I am a man of many interests, some strange others not so strange. Maybe they are signs of all things Asbergerian or perhaps not. I’ve had an interest in languages since childhood, especially ones with unusual writing systems. When I was a boy, I taught myself how to read Russian, Greek, and Hebrew. The Hebrew never went as far as it should have, because I am still really slow at it and if the texts do not have vowel markings, I’m sort of lost. For those who don’t know what I’m talking about, Hebrew and Arabic have some things in common. They are both Afro-Asiatic languages and both Semitic languages. Both are read from right to left. Both also have an annoying tendency to write without vowels. The structure of the languages permits native and proficient speakers, of which I am not by a long shot, to decode the meanings of texts even without the presence of vowels.
Anyhow, the topic of cursive is again in the news. In Indiana it is optional for schools to decide whether or not cursive should be taught. Some Indiana legislators are proposing legislation requiring cursive to be taught in all public schools in the State of Indiana.
English cursive is not taught in Korea. It would make my life much easier if I could use when grading students’ homework, but I can’t. I may as well be writing in Russian, Hebrew, or Greek. My students simply cannot read it. Handwritten Korean is another thing all together and it took me a while to figure out how to read the various scrawls I’ve seen. I’ve tried to make my own handwriting more Korean. After all these years, it still looks like a foreigner trying to write Korean. It looks more Korean now, but seeing as my own English handwriting is fairly unique, it has carried over into my Korean and Chinese writing. At least it’s legible!
Germany had two forms of cursive, both of which are equally frightening. Those who have to pore through old German documents will understand this better than most. Until the 20th century, all German books were printed to look like this. Here are a couple of examples of German cursive. First is Kurrentschrift as seen on a municipal children’s home in Esslingen am Neckar, Baden-Württemburg, Germany. In the early 20th century, some reforms to Kurrentschrift were proposed and Sütterlinschrift came into being. This example comes from a sugar ad from the period. Sütterlinschrift, devised by Ludwig Sütterlin, is a simplified version of the older Kurrentschrift.
Speaking of frightening things, there is a cursive form of Chinese writing. Here’s a good example of it. Chairman Mao, when he wasn’t ruling China with a vice-like grip, was an accomplished poet. One of poems, written about the city of Changsha, is engraved on a stone there. The engraving is taken from his own calligraphy. Mao had an encyclopedic knowledge of China’s literature. While he was trying to destroy the old China and bring a new one into being, he still loved the old China in some respects. His poems are often in traditional forms. Mao was educated at a time when China was undergoing cataclysmic changes. The Qing (Ch’ing) dynasty was fading quickly and the Republic of China came into being along with the regional warlords. He had studied in an old Confucian school where he mastered the Chinese classics, only to have that education come totally to naught when the Qing government announced the ending of the system of examinations by which one got a job as a state official. He entered the First Provincial Normal School in Changsha where he was trained as a teacher. Mao was born in nearby Shaoshan. He would later join the Communist Party at its first congress in Shanghai in 1921.