Tuesday, May 03, 2011

I can learn my ABCs

Devil Child came over for a visit with her parents and Chewie; as something to keep her occupied I gave her a large piece alphabet jigsaw puzzle to do. It didn't take her long, but then she started reciting "A,B,C,D..." a song which demonstrates its origins in that it only rhymes if you end it in "zee" instead of "zed".

With the jigsaw in front of her I asked if she could recite it backwards
"A, B, C, D..."
"No backwards starting here" pointing at Z
"A, B, C, D..."

"Like this" I then closed my eyes and went Z-A
"You did it wrong!"
"Did I miss one out?"
A chorus from the other family members all thought I'd done it correctly
"I did Y - Z, Y"
"No Y!"
"Yes Z, Y"
"No you start with Y"
"But Z is last"
"No it's not it's Y"
"So what is it in your song?"
"What is it in the puzzle?"
She points to the Y
"And what's that" I point to the Z
She looks, she huffs and storms out for a sulk.

However Little Miss Sulky isn't quite the point; it's why the rhyming song? What purpose does it serve?

Consider if I asked you to count in ascending order 1-26, then in descending order 26-1 how fluently you could do so. Now try it with A-Z and Z-A. I'm betting that the latter is one you have to stop and think about, but why?

[Want a shorter one? Try listing the vowels in 'order' and then reversing them]

Well numbers have a logical progression; it doesn't matter at what point anyone starts they can just add or subtract 1 each time; so long as they can recall their position it's not difficult. But the order of the alphabet is not logical; it has no meaning or relevance at all. The word "dot" doesn't exist because "t" comes after "o" comes after "d", because I can also write "dog". So why is this order repeatedly chanted to us during our early education?

To start with it can be said that it teaches children the entire alphabet, but that's not a very good argument because as I've said the alphabet in and of itself has no bearing on how we construct words and the individual letters are taught as part of teaching words.

It teaches the sounds to each letter. Except the rhyme doesn't. Rather than Ah, Buh Ceh, it goes A, B, C; and still the exact order means nothing.

So I'm left with the last reason. We arrange so much in alphabetical order that we need to know it. In other words we're taught that order because we use that order; and we use that order because that's an order we've been taught.

By itself that's fine, but why indoctrinate children with it at such an early age? Why not teach them letters as letters without any regard to each other and then show them how they have been arbitrarily arranged? Is the 'instant' recall a bonus over what I consider is a constriction of thought processes. I think not.


walkerno5 said...

I preferred a song by Big Bird on Sesame Street where you just sing the alphabet as if it were one word. It rocks. Pronounced something like;


Alphabetical order just works for filing, I agree there's no reason for it, it's just the way we've set the world up.

Also a very useful technique for remembering the layout of a standard keyboard;


Useful for pub quizzes and the like anyway!

FlipC said...

I dug up a video for it. Heh yeah it makes as much sense to treat the alphabet as just one word as anything else.

Imagine though we had an alphabet that matched the current sounds, but the shape of which was logical; say all the vowels represented by a circle with a dot, upwards line, right-hand line, downwards line, left-hand line; then all the consonants as a V with dot etc; < etc. ^ etc. > etc. that'd cover 25 of the letters. Learn the sounds with the shapes and the order makes more sense.

Sure the orientation (clockwise) is arbitrary, but the pattern is logical forwards and backwards and malleable as it can be split into each OV<^> group or by every dot, line.

But hey what you can expect from evolution :-)