From Greek to Latin: Visualizing the Evolution of the Alphabet
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From Greek to Latin: Visualizing the Evolution of the Alphabet

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Visualizing the Evolution of the Alphabet

From Greek to Latin: Visualizing the Evolution of the Alphabet

Over the course of 2021, the Greek alphabet was a major part of the news cycle.

COVID-19 variants, which are labeled with Greek letters when becoming a variant of concern, normalized their usage. From the Alpha variant in the UK, to the Delta variant that spread from India to become the dominant global strain, the Greek alphabet was everywhere. Seemingly overnight, the Omicron variant discovered in South Africa has now taken the mantle as the most discussed variant.

But the Greek alphabet is used in other parts of our lives as well. For example, Greek letters are commonly used in mathematics and science, like Sigma (Σ) denoting a sum or Lambda (λ) used to represent the half-life of radioactive material.

And the study of linguistics shows us why using Greek letters in English isn’t completely farfetched. This visualization from Matt Baker at UsefulCharts.com demonstrates how the modern Latin script used in English evolved from Greek, and other, alphabets.

It’s All Proto-Sinaitic to Me

Before there was English, or Latin, or even Greek, there was Proto-Sinaitic.

Considered the first alphabet ever used, the Proto-Sinaitic script was derived in Canaan, around the biblical Land of Israel. It was repurposed from Egyptian hieroglyphs that were commonly seen in the area (its name comes from Mount Sinai), and used to describe sounds instead of meanings.

Proto-Sinaitic Letter (Reconstructed Name)Original Meaning
ʾalpox
baythouse
gaml throwstick
dagfish
haw/hillulpraise
waw/uphfowl
zayn/zaytoxhide ingot/sword
ḏiqqmanacle
ḥaṣr courtyard
ḫaytthread
ṭab good
yadhand
kappalm
lamdgoad
maymwater
naḥašsnake
ṡamkpeg
ʿayneye
ġabicalyx
pʿitcorner
ṣadayplant
qobaneedle/nape/monkey
raʾšhead
šimšsun
śadehfield
ṯannbow
tāwmark

As the first Semitic script, Proto-Sinaitic soon influenced other Semitic languages. It was the precursor to the Phoenician alphabet, which was used in the area of modern-day Lebanon and spread across the Mediterranean and became the basis for Arabic, Cyrillic, Hebrew, and of course, Greek.

Evolving into the Greek, Roman, and Latin Alphabets

Over time, the alphabet continued to become adopted and evolve across different languages.

The first forms of the Archaic Greek script are dated circa 750 BCE. Many of the letters remained in Modern Greek, including Alpha, Beta, Delta, and even Omicron, despite first appearing more than 2,500 years ago.

Soon the Greek alphabet (and much of its culture) was borrowed into Latin, with Archaic Latin script appearing circa 500 BCE. The evolution into Roman script, with the same recognizable letters used in modern English, occurred 500 years later in 1 CE.

AlphabetUsage (Year)
Proto-Sinaitic~ 1,750 BCE
Phoenician~ 1,000 BCE
Archaic Greek~ 750 BCE
Archaic Latin~ 500 BCE
Roman~ 1 CE
Modern LatinToday

Many of the letters which first came from Egyptian hieroglyphs made their way into modern English, but they took a long and convoluted journey. As the graphic above highlights, some letters evolved into multiple forms, while others fell out of use entirely.

And this is just a snapshot of the many scripts and languages that the modern English alphabet evolved from. Lowercase letters came from Roman cursive, which evolved into the Insular and Carolingian scripts before becoming modern lowercase English.

Like many things in the long arc of human culture, alphabets are not as far removed from each other as you might think.

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Misc

Visualizing Two Decades of Reported Hate Crimes in the U.S.

Hate crimes across the U.S. have been on the rise since 2014. Here’s a look at the most common types of offenses over the years.

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Two Decades of Hate Crimes in the U.S.

Visualizing Two Decades of Reported Hate Crimes in the U.S.

Across the U.S., thousands of hate crimes are committed each year, with many different motivating biases.

In 2020 alone, more than 10,000 unique hate crime incidents were reported to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI)—and it’s likely that thousands more were committed that didn’t get reported to law enforcement.

What are the most commonly reported motivating biases, and how have hate crime rates evolved over the years? This graphic uses data from the FBI to visualize two decades of reported hate crime incidents across America.

What is Considered a Hate Crime?

Before diving in, it’s important to determine what constitutes a hate crime.

According to the U.S. Department of Justice, a hate crime is a crime that’s “committed on the basis of the victim’s perceived or actual race, color, religion, national origin, sexual orientation, gender, gender identity, or disability.”

These types of crimes are a threat to society, as they have a broader impact on communities than other types of crimes do. This is because hate crimes can foster fear and intimidate large groups of people or marginalized communities, making them feel unwelcome, unsafe, or othered.

Hate Crimes on the Rise

Hate crimes have been rising across the U.S. in nearly every year since 2014. By 2020, reported crimes across America reached record-level highs not seen in over two decades.

YearNumber of Reported Incidents% Change (y-o-y)
2001973018.4%
20027485-23.1%
200375450.8%
200476851.9%
20057411-3.6%
200677154.1%
20077625-1.2%
200880395.4%
20096613-17.7%
201066330.3%
20116299-5.0%
201265944.7%
20136044-8.3%
20145599-7.4%
201558714.9%
201662766.9%
2017732116.7%
20187170-2.1%
2019789210.1%
20201029930.5%

And sadly, these figures are likely a vast undercount. Law enforcement submit this data to the FBI of their own volition, and in 2020, thousands of agencies did not submit their crime statistics.

Race-Related Hate Crimes are Most Common

Historically, the most reported hate crimes in the U.S. are related to race. In 2020, about 66% of incidents were motivated by discrimination against the victim’s race or ethnicity.

Type of BiasTotal Number of Crimes (2020)% of Total
Race/Ethnicity679366.0%
Religion162615.8%
Sexual Orientation131112.7%
Other5695.5%
Total10299--

While race is the most commonly reported hate crime, incidents related to gender and gender identity are on the rise—in 2020, there was a 9% increase in gender-related incidents, and a 34% increase in gender identity-related incidents, compared to 2019 figures.

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Science

Visualizing the Relationship Between Cancer and Lifespan

New research links mutation rates and lifespan. We visualize the data supporting this new framework for understanding cancer.

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Cancer and lifespan

A Newfound Link Between Cancer and Aging?

A new study in 2022 reveals a thought-provoking relationship between how long animals live and how quickly their genetic codes mutate.

Cancer is a product of time and mutations, and so researchers investigated its onset and impact within 16 unique mammals. A new perspective on DNA mutation broadens our understanding of aging and cancer development—and how we might be able to control it.

Mutations, Aging, and Cancer: A Primer

Cancer is the uncontrolled growth of cells. It is not a pathogen that infects the body, but a normal body process gone wrong.

Cells divide and multiply in our bodies all the time. Sometimes, during DNA replication, tiny mistakes (called mutations) appear randomly within the genetic code. Our bodies have mechanisms to correct these errors, and for much of our youth we remain strong and healthy as a result of these corrective measures.

However, these protections weaken as we age. Developing cancer becomes more likely as mutations slip past our defenses and continue to multiply. The longer we live, the more mutations we carry, and the likelihood of them manifesting into cancer increases.

A Biological Conundrum

Since mutations can occur randomly, biologists expect larger lifeforms (those with more cells) to have greater chances of developing cancer than smaller lifeforms.

Strangely, no association exists.

It is one of biology’s biggest mysteries as to why massive creatures like whales or elephants rarely seem to experience cancer. This is called Peto’s Paradox. Even stranger: some smaller creatures, like the naked mole rat, are completely resistant to cancer.

This phenomenon motivates researchers to look into the genetics of naked mole rats and whales. And while we’ve discovered that special genetic bonuses (like extra tumor-suppressing genes) benefit these creatures, a pattern for cancer rates across all other species is still poorly understood.

Cancer May Be Closely Associated with Lifespan

Researchers at the Wellcome Sanger Institute report the first study to look at how mutation rates compare with animal lifespans.

Mutation rates are simply the speed at which species beget mutations. Mammals with shorter lifespans have average mutation rates that are very fast. A mouse undergoes nearly 800 mutations in each of its four short years on Earth. Mammals with longer lifespans have average mutation rates that are much slower. In humans (average lifespan of roughly 84 years), it comes to fewer than 50 mutations per year.

The study also compares the number of mutations at time of death with other traits, like body mass and lifespan. For example, a giraffe has roughly 40,000 times more cells than a mouse. Or a human lives 90 times longer than a mouse. What surprised researchers was that the number of mutations at time of death differed only by a factor of three.

Such small differentiation suggests there may be a total number of mutations a species can collect before it dies. Since the mammals reached this number at different speeds, finding ways to control the rate of mutations may help stall cancer development, set back aging, and prolong life.

The Future of Cancer Research

The findings in this study ignite new questions for understanding cancer.

Confirming that mutation rate and lifespan are strongly correlated needs comparison to lifeforms beyond mammals, like fishes, birds, and even plants.

It will also be necessary to understand what factors control mutation rates. The answer to this likely lies within the complexities of DNA. Geneticists and oncologists are continuing to investigate genetic curiosities like tumor-suppressing genes and how they might impact mutation rates.

Aging is likely to be a confluence of many issues, like epigenetic changes or telomere shortening, but if mutations are involved then there may be hopes of slowing genetic damage—or even reversing it.

While just a first step, linking mutation rates to lifespan is a reframing of our understanding of cancer development, and it may open doors to new strategies and therapies for treating cancer or taming the number of health-related concerns that come with aging.

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