoured St. Plinctus" may turn into the Futhark equivalent of "so manï forazus foksez defowerd sant plinktus." (I like the symbol for ï better than that for i. It's just prettier.) If I ever want to go over my notes later, it takes a bit of imagination to remember the topic and decipher the sounds and words.

The wiki article states that the invention of the script most likely had a playful, graffiti-type function! If nothing else, I'm staying awake in class and having fun!

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