I. LITERAL CHARACTERS, including all such as are used for denoting language in general.
These may be distinguished into alphabetic charac ters, used for denoting the elemental sounds of lan guage, and, by combination, expressing all the varieties of words ; and real characters, employed or intended as the signs of things or ideas independent of sounds. For a full account of both, in regard to their nature, origin. and use, see ALPHABET. Of these two kinds of charac ter, alphabetic characters are by far most generally in use. The adoption of the real or ideal characters ap pears to be confined to the Chinese, or the nations im mediately connected with China. Judging no less from reason than experience, we are fully warranted in assert ing the immense superiority of alphabetic writing.
The form of alphabetic characters differs much among different people. The Hebrew, or some of its kindred dialects, may probably claim the highest antiquity ; from its cognate the Phoenician, arose the old Pelasgic and Grecian alphabets ; from these was formed the Latin character, in common use through the greater part of Europe to the present day. The Syriac, Chaldee, and Arabic character, were evidently formed from the ancient Hebrew, which was in use before the Babylonish cap tivity, and is still found on some medals, commonly termed Samaritan. The square Hebrew at present in use, was only introduced among the Jews subsequent tc' the captivity. The Greek character, in more ancient times, consisted entirely of majuscule letters, or capi tals ; and it is this mode of writing alone which is found in all the ancient inscriptions and medals, as well as in those manuscripts that are not of modern date. The smaller Greek character is comparatively a recent inven tion. Medalists observe, that the Greek character pre served its uniformity down to the time of Gallienus, after which it appears weaker and rounder. From the time of Constantine to Michael, the Latin character chiefly prevails ; the Greek characters then recom mence, though altered, in some respects like the lan guage, by the mixture of Latin. The Latin medals preserved their character, as well as language, till the translation of the empire to Constantinople. Before the time of Decius, the Latin character began to lose its roundness and beauty ; and after the time of Justin gradually degenerated into the Gothic. The modern European character, formed from the Latin, is too well known to require any particular notice. It is used in most parts of Europe. The Germans, however, have a peculiar character, compounded of the Gothic and Latin ; but of late, even among them, the Roman character used in the other European countries has been gaining ground, and may probably in time supersede the other. The modern Greeks still adhere to the proper Greek charac ter; and the Russians make use of a character of their own, formed in part from the Greek capitals, though in several of the letters considerably altered.t The Orien
tal alphabets are numerous, and their characters ex tremely diversified. The figures of the letters arc fre quently coniplicated and inelegant, and may, in general, be pronounced inferior, both for beauty and convenience, to the ancient Greek or the nnidern European charac ter. Specimens of different kinds of character, as well ancient as modern, are given under the article already referred to.
The REAL. CHARACTER. is constructed on different principles from the alphabetic. The object of the latter is to express, by figures, the fundamental sounds of speech, separately, or in their various combinations. The object of the former, or real character, is to express only things or' ideas, without regard to the particular sounds by which these arc communicated in speech, so that persons, whose oral language is totally dissimilar, may, by the use of this species of character, at once understand and communicate with each other, though their speech may be mutually unintelligible. Such is actually the case with the written characters of the Chinese and Japanese ; and such, though in a more limited degree, is the case in regard to the numeral characters of the inhabitants of modern Europe. For an account of the REAL CHARACTER, see the above men tioned article ALVIIABET.
The only people among whom the real character ap pears to have conic into actual use, are tire Chinese, and those immediately connected with them ; Ibr the Egyp tian hieroglyphics cannot be said to belong to this class. Judging from the progress of knowledge and state of society among these nations where the real character' prevails, we should not be inclined to estimate very highly the benefits of this mode of communication. Yet some ingenious philosophers have attempted to devise, and bring into use, such a mode of writing. One of the most celebrated of these attempts is that of Bishop Wilkins, in his Essay towards the formation of a real Character and Philosophical Language. 1\1. Leibnitz projected something of a similar nature, under the title of what he termed an .4lphabet of human Thoughts, but he never completed his scheme. 1\1. Lodovic, in the Philosophical Transactions, proposed a plan of an univer sal alphabet or character ; and in the Journal Litcrairc for the year 1720, the formation of an universal charatter is suggested, by the application of the Arabic nitmerals in various combinations. None of these schemes, how ever ingenious in structure, have been found applicable to purposes of practical utility. It is not difficult to devise a new character, but to bring it into use will probably always be found impracticable ; and even if it were practicable, the advantage of it is extremely puts