Did you know that English wasn’t always written in the Roman alphabet? It was originally written in runes, like other old Germanic languages. Then for a long time it could be written in either script. Manuscripts were usually written in the Roman alphabet, while inscriptions were done in runes, which are a type of writing made to be carved. That’s why there aren’t curves in runic letters. That’s also why there aren’t horizontal lines, which are hard to carve across the grain. Unlike Roman letters, runes each have their own meaning as a letter, as well as being able to form words phonetically.
I shared all this with my students when we were learning about the history of English at the beginning of the year. Later on, I asked them what some of their writing goals for the year were, and in one class several of the kids wanted to become fluent in runes. Yep. Fluent in runes.
So we’re learning our runes. I introduce a rune at the beginning of the day, and students are welcome to substitute it for its equivalent letter. They are also welcome to translate their poetry into runes. I don’t expect everyone to end up fluent in runes, but the kids who are excited about them will have a chance to run with it.
I’m excited about this not only because the kids are excited, but because I think runes are fascinating. They are a form of writing in which the written word is that much closer to the real world. Letters named after real things, letters that look like real things, letters meant to be carved physically into things — as a believer in the meaningfulness of language, I think this is really cool. So wish us luck with the project!
Want to hear more of Becca’s thoughts about teaching writing? Come to one of her upcoming free talks in the greater Seattle area.