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    Campus & Community

    The Tower’s ancient alphabets

    By Marsha Miller
    Marsha Miller
    Published: Sept. 3, 2010

    When then-Harvard University Professor John Huehnergard and his wife and colleague Jo Ann Hackett first visited The University of Texas at Austin last spring, they couldn’t help but notice the ancient Phoenician and Hebrew letters that adorn the Tower. After all, Hackett, a Hebrew scholar, and Huehnergard, who teaches Semitic linguistics and writing systems, have a natural curiosity for language.

    Upon closer inspection, they discovered what generations of students have seen: five different gold-leafed alphabets — Egyptian hieroglyphics (although technically not considered an alphabet), Phoenician, Hebrew, Greek and Latin — totaling 113 letters on the 73-year-old building.

    When the couple joined The University of Texas at Austin’s Department of Middle Eastern Studies in fall 2009, Huehnergard began to think about the letters again.

    In this photo slideshow, Professor Huehnergard describes the letters that appear on the university’s Tower.

    • Quote 2
      Julee Isaac said on Sept. 14, 2010 at 3:14 p.m.
      I couldn't help but wonder why these lovely letters are being allowed to deteriorate. Could something be done? (Perhaps I don't see the big picture,)
    • Quote 2
      Patrick J. Carroll said on Sept. 6, 2010 at 11:57 a.m.
      I enjoyed the story of the writing systems on the UT Tower. I've wondered about their origin for a long time. I have only a little quibble about a single word. You show Egyptian hieroglyphics as appearing prior to the 4th Century BC. This is correct, but I suspect it is not what you intended to write. The Egyptian hieroglyphics appeared (by most accounts) shortly after the Sumerian cuneiform script in the 5th MILLENNIUM BC. Changing "century" to "millennium" gives coherence to your illustration of the tower with the writing systems "in chronological order." The same error occurs in your slideshow. Details aside, thanks for the interesting bit of UT history!
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