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An alphabet is a standardized set of basic written
symbols A symbol is a mark, sign, or word In linguistics, a word of a spoken language can be defined as the smallest sequence of phonemes that can be uttered in isolation with semantic, objective or pragmatics, practical meaning (linguistics), meanin ...

symbols
or
graphemes In linguistics Linguistics is the science, scientific study of language. It encompasses the analysis of every aspect of language, as well as the methods for studying and modeling them. The traditional areas of linguistic analysis include ...
(called
letters Letter, letters, or literature may refer to: Characters typeface * Letter (alphabet) A letter is a segmental symbol A symbol is a mark, sign, or word that indicates, signifies, or is understood as representing an idea, Object (philosophy ...
) that represent the
phoneme In phonology and linguistics, a phoneme is a unit of sound that distinguishes one word from another in a particular language. For example, in most List of dialects of English, dialects of English, with the notable exception of the West Midlan ...
s of certain
spoken language A spoken language is a language A language is a structured system of communication Communication (from Latin Latin (, or , ) is a classical language belonging to the Italic languages, Italic branch of the Indo-European languages. La ...
s. Not all
writing system A writing system is a method of visually representing verbal communication Communication (from Latin Latin (, or , ) is a classical language A classical language is a language A language is a structured system of communic ...
s represent language in this way; in a
syllabary In the linguistic Linguistics is the scientific study of language A language is a structured system of communication used by humans, including speech (spoken language), gestures (Signed language, sign language) and writing. Most langu ...
, each character represents a
syllable A syllable is a unit of organization for a sequence of speech sounds. It is typically made up of a syllable nucleus (most often a vowel A vowel is a Syllable, syllabic speech sound pronounced without any stricture in the vocal tract. Vowels a ...

syllable
, for instance, and logographic systems use characters to represent words,
morphemes A morpheme is the smallest meaningful lexical itemIn lexicography, a lexical item (or lexical unit / LU, lexical entry) is a single word, a part of a word, or a chain of words ( catena) that forms the basic elements of a language's lexicon A l ...
, or other semantic units. The first fully phonemic script, the
Proto-Canaanite script Proto-Canaanite is the name given to :(a) the Proto-Sinaitic script when found in Canaan, that dates from around the 7th century BC and later. :(b) a hypothetical ancestor of the Phoenician script before some cut-off date, typically 1050 BCE, with ...
, later known as the
Phoenician alphabet The Phoenician alphabet is an alphabet An alphabet is a standardized set of basic written symbols A symbol is a mark, sign, or word In linguistics, a word of a spoken language can be defined as the smallest sequence of phonemes t ...

Phoenician alphabet
, is considered to be the first alphabet, and is the ancestor of most modern alphabets, including
Arabic Arabic (, ' or , ' or ) is a Semitic language The Semitic languages are a branch of the Afroasiatic language family originating in the Middle East The Middle East is a list of transcontinental countries, transcontinental region ...

Arabic
,
Cyrillic The Cyrillic script ( ) is a writing system used for various languages across Eurasia and is used as the national script in various Slavic languages, Slavic, Turkic languages, Turkic, Mongolic languages, Mongolic, Uralic languages, Uralic, Caucas ...
,
Greek#REDIRECT Greek Greek may refer to: Greece Anything of, from, or related to Greece Greece ( el, Ελλάδα, , ), officially the Hellenic Republic, is a country located in Southeast Europe. Its population is approximately 10.7 million as of ...

Greek
,
Hebrew Hebrew (, , or ) is a Northwest Semitic languages, Northwest Semitic language of the Afroasiatic languages, Afroasiatic language family. Historically, it is regarded as one of the spoken languages of the Israelites and their longest-survivi ...

Hebrew
,
Latin Latin (, or , ) is a classical language belonging to the Italic languages, Italic branch of the Indo-European languages. Latin was originally spoken in the area around Rome, known as Latium. Through the power of the Roman Republic, it became ...

Latin
, and possibly
Brahmic The Brahmic scripts, also known as Indic scripts, are a family of abugida writing systems. They are used throughout the Indian subcontinent, Southeast Asia and parts of East Asia, including Japan in the form of Siddhaṃ script, Siddhaṃ. T ...
. It was created by Semitic-speaking workers and slaves in the
Sinai Peninsula The Sinai Peninsula, or simply Sinai (now usually ) (, ), is a peninsula A peninsula ( la, paeninsula from 'almost' and 'island') is a landform A landform is a natural or artificial feature of the solid surface of the Earth or other ...

Sinai Peninsula
(as the
Proto-Sinaitic script Proto-Sinaitic (also referred to as Sinaitic, Proto-Canaanite when found in Canaan A 1692 map of Canaan, by Philip Lea Canaan (; Northwest Semitic Northwest Semitic, known as Syro-Palestinian in dialect geography, is a division of ...
), by selecting a small number of
hieroglyphs A hieroglyph (Greek Greek may refer to: Greece Anything of, from, or related to Greece Greece ( el, Ελλάδα, , ), officially the Hellenic Republic, is a country located in Southeast Europe. Its population is approximately 10.7 million ...
commonly seen in their to describe the sounds, as opposed to the semantic values, of their own
Canaanite language The Canaanite languages, or Canaanite dialects, are one of the three subgroups of the Northwest Semitic languages, the others being Aramaic Aramaic ( Classical Syriac: ''Arāmāyā''; Old Aramaic: ; Imperial Aramaic: ; square script ) ...
. Peter T. Daniels, however, distinguishes an
abugida An abugida (, from Ge'ez language, Ge'ez: አቡጊዳ), sometimes known as alphasyllabary, neosyllabary or pseudo-alphabet, is a segmental Writing systems#Segmental writing system, writing system in which consonant-vowel sequences are writt ...
or alphasyllabary, a set of graphemes that represent consonantal base letters which
diacritic A diacritic (also diacritical mark, diacritical point, diacritical sign, or accent) is a glyph The term glyph is used in typography File:metal movable type.jpg, 225px, Movable type being assembled on a composing stick using pieces that ...
s modify to represent vowels (as in
Devanagari Devanagari ( ; , , Sanskrit pronunciation: ), also called Nagari (),Kathleen Kuiper (2010), The Culture of India, New York: The Rosen Publishing Group, , page 83 is a left-to-right abugida, based on the ancient Brahmi script, ''Brāhmī'' sc ...

Devanagari
and other South Asian scripts), an
abjad An abjad () is a type of writing system A writing system is a method of visually representing verbal communication Communication (from Latin ''communicare'', meaning "to share" or "to be in relation with") is "an apparent answer to th ...

abjad
, in which letters predominantly or exclusively represent consonants (as in the original Phoenician,
Hebrew Hebrew (, , or ) is a Northwest Semitic languages, Northwest Semitic language of the Afroasiatic languages, Afroasiatic language family. Historically, it is regarded as one of the spoken languages of the Israelites and their longest-survivi ...

Hebrew
or
Arabic Arabic (, ' or , ' or ) is a Semitic language The Semitic languages are a branch of the Afroasiatic language family originating in the Middle East The Middle East is a list of transcontinental countries, transcontinental region ...

Arabic
), and an "alphabet", a set of graphemes that represent both
vowel A vowel is a syllabicSyllabic may refer to: *Syllable, a unit of speech sound, considered the building block of words **Syllabic consonant, a consonant that forms the nucleus of a syllable *Syllabary, writing system using symbols for syllables ...

vowel
s and
consonant In articulatory phonetics The field of articulatory phonetics is a subfield of phonetics that studies articulation and ways that humans produce speech. Articulatory phoneticians explain how humans produce speech sounds via the interaction of d ...
s. In this narrow sense of the word the first true alphabet was the
Greek alphabet The Greek alphabet has been used to write the Greek language since the late ninth or early eighth century BC. It is derived from the earlier Phoenician alphabet, and was the first alphabetic script in history to have distinct letters for vowels ...

Greek alphabet
, which was developed on the basis of the earlier
Phoenician alphabet The Phoenician alphabet is an alphabet An alphabet is a standardized set of basic written symbols A symbol is a mark, sign, or word In linguistics, a word of a spoken language can be defined as the smallest sequence of phonemes t ...

Phoenician alphabet
. Of the dozens of alphabets in use today, the most popular is the
Latin alphabet The Latin alphabet or Roman alphabet is the collection of letters originally used by the ancient Romans In historiography Historiography is the study of the methods of historian ( 484– 425 BC) was a Greek historian who lived ...

Latin alphabet
, which was derived from the
Greek#REDIRECT Greek Greek may refer to: Greece Anything of, from, or related to Greece Greece ( el, Ελλάδα, , ), officially the Hellenic Republic, is a country located in Southeast Europe. Its population is approximately 10.7 million as of ...

Greek
, and which many
language A language is a structured system of communication Communication (from Latin Latin (, or , ) is a classical language belonging to the Italic languages, Italic branch of the Indo-European languages. Latin was originally spoken in the ...

language
s modify by adding letters formed using diacritical marks. While most alphabets have letters composed of lines ( linear writing), there are also exceptions such as the alphabets used in
Braille Braille ( ; Braille: ⠃⠗⠇; ) is a tactile used by people who are . It is traditionally written with embossed paper. Braille users can read computer screens and other electronic supports using s. They can write braille with the original ...

Braille
. The Khmer alphabet (for Cambodian) is the longest, with 74 letters. Alphabets are usually associated with a standard ordering of letters. This makes them useful for purposes of
collation Collation is the assembly of written information into a standard order. Many systems of collation are based on numerical order or alphabetical order, or extensions and combinations thereof. Collation is a fundamental element of most office fili ...
, specifically by allowing words to be sorted in
alphabetical order Alphabetical order is a system whereby character string In computer programming Computer programming is the process of designing and building an executable computer program to accomplish a specific computing result or to perform a parti ...
. It also means that their letters can be used as an alternative method of "numbering" ordered items, in such contexts as numbered lists and number placements.


Etymology

The English word ''alphabet'' came into
Middle English Middle English (abbreviated to ME) was a form of the English language English is a West Germanic language of the Indo-European language family The Indo-European languages are a language family A language is a structured sys ...
from the
Late Latin Late Latin ( la, Latinitas serior) is the scholarly name for the written Latin Latin (, or , ) is a classical language belonging to the Italic branch of the Indo-European languages. Latin was originally spoken in the area around Rome, kn ...
word ''alphabetum'', which in turn originated in the
Greek#REDIRECT Greek Greek may refer to: Greece Anything of, from, or related to Greece Greece ( el, Ελλάδα, , ), officially the Hellenic Republic, is a country located in Southeast Europe. Its population is approximately 10.7 million as of ...
ἀλφάβητος (''alphabētos''). The Greek word was made from the first two letters, ''
alpha Alpha (uppercase , lowercase ; grc, ἄλφα, ''álpha'', modern pronunciation ''álfa'') is the first letter Letter, letters, or literature may refer to: Characters typeface * Letter (alphabet) A letter is a segmental symbol A s ...
''(α) and ''
beta Beta (, ; uppercase , lowercase , or cursive Cursive (also known as script, among other names) is any style of penmanship Penmanship is the technique of writing Writing is a medium of human communication that involves the represen ...
''(β). The names for the Greek letters came from the first two letters of the
Phoenician alphabet The Phoenician alphabet is an alphabet An alphabet is a standardized set of basic written symbols A symbol is a mark, sign, or word In linguistics, a word of a spoken language can be defined as the smallest sequence of phonemes t ...

Phoenician alphabet
; ''
aleph Aleph (or alef or alif, transliterated ʾ) is the first letter Letter, letters, or literature may refer to: Characters typeface * Letter (alphabet) A letter is a segmental symbol A symbol is a mark, sign, or word that indicates, sig ...

aleph
'', which also meant ''ox'', and ''
bet Black Entertainment Television (BET) is an American cable television Cable television is a system of delivering television programming to consumers via radio frequency (RF) signals transmitted through coaxial cables, or in more recent ...
'', which also meant ''house''. Sometimes, like in the
alphabet song An alphabet song is any of various songs used to teach children the alphabet. Alphabet songs typically recite the names of all letters of the alphabet of a given language in order. The A.B.C. (Verse 1) "The A.B.C." or "A.B.Cs" is one of t ...

alphabet song
in English, the term "ABCs" is used instead of the word "alphabet" (''Now I know my ABCs''...). "Knowing one's ABCs", in general, can be used as a
metaphor A metaphor is a figure of speech A figure of speech or rhetorical figure is a word or phrase that entails an intentional deviation from ordinary language use in order to produce a rhetoric Rhetoric () is the Art (skill), art of ...
for knowing the basics about anything.


History


Ancient Northeast African and Middle Eastern scripts

The history of the alphabet started in
ancient Egypt Ancient Egypt was a civilization  A civilization (or civilisation) is a that is characterized by , , a form of government, and systems of communication (such as ). Civilizations are intimately associated with additional char ...

ancient Egypt
. Egyptian writing had a set of some 24 hieroglyphs that are called uniliterals, to represent syllables that begin with a single
consonant In articulatory phonetics The field of articulatory phonetics is a subfield of phonetics that studies articulation and ways that humans produce speech. Articulatory phoneticians explain how humans produce speech sounds via the interaction of d ...
of their language, plus a vowel (or no vowel) to be supplied by the native speaker. These glyphs were used as pronunciation guides for
logogram In a written language A written language is the representation of a spoken or gestural language A language is a structured system of communication used by humans, including speech (spoken language), gestures (Signed language, sign lang ...
s, to write grammatical inflections, and, later, to transcribe loan words and foreign names. In the
Middle Bronze Age The Bronze Age is a prehistoric Periodization, period that was characterized by the use of bronze, in some areas proto-writing, and other early features of urban civilization. The Bronze Age is the second principal period of the Three-age syst ...
, an apparently "alphabetic" system known as the
Proto-Sinaitic script Proto-Sinaitic (also referred to as Sinaitic, Proto-Canaanite when found in Canaan A 1692 map of Canaan, by Philip Lea Canaan (; Northwest Semitic Northwest Semitic, known as Syro-Palestinian in dialect geography, is a division of ...
appears in Egyptian turquoise mines in the
Sinai peninsula The Sinai Peninsula, or simply Sinai (now usually ) (, ), is a peninsula A peninsula ( la, paeninsula from 'almost' and 'island') is a landform A landform is a natural or artificial feature of the solid surface of the Earth or other ...

Sinai peninsula
dated to circa the 15th century BC, apparently left by Canaanite workers. In 1999, John and Deborah Darnell discovered an even earlier version of this first alphabet at Wadi el-Hol dated to circa 1800 BC and showing evidence of having been adapted from specific forms of Egyptian hieroglyphs that could be dated to circa 2000 BC, strongly suggesting that the first alphabet had been developed about that time. Based on letter appearances and names, it is believed to be based on Egyptian hieroglyphs. This script had no characters representing vowels, although originally it probably was a syllabary, but unneeded symbols were discarded. An alphabetic
cuneiform Cuneiform is a Logogram, logo-Syllabary, syllabic writing system, script that was used to write several languages of the Ancient Near East. The script was in active use from the early Bronze Age until the beginning of the Common Era. It is nam ...

cuneiform
script with 30 signs including three that indicate the following vowel was invented in
Ugarit Ugarit (; uga, 𐎜𐎂𐎗𐎚, ''ʼUgart''; ar, أُوغَارِيت ''Ūġārīt'' or ''Ūǧārīt''; he, אוּגָרִית ''Ugarit'') was an ancient port city in northern Syria, in the outskirts of modern Latakia, discovered by accident ...

Ugarit
before the 15th century BC. This script was not used after the destruction of Ugarit. The Proto-Sinaitic script eventually developed into the
Phoenician alphabet The Phoenician alphabet is an alphabet An alphabet is a standardized set of basic written symbols A symbol is a mark, sign, or word In linguistics, a word of a spoken language can be defined as the smallest sequence of phonemes t ...

Phoenician alphabet
, which is conventionally called "Proto-Canaanite" before c. 1050 BC. The oldest text in Phoenician script is an inscription on the sarcophagus of King
Ahiram The Ahiram sarcophagus (also spelled Ahirom, 𐤀𐤇𐤓𐤌 in Phoenician) was the sarcophagus of a Phoenicia Phoenicia () was an ancient Ancient history is the aggregate of past events Associated items dating to the Late Bronze Age ...

Ahiram
. This script is the parent script of all western alphabets. By the tenth century, two other forms can be distinguished, namely
CanaaniteCanaanite may refer to: *Canaan and Canaanite people, Semitic-speaking region and civilization in the Ancient Near East *Canaanite languages *Canaanite religion *Canaanites (movement), an early Israelite non-Zionist movement. {{disambig Language an ...
and
Aramaic Aramaic (Classical Syriac The Syriac language (; syc, / '), also known as Syriac Aramaic (''Syrian Aramaic'', ''Syro-Aramaic'') and Classical Syriac (in its literary and liturgical form), is an Aramaic Aramaic (Classical Syriac ...

Aramaic
. The Aramaic gave rise to the
Hebrew Hebrew (, , or ) is a Northwest Semitic languages, Northwest Semitic language of the Afroasiatic languages, Afroasiatic language family. Historically, it is regarded as one of the spoken languages of the Israelites and their longest-survivi ...

Hebrew
script. The
South Arabian alphabet The Ancient South Arabian script (Old South Arabian 𐩣𐩯𐩬𐩵 ''ms3nd''; modern ar, الْمُسْنَد ''musnad'') branched from the Proto-Sinaitic script in about the 9th century BCE. It was used for writing the Old South Arabian ...
, a sister script to the Phoenician alphabet, is the script from which the Ge'ez alphabet (an
abugida An abugida (, from Ge'ez language, Ge'ez: አቡጊዳ), sometimes known as alphasyllabary, neosyllabary or pseudo-alphabet, is a segmental Writing systems#Segmental writing system, writing system in which consonant-vowel sequences are writt ...
) is descended. Vowelless alphabets are called
abjad An abjad () is a type of writing system A writing system is a method of visually representing verbal communication Communication (from Latin ''communicare'', meaning "to share" or "to be in relation with") is "an apparent answer to th ...

abjad
s, currently exemplified in scripts including
Arabic Arabic (, ' or , ' or ) is a Semitic language The Semitic languages are a branch of the Afroasiatic language family originating in the Middle East The Middle East is a list of transcontinental countries, transcontinental region ...

Arabic
,
Hebrew Hebrew (, , or ) is a Northwest Semitic languages, Northwest Semitic language of the Afroasiatic languages, Afroasiatic language family. Historically, it is regarded as one of the spoken languages of the Israelites and their longest-survivi ...

Hebrew
, and
SyriacSyriac may refer to: *Syriac language, a dialect of Middle Aramaic * Syriac alphabet ** Syriac (Unicode block) ** Syriac Supplement * Neo-Aramaic languages also known as Syriac in most native vernaculars * Syriac Christianity, the churches using Syr ...
. The omission of vowels was not always a satisfactory solution and some "weak" consonants are sometimes used to indicate the vowel quality of a syllable (
matres lectionis ''Matres lectionis'' (from Latin Latin (, or , ) is a classical language belonging to the Italic languages, Italic branch of the Indo-European languages. Latin was originally spoken in the area around Rome, known as Latium. Through the power ...
). These letters have a dual function since they are also used as pure consonants. The Proto-Sinaitic or Proto-Canaanite script and the
Ugaritic script The Ugaritic writing system is a cuneiform Cuneiform is a Logogram, logo-Syllabary, syllabic writing system, script that was used to write several languages of the Ancient Near East. The script was in active use from the early Bronze Age unt ...
were the first scripts with a limited number of signs, in contrast to the other widely used writing systems at the time,
Cuneiform Cuneiform is a Logogram, logo-Syllabary, syllabic writing system, script that was used to write several languages of the Ancient Near East. The script was in active use from the early Bronze Age until the beginning of the Common Era. It is nam ...

Cuneiform
,
Egyptian hieroglyphs Egyptian hieroglyphs () were the formal writing system A writing system is a method of visually representing verbal communication Communication (from Latin ''communicare'', meaning "to share" or "to be in relation with") is "an apparent ...
, and
Linear B Linear B is a syllabic script that was used for writing Mycenaean Greek, the earliest attested form of Greek. The script predates the Greek alphabet The Greek alphabet has been used to write the Greek language since the late ninth or ...
. The Phoenician script was probably the first phonemic script and it contained only about two dozen distinct letters, making it a script simple enough for common traders to learn. Another advantage of Phoenician was that it could be used to write down many different languages, since it recorded words phonemically. The script was spread by the Phoenicians across the Mediterranean. In Greece, the script was modified to add vowels, giving rise to the ancestor of all alphabets in the West. It was the first alphabet in which vowels have independent letter forms separate from those of consonants. The Greeks chose letters representing sounds that did not exist in Greek to represent vowels. Vowels are significant in the Greek language, and the syllabical
Linear B Linear B is a syllabic script that was used for writing Mycenaean Greek, the earliest attested form of Greek. The script predates the Greek alphabet The Greek alphabet has been used to write the Greek language since the late ninth or ...
script that was used by the Mycenaean Greeks from the 16th century BC had 87 symbols, including 5 vowels. In its early years, there were many variants of the Greek alphabet, a situation that caused many different alphabets to evolve from it.


European alphabets

The
Greek alphabet The Greek alphabet has been used to write the Greek language since the late ninth or early eighth century BC. It is derived from the earlier Phoenician alphabet, and was the first alphabetic script in history to have distinct letters for vowels ...

Greek alphabet
, in its Euboean form, was carried over by Greek colonists to the Italian peninsula, where it gave rise to a variety of alphabets used to write the
Italic languages The Italic languages form a branch of the Indo-European The Indo-European languages are a language family native to western and southern Eurasia. It comprises most of the languages of Europe together with those of the northern Indian sub ...

Italic languages
. One of these became the
Latin alphabet The Latin alphabet or Roman alphabet is the collection of letters originally used by the ancient Romans In historiography Historiography is the study of the methods of historian ( 484– 425 BC) was a Greek historian who lived ...

Latin alphabet
, which was spread across Europe as the Romans expanded their empire. Even after the fall of the Roman state, the alphabet survived in intellectual and religious works. It eventually became used for the descendant languages of Latin (the
Romance languages The Romance languages, less commonly Latin or Neo-Latin languages, are the modern languages that evolved from Vulgar Latin Vulgar Latin, also known as Popular or Colloquial Latin, is non-literary Literature broadly is any collection of w ...

Romance languages
) and then for most of the other languages of Europe. Some adaptations of the Latin alphabet are augmented with ligatures, such as in
Danish Danish may refer to: * Something of, from, or related to the country of Denmark * A national or citizen of Denmark, also called a "Dane", see Demographics of Denmark * Danish people or Danes, people with a Danish ancestral or ethnic identity * Danis ...
and
Icelandic Icelandic refers to anything of, from, or related to Iceland and may refer to: *Icelandic people *Icelandic language *Icelandic alphabet *Icelandic cuisine See also

* Icelander (disambiguation) * Icelandic Airlines, a predecessor of Icelandai ...
and Ȣ in
Algonquian Algonquin or Algonquian—and the variation Algonki(a)n—may refer to: Indigenous peoples *Algonquian languages, a large subfamily of Native American languages in a wide swath of eastern North America from Canada to Virginia **Algonquin languag ...
; by borrowings from other alphabets, such as the
thorn Thorne or Thorns may refer to: Botany * Thorns, spines, and prickles, sharp structures on plants * Thorn, quickthorn or common hawthorn (''Crataegus monogyna'') Places * Thorn, Netherlands * Thorn, German name of Toruń, Poland * Thorn, Bedfor ...
þ in
Old English Old English (, ), or Anglo-Saxon, is the earliest recorded form of the English language English is a West Germanic language of the Indo-European language family The Indo-European languages are a language family A language ...
and
Icelandic Icelandic refers to anything of, from, or related to Iceland and may refer to: *Icelandic people *Icelandic language *Icelandic alphabet *Icelandic cuisine See also

* Icelander (disambiguation) * Icelandic Airlines, a predecessor of Icelandai ...
, which came from the
Futhark Runes are the letters Letter, letters, or literature may refer to: Characters typeface * Letter (alphabet), a written element of an alphabet * Letterform, a typographic term for alphabetical letter shapes * Rehearsal letter in an orchestral s ...
runes; and by modifying existing letters, such as the
eth Eth (, uppercase Letter case (or just case) is the distinction between the letters that are in larger uppercase or capitals (or more formally ''majuscule'') and smaller lowercase (or more formally ''minuscule'') in the written represe ...
ð of Old English and Icelandic, which is a modified ''d''. Other alphabets only use a subset of the Latin alphabet, such as Hawaiian, and
Italian Italian may refer to: * Anything of, from, or related to the country and nation of Italy ** Italians, an ethnic group or simply a citizen of the Italian Republic ** Italian language, a Romance language *** Regional Italian, regional variants of the ...

Italian
, which uses the letters ''j, k, x, y'' and ''w'' only in foreign words. Another notable script is
Elder Futhark The Elder Futhark (or Fuþark), also known as the Older Futhark, Old Futhark, or Germanic Futhark is the oldest form of the runic alphabets Runes are the letters in a set of related alphabet An alphabet is a standardized set of basic ...
, which is believed to have evolved out of one of the
Old Italic alphabet The Old Italic scripts are a family of similar ancient writing systems used in the Italy, Italian Peninsula between around 700 and 100 BC, for various languages spoken in that time and place. The most notable member is the Etruscan alphabet ...
s. Elder Futhark gave rise to a variety of alphabets known collectively as the
Runic alphabet Runes are the letters Letter, letters, or literature may refer to: Characters typeface * Letter (alphabet) A letter is a segmental symbol A symbol is a mark, sign, or word that indicates, signifies, or is understood as representing ...
s. The Runic alphabets were used for Germanic languages from AD 100 to the late Middle Ages. Its usage is mostly restricted to engravings on stone and jewelry, although inscriptions have also been found on bone and wood. These alphabets have since been replaced with the Latin alphabet, except for decorative usage for which the runes remained in use until the 20th century. The Old Hungarian script is a contemporary writing system of the Hungarians. It was in use during the entire history of Hungary, albeit not as an official writing system. From the 19th century it once again became more and more popular. The
Glagolitic alphabet The Glagolitic script (, , ''glagolitsa'') is the oldest known Slavic alphabet. It is generally agreed to have been created in the 9th century by Saints Cyril and Methodius, Saint Cyril, a monk from Thessaloniki. He and his brother, Saint Metho ...

Glagolitic alphabet
was the initial script of the liturgical language
Old Church Slavonic Old Church Slavonic or Old Slavonic () was the first Slavic literary language A literary language is the form of a language A language is a structured system of communication used by humans, including speech (spoken language), gestures (S ...
and became, together with the Greek uncial script, the basis of the
Cyrillic script The Cyrillic script ( ) is a writing system used for various languages across Eurasia and is used as the national script in various Slavic languages, Slavic, Turkic languages, Turkic, Mongolic languages, Mongolic, Uralic languages, Uralic, Caucas ...
. Cyrillic is one of the most widely used modern alphabetic scripts, and is notable for its use in Slavic languages and also for other languages within the former
Soviet Union The Soviet Union,. officially the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. (USSR),. was a that spanned during its existence from 1922 to 1991. It was nominally a of multiple national ; in practice and were highly until its final years. The ...
.
Cyrillic alphabets Numerous Cyrillic alphabets are based on the Cyrillic script , bg, кирилица , mk, кирилица , russian: кириллица , sr, ћирилица, uk, кирилиця , fam1 = Egyptian hieroglyphs , fam2 = Proto-Sinaitic ...
include the
Serbian Serbian may refer to: * someone or something related to Serbia, a country in Southeastern Europe * someone or something related to the Serbs, a South Slavic people * in both meanings, depending on the context, it may refer to: ** Serbian language ...
,
Macedonian Macedonian most often refers to someone or something from or related to Macedonia (disambiguation), Macedonia. Macedonian may specifically refer to: People Modern * Macedonians (ethnic group), the South Slavic ethnic group primarily associated w ...
,
Bulgarian Bulgarian may refer to: * Something of, from, or related to the country of Bulgaria * Bulgarians, a South Slavic ethnic group * Bulgarian language, a Slavic language * Bulgarian alphabet * A citizen of Bulgaria, see Demographics of Bulgaria * Bulg ...
,
Russian Russian refers to anything related to Russia, including: *Russians (русские, ''russkiye''), an ethnic group of the East Slavic peoples, primarily living in Russia and neighboring countries *Rossiyane (россияне), Russian language term ...

Russian
,
Belarusian Belarusian may refer to: * Something of, or related to Belarus * Belarusians, people from Belarus, or of Belarusian descent * A citizen of Belarus, see Demographics of Belarus * Belarusian language * Belarusian culture * Belarusian cuisine * Byeloru ...
and
Ukrainian Ukrainian may refer to: * Something of, from, or related to Ukraine * Something relating to Ukrainians an East Slavic people from Eastern Europe * Something relating to Demographics of Ukraine, in terms of demography: population of Ukraine * Somethi ...
. The Glagolitic alphabet is believed to have been created by
Saints Cyril and Methodius Cyril (born Constantine, 826–869) and Methodius (815–885) were two brothers and Byzantine The Byzantine Empire, also referred to as the Eastern Roman Empire, or Byzantium, was the continuation of the Roman Empire in its eastern pro ...

Saints Cyril and Methodius
, while the Cyrillic alphabet was invented by
Clement of Ohrid Saint Clement of Ohrid (Bulgarian language, Bulgarian and Macedonian language, Macedonian: , ; el, Άγιος Κλήμης της Αχρίδας; sk, svätý Kliment Ochridský; – 916) was one of the first First Bulgarian Empire, Medieval Bulg ...
, who was their disciple. They feature many letters that appear to have been borrowed from or influenced by the
Greek alphabet The Greek alphabet has been used to write the Greek language since the late ninth or early eighth century BC. It is derived from the earlier Phoenician alphabet, and was the first alphabetic script in history to have distinct letters for vowels ...

Greek alphabet
and the
Hebrew alphabet The Hebrew alphabet ( he, wikt:אלפבית, אָלֶף־בֵּית עִבְרִי, ), known variously by scholars as the Ktav Ashuri, Jewish script, square script and block script, is an abjad script used in the writing of the Hebrew language ...

Hebrew alphabet
. The longest European alphabet is the Latin-derived
Slovak alphabet The first Slovak orthography was proposed by Anton Bernolák (1762–1813) in his ''Dissertatio philologico-critica de litteris Slavorum'', used in the six-volume ''Slovak-Czech-Latin-German-Hungarian Dictionary'' (1825–1927) and used primarily ...

Slovak alphabet
which has 46 letters.


Asian alphabets

Beyond the logographic
Chinese writing Written Chinese () comprises Chinese characters used to represent the Chinese language. Chinese characters do not constitute an alphabet or a compact syllabary. Rather, the writing system is roughly Logogram, logosyllabic; that is, a character gen ...

Chinese writing
, many phonetic scripts are in existence in Asia. The
Arabic alphabet The Arabic alphabet ( ar, الْأَبْجَدِيَّة الْعَرَبِيَّة, ' or , ', ), or Arabic abjad, is the as it is codified for writing . It is written from right to left in a style and includes 28 letters. Most letters hav ...

Arabic alphabet
,
Hebrew alphabet The Hebrew alphabet ( he, wikt:אלפבית, אָלֶף־בֵּית עִבְרִי, ), known variously by scholars as the Ktav Ashuri, Jewish script, square script and block script, is an abjad script used in the writing of the Hebrew language ...

Hebrew alphabet
,
Syriac alphabet The Syriac alphabet ( ) is a writing system A writing system is a method of visually representing verbal communication Communication (from Latin ''communicare'', meaning "to share" or "to be in relation with") is "an apparent answer to ...
, and other
abjad An abjad () is a type of writing system A writing system is a method of visually representing verbal communication Communication (from Latin ''communicare'', meaning "to share" or "to be in relation with") is "an apparent answer to th ...

abjad
s of the Middle East are developments of the
Aramaic alphabet Aramaic (Syriac alphabet, Classical Syriac: ''Arāmāyā''; Old Aramaic language, Old Aramaic: ; Aramaic alphabet, Imperial Aramaic: ; Hebrew alphabet, square script ) is a language that originated among the Arameans in the ancient Syria (re ...

Aramaic alphabet
. Most alphabetic scripts of India and Eastern Asia are descended from the
Brahmi script Brahmi (; ISO 15919 ISO 15919 "Transliteration of Devanagari and related Indic scripts into Latin characters" is one of a series of international standards for romanization Romanization or romanisation, in linguistics, is the conversion o ...

Brahmi script
, which is often believed to be a descendant of Aramaic. In
Korea Korea is a region In geography, regions are areas that are broadly divided by physical characteristics (physical geography), human impact characteristics (human geography), and the interaction of humanity and the environment (environmental ...

Korea
, the
Hangul The Korean alphabet, known as Hangul, . Hangul may also be written as following South Korea's standard Romanization. in South Korea South Korea, officially the Republic of Korea (ROK), is a country in East Asia, constituting the ...

Hangul
alphabet was created by
Sejong the Great Sejong the Great (세종대왕, ; 15 May 1397 – 8 April 1450) was the fourth king of the Joseon dynasty The Joseon dynasty (also transcribed as Chosŏn or Chosun, ko, 대조선국; 大朝鮮國, ) was a Korean Korean may refer to: ...
. Hangul is a unique alphabet: it is a
featural alphabet In a featural writing system, the shapes of the symbols (such as letters) are not arbitrary but encode distinctive feature, phonological features of the phonemes that they represent. The term featural was introduced by Geoffrey Sampson to descri ...
, where many of the letters are designed from a sound's place of articulation (P to look like the widened mouth, L to look like the tongue pulled in, etc.); its design was planned by the government of the day; and it places individual letters in syllable clusters with equal dimensions, in the same way as
Chinese characters Chinese characters, also called ''hanzi'' (), are logogram In a written language A written language is the representation of a spoken or gestural language by means of a writing system. Written language is an invention in that it ...
, to allow for mixed-script writing (one syllable always takes up one type-space no matter how many letters get stacked into building that one sound-block).
Zhuyin Zhuyin () or Mandarin Phonetic Symbols, also nicknamed Bopomofo, is a major Chinese transliteration system for Mandarin Chinese Mandarin (; ) is a group of Sinitic languages, Sinitic (Chinese) languages natively spoken across most of no ...
(sometimes called ''Bopomofo'') is a
semi-syllabary 250px, A northeastern Iberian script, northeastern non-dual Iberian semi-syllabary. A semi-syllabary is a writing system that behaves partly as an alphabet and partly as a syllabary. The main group of semi-syllabic writing are the Paleohispanic scr ...
used to phonetically transcribe
Mandarin Chinese Mandarin (; ) is a group of Sinitic (Chinese) languages natively spoken across most of northern and southwestern China China (), officially the People's Republic of China (PRC; ), is a country in . It is the world's , with a of more ...
in the
Republic of China Taiwan, officially the Republic of China (ROC), is a country in East Asia. It shares Maritime boundary, maritime borders with the China, People's Republic of China (PRC) to the northwest, Japan to the northeast, and the Philippines to the sout ...

Republic of China
. After the later establishment of the
People's Republic of China China (), officially the People's Republic of China (PRC; ), is a country in East Asia East Asia is the eastern region of Asia Asia () is Earth's largest and most populous continent, located primarily in the Eastern Hemisphere ...

People's Republic of China
and its adoption of
Hanyu Pinyin ''Hanyu Pinyin'' (), often abbreviated to pinyin, is the official romanization Romanization or romanisation, in linguistics Linguistics is the scientific study of language, meaning that it is a comprehensive, systematic, objecti ...

Hanyu Pinyin
, the use of Zhuyin today is limited, but it is still widely used in
Taiwan Taiwan, officially the Republic of China (ROC), is a country in East Asia East Asia is the eastern region of Asia Asia () is Earth's largest and most populous continent, located primarily in the Eastern Hemisphere, Eastern and N ...

Taiwan
where the Republic of China still governs. Zhuyin developed out of a form of Chinese shorthand based on Chinese characters in the early 1900s and has elements of both an alphabet and a syllabary. Like an alphabet the phonemes of syllable initials are represented by individual symbols, but like a syllabary the phonemes of the syllable finals are not; rather, each possible final (excluding the medial glide) is represented by its own symbol. For example, ''luan'' is represented as ㄌㄨㄢ (''l-u-an''), where the last symbol ㄢ represents the entire final ''-an''. While Zhuyin is not used as a mainstream writing system, it is still often used in ways similar to a
romanization Romanization or romanisation, in linguistics Linguistics is the scientific study of language, meaning that it is a comprehensive, systematic, objective, and precise study of language. Linguistics encompasses the analysis of every aspec ...
system—that is, for aiding in pronunciation and as an input method for Chinese characters on computers and cellphones. European alphabets, especially Latin and Cyrillic, have been adapted for many languages of Asia. Arabic is also widely used, sometimes as an abjad (as with
Urdu Urdu (; ur, , ALA-LC ALA-LC (American Library Association The American Library Association (ALA) is a nonprofit organization A nonprofit organization (NPO), also known as a non-business entity, not-for-profit organization, or nonpr ...
and
Persian Persian may refer to: * People and things from Iran, historically called ''Persia'' in the English language ** Persians, Persian people, the majority ethnic group in Iran, not to be conflated with the Iranian peoples ** Persian language, an Iranian ...

Persian
) and sometimes as a complete alphabet (as with Kurdish and
UyghurUyghur may refer to: * Uyghurs, a Turkic ethnic group living in Eastern and Central Asia * Uyghur language, a Turkic language spoken primarily by the Uyghurs ** Uyghur alphabets, any of four systems used to write the language * Uyghur Khaganate, a T ...
).


Types

The term "alphabet" is used by Linguistics, linguists and paleographers in both a wide and a narrow sense. In the wider sense, an alphabet is a script that is ''segmental'' at the
phoneme In phonology and linguistics, a phoneme is a unit of sound that distinguishes one word from another in a particular language. For example, in most List of dialects of English, dialects of English, with the notable exception of the West Midlan ...
level—that is, it has separate glyphs for individual sounds and not for larger units such as syllables or words. In the narrower sense, some scholars distinguish "true" alphabets from two other types of segmental script,
abjad An abjad () is a type of writing system A writing system is a method of visually representing verbal communication Communication (from Latin ''communicare'', meaning "to share" or "to be in relation with") is "an apparent answer to th ...

abjad
s and
abugida An abugida (, from Ge'ez language, Ge'ez: አቡጊዳ), sometimes known as alphasyllabary, neosyllabary or pseudo-alphabet, is a segmental Writing systems#Segmental writing system, writing system in which consonant-vowel sequences are writt ...
s. These three differ from each other in the way they treat vowels: abjads have letters for consonants and leave most vowels unexpressed; abugidas are also consonant-based, but indicate vowels with
diacritic A diacritic (also diacritical mark, diacritical point, diacritical sign, or accent) is a glyph The term glyph is used in typography File:metal movable type.jpg, 225px, Movable type being assembled on a composing stick using pieces that ...
s to or a systematic graphic modification of the consonants. In alphabets in the narrow sense, on the other hand, consonants and vowels are written as independent letters. The earliest known alphabet in the wider sense is the Middle Bronze Age alphabets, Wadi el-Hol script, believed to be an abjad, which through its successor Phoenician alphabet, Phoenician is the ancestor of modern alphabets, including
Arabic Arabic (, ' or , ' or ) is a Semitic language The Semitic languages are a branch of the Afroasiatic language family originating in the Middle East The Middle East is a list of transcontinental countries, transcontinental region ...

Arabic
,
Greek#REDIRECT Greek Greek may refer to: Greece Anything of, from, or related to Greece Greece ( el, Ελλάδα, , ), officially the Hellenic Republic, is a country located in Southeast Europe. Its population is approximately 10.7 million as of ...

Greek
,
Latin Latin (, or , ) is a classical language belonging to the Italic languages, Italic branch of the Indo-European languages. Latin was originally spoken in the area around Rome, known as Latium. Through the power of the Roman Republic, it became ...

Latin
(via the
Old Italic alphabet The Old Italic scripts are a family of similar ancient writing systems used in the Italy, Italian Peninsula between around 700 and 100 BC, for various languages spoken in that time and place. The most notable member is the Etruscan alphabet ...
), Cyrillic (via the Greek alphabet) and
Hebrew Hebrew (, , or ) is a Northwest Semitic languages, Northwest Semitic language of the Afroasiatic languages, Afroasiatic language family. Historically, it is regarded as one of the spoken languages of the Israelites and their longest-survivi ...

Hebrew
(via
Aramaic Aramaic (Classical Syriac The Syriac language (; syc, / '), also known as Syriac Aramaic (''Syrian Aramaic'', ''Syro-Aramaic'') and Classical Syriac (in its literary and liturgical form), is an Aramaic Aramaic (Classical Syriac ...

Aramaic
). Examples of present-day abjads are the
Arabic Arabic (, ' or , ' or ) is a Semitic language The Semitic languages are a branch of the Afroasiatic language family originating in the Middle East The Middle East is a list of transcontinental countries, transcontinental region ...

Arabic
and Hebrew scripts; true alphabets include Latin script, Latin, Cyrillic, and Korean hangul; and abugidas are used to write tigrinya language, Tigrinya, Amharic language, Amharic, Hindi, and Thai language, Thai. The Canadian Aboriginal syllabics are also an abugida rather than a syllabary as their name would imply, since each glyph stands for a consonant that is modified by rotation to represent the following vowel. (In a true syllabary, each consonant-vowel combination would be represented by a separate glyph.) All three types may be augmented with syllabic glyphs. Ugaritic script, Ugaritic, for example, is basically an abjad, but has syllabic letters for . (These are the only time vowels are indicated.) Cyrillic is basically a true alphabet, but has syllabic letters for (я, е, ю); Coptic alphabet, Coptic has a letter for .
Devanagari Devanagari ( ; , , Sanskrit pronunciation: ), also called Nagari (),Kathleen Kuiper (2010), The Culture of India, New York: The Rosen Publishing Group, , page 83 is a left-to-right abugida, based on the ancient Brahmi script, ''Brāhmī'' sc ...

Devanagari
is typically an abugida augmented with dedicated letters for initial vowels, though some traditions use अ as a zero consonant as the graphic base for such vowels. The boundaries between the three types of segmental scripts are not always clear-cut. For example, Sorani Kurdish language, Kurdish is written in the Arabic script, which is normally an abjad. However, in Kurdish, writing the vowels is mandatory, and full letters are used, so the script is a true alphabet. Other languages may use a Semitic abjad with mandatory vowel diacritics, effectively making them abugidas. On the other hand, the Phagspa script of the Mongol Empire was based closely on the Tibetan script, Tibetan abugida, but all vowel marks were written after the preceding consonant rather than as diacritic marks. Although short ''a'' was not written, as in the Indic abugidas, one could argue that the linear arrangement made this a true alphabet. Conversely, the vowel marks of the Ge'ez alphabet, Tigrinya abugida and the Ge'ez alphabet, Amharic abugida (ironically, the original source of the term "abugida") have been so completely assimilated into their consonants that the modifications are no longer systematic and have to be learned as a syllabary rather than as a segmental script. Even more extreme, the Pahlavi abjad eventually became logogram, logographic. (See below.) Thus the primary Categorisation, classification of alphabets reflects how they treat vowels. For Tone (linguistics), tonal languages, further classification can be based on their treatment of tone, though names do not yet exist to distinguish the various types. Some alphabets disregard tone entirely, especially when it does not carry a heavy functional load, as in Somali language, Somali and many other languages of Africa and the Americas. Such scripts are to tone what abjads are to vowels. Most commonly, tones are indicated with diacritics, the way vowels are treated in abugidas. This is the case for Vietnamese alphabet, Vietnamese (a true alphabet) and Thai alphabet, Thai (an abugida). In Thai, tone is determined primarily by the choice of consonant, with diacritics for disambiguation. In the Pollard script, an abugida, vowels are indicated by diacritics, but the placement of the diacritic relative to the consonant is modified to indicate the tone. More rarely, a script may have separate letters for tones, as is the case for Hmong alphabet, Hmong and Zhuang alphabet, Zhuang. For most of these scripts, regardless of whether letters or diacritics are used, the most common tone is not marked, just as the most common vowel is not marked in Indic abugidas; in
Zhuyin Zhuyin () or Mandarin Phonetic Symbols, also nicknamed Bopomofo, is a major Chinese transliteration system for Mandarin Chinese Mandarin (; ) is a group of Sinitic languages, Sinitic (Chinese) languages natively spoken across most of no ...
not only is one of the tones unmarked, but there is a diacritic to indicate lack of tone, like the virama of Indic. The number of letters in an alphabet can be quite small. The Book Pahlavi scripts, Pahlavi script, an abjad, had only twelve letters at one point, and may have had even fewer later on. Today the Rotokas alphabet has only twelve letters. (The Hawaiian alphabet is sometimes claimed to be as small, but it actually consists of 18 letters, including the ʻOkina, ʻokina and five long vowels. However, Hawaiian Braille has only 13 letters.) While Rotokas has a small alphabet because it has few phonemes to represent (just eleven), Book Pahlavi was small because many letters had been ''conflated''—that is, the graphic distinctions had been lost over time, and diacritics were not developed to compensate for this as they were in
Arabic Arabic (, ' or , ' or ) is a Semitic language The Semitic languages are a branch of the Afroasiatic language family originating in the Middle East The Middle East is a list of transcontinental countries, transcontinental region ...

Arabic
, another script that lost many of its distinct letter shapes. For example, a comma-shaped letter represented ''g'', ''d'', ''y'', ''k'', or ''j''. However, such apparent simplifications can perversely make a script more complicated. In later Pahlavi papyrus, papyri, up to half of the remaining graphic distinctions of these twelve letters were lost, and the script could no longer be read as a sequence of letters at all, but instead each word had to be learned as a whole—that is, they had become
logogram In a written language A written language is the representation of a spoken or gestural language A language is a structured system of communication used by humans, including speech (spoken language), gestures (Signed language, sign lang ...
s as in Egyptian Demotic Egyptian, Demotic. The largest segmental script is probably an abugida,
Devanagari Devanagari ( ; , , Sanskrit pronunciation: ), also called Nagari (),Kathleen Kuiper (2010), The Culture of India, New York: The Rosen Publishing Group, , page 83 is a left-to-right abugida, based on the ancient Brahmi script, ''Brāhmī'' sc ...

Devanagari
. When written in Devanagari, Vedic Sanskrit has an alphabet of 53 letters, including the ''visarga'' mark for final aspiration and special letters for ''kš'' and ''jñ,'' though one of the letters is theoretical and not actually used. The Hindi alphabet must represent both Sanskrit and modern vocabulary, and so has been expanded to 58 with the ''khutma'' letters (letters with a dot added) to represent sounds from Persian and English. Thai has a total of 59 symbols, consisting of 44 consonants, 13 vowels and 2 syllabics, not including 4 diacritics for tone marks and one for vowel length. The largest known abjad is Sindhi language, Sindhi, with 51 letters. The largest alphabets in the narrow sense include Kabardian language, Kabardian and Abkhaz language, Abkhaz (for Cyrillic), with 58 and 56 letters, respectively, and Slovak language, Slovak (for the Latin script), with 46. However, these scripts either count digraph (orthography), di- and tri-graphs as separate letters, as Spanish did with ''ch'' and ''ll'' until recently, or uses
diacritic A diacritic (also diacritical mark, diacritical point, diacritical sign, or accent) is a glyph The term glyph is used in typography File:metal movable type.jpg, 225px, Movable type being assembled on a composing stick using pieces that ...
s like Slovak ''č''. The Georgian alphabet ( ka, ანბანი ') is an alphabetic writing system. With 33 letters, it is the largest true alphabet where each letter is graphically independent. The original Georgian alphabet had 38 letters but 5 letters were removed in the 19th century by Ilia Chavchavadze. The Georgian alphabet is much closer to Greek than the other Caucasian alphabets. The letter order parallels the Greek, with the consonants without a Greek equivalent organized at the end of the alphabet. The origins of the alphabet are still unknown. Some Armenian and Western scholars believe it was created by Mesrop Mashtots (Armenian: Մեսրոպ Մաշտոց Mesrop Maštoc') also known as Mesrob the Vartabed, who was an early medieval Armenian linguist, theologian, statesman and hymnologist, best known for inventing the Armenian alphabet c. 405 AD; other GeorgianGeorgian: ივ. ჯავახიშვილი, ქართული პალეოგრაფია, გვ. 205–208, 240–245 and Western scholars are against this theory. Most scholars link the creation of the Georgian script to the process of Christianization of Iberia, a core Georgian kingdom of Kartli. The alphabet was therefore most probably created between the conversion of Iberia under King Mirian III of Iberia, Mirian III (326 or 337) and the Bir el Qutt inscriptions of 430, contemporaneously with the Armenian alphabet. Syllabaries typically contain 50 to 400 glyphs, and the glyphs of logographic systems typically number from the many hundreds into the thousands. Thus a simple count of the number of distinct symbols is an important clue to the nature of an unknown script. The Armenian alphabet ( hy, Հայոց գրեր ' or ') is a graphically unique alphabetical writing system that has been used to write the Armenian language. It was created in year 405 A.D. originally contained 36 letters. Two more letters, օ (o) and ֆ (f), were added in the Middle Ages. During the 1920s orthography reform, a new letter և (capital ԵՎ) was added, which was a ligature before ե+ւ, while the letter Ւ ւ was discarded and reintroduced as part of a new letter ՈՒ ու (which was a digraph before). The Armenian script's directionality is horizontal left-to-right, like the Latin and Greek alphabets. It also uses bicameral script like those. The Armenian word for "alphabet" is ' (), named after the first two letters of the Armenian alphabet Ա այբ ayb and Բ բեն ben.


Alphabetical order

Alphabets often come to be associated with a standard ordering of their letters, which can then be used for purposes of
collation Collation is the assembly of written information into a standard order. Many systems of collation are based on numerical order or alphabetical order, or extensions and combinations thereof. Collation is a fundamental element of most office fili ...
—namely for the listing of words and other items in what is called ''
alphabetical order Alphabetical order is a system whereby character string In computer programming Computer programming is the process of designing and building an executable computer program to accomplish a specific computing result or to perform a parti ...
''. The basic ordering of the
Latin alphabet The Latin alphabet or Roman alphabet is the collection of letters originally used by the ancient Romans In historiography Historiography is the study of the methods of historian ( 484– 425 BC) was a Greek historian who lived ...

Latin alphabet
(A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z), which is derived from the Northwest Semitic "Abgad" order, is well established, although languages using this alphabet have different conventions for their treatment of modified letters (such as the French language, French ''é'', ''à'', and ''ô'') and of certain combinations of letters (Multigraph (orthography), multigraphs). In French, these are not considered to be additional letters for the purposes of collation. However, in
Icelandic Icelandic refers to anything of, from, or related to Iceland and may refer to: *Icelandic people *Icelandic language *Icelandic alphabet *Icelandic cuisine See also

* Icelander (disambiguation) * Icelandic Airlines, a predecessor of Icelandai ...
, the accented letters such as ''á'', ''í'', and ''ö'' are considered distinct letters representing different vowel sounds from the sounds represented by their unaccented counterparts. In Spanish, ''ñ'' is considered a separate letter, but accented vowels such as ''á'' and ''é'' are not. The ''ll'' and ''ch'' were also considered single letters, but in 1994 the Real Academia Española changed the collating order so that ''ll'' is between ''lk'' and ''lm'' in the dictionary and ''ch'' is between ''cg'' and ''ci'', and in 2010 the tenth congress of the Association of Spanish Language Academies changed it so they were no longer letters at all. In German, words starting with ''sch-'' (which spells the German phoneme ) are inserted between words with initial ''sca-'' and ''sci-'' (all incidentally loanwords) instead of appearing after initial ''sz'', as though it were a single letter—in contrast to several languages such as Albanian alphabet, Albanian, in which ''dh-'', ''ë-'', ''gj-'', ''ll-'', ''rr-'', ''th-'', ''xh-'' and ''zh-'' (all representing phonemes and considered separate single letters) would follow the letters ''d'', ''e'', ''g'', ''l'', ''n'', ''r'', ''t'', ''x'' and ''z'' respectively, as well as Hungarian and Welsh. Further, German words with an Diaeresis (diacritic)#Umlaut, umlaut are collated ignoring the umlaut—contrary to Turkish alphabet, Turkish that adopted the graphemes ö and ü, and where a word like ''tüfek'', would come after ''tuz'', in the dictionary. An exception is the German telephone directory where umlauts are sorted like ''ä'' = ''ae'' since names such as ''Jäger'' also appear with the spelling ''Jaeger'', and are not distinguished in the spoken language. The Danish orthography, Danish and Norwegian orthography, Norwegian alphabets end with ''æ''—''ø''—''å'', whereas the Swedish and Finnish orthography, Finnish ones conventionally put ''å''—''ä''—''ö'' at the end. It is unknown whether the earliest alphabets had a defined sequence. Some alphabets today, such as the Hanuno'o script, are learned one letter at a time, in no particular order, and are not used for
collation Collation is the assembly of written information into a standard order. Many systems of collation are based on numerical order or alphabetical order, or extensions and combinations thereof. Collation is a fundamental element of most office fili ...
where a definite order is required. However, a dozen Ugaritic alphabet, Ugaritic tablets from the fourteenth century BC preserve the alphabet in two sequences. One, the ''ABCDE'' order later used in Phoenician, has continued with minor changes in
Hebrew Hebrew (, , or ) is a Northwest Semitic languages, Northwest Semitic language of the Afroasiatic languages, Afroasiatic language family. Historically, it is regarded as one of the spoken languages of the Israelites and their longest-survivi ...

Hebrew
,
Greek#REDIRECT Greek Greek may refer to: Greece Anything of, from, or related to Greece Greece ( el, Ελλάδα, , ), officially the Hellenic Republic, is a country located in Southeast Europe. Its population is approximately 10.7 million as of ...

Greek
, Armenian alphabet, Armenian, Gothic alphabet, Gothic, Cyrillic, and
Latin Latin (, or , ) is a classical language belonging to the Italic languages, Italic branch of the Indo-European languages. Latin was originally spoken in the area around Rome, known as Latium. Through the power of the Roman Republic, it became ...

Latin
; the other, ''HMĦLQ,'' was used in southern Arabia and is preserved today in Ge'ez alphabet, Ethiopic. Both orders have therefore been stable for at least 3000 years. Runic alphabet, Runic used an unrelated Elder Futhark, Futhark sequence, which was later Younger Futhark, simplified.
Arabic Arabic (, ' or , ' or ) is a Semitic language The Semitic languages are a branch of the Afroasiatic language family originating in the Middle East The Middle East is a list of transcontinental countries, transcontinental region ...

Arabic
uses its own sequence, although Arabic retains the traditional abjadi order for numbering. The Brahmic family of alphabets used in India use a unique order based on phonology: The letters are arranged according to how and where they are produced in the mouth. This organization is used in Southeast Asia, Tibet, Korean hangul, and even Japanese kana, which is not an alphabet.


Names of letters

The Phoenician letter names, in which each letter was associated with a word that begins with that sound (acrophony), continue to be used to varying degrees in Samaritan alphabet, Samaritan,
Aramaic Aramaic (Classical Syriac The Syriac language (; syc, / '), also known as Syriac Aramaic (''Syrian Aramaic'', ''Syro-Aramaic'') and Classical Syriac (in its literary and liturgical form), is an Aramaic Aramaic (Classical Syriac ...

Aramaic
,
SyriacSyriac may refer to: *Syriac language, a dialect of Middle Aramaic * Syriac alphabet ** Syriac (Unicode block) ** Syriac Supplement * Neo-Aramaic languages also known as Syriac in most native vernaculars * Syriac Christianity, the churches using Syr ...
,
Hebrew Hebrew (, , or ) is a Northwest Semitic languages, Northwest Semitic language of the Afroasiatic languages, Afroasiatic language family. Historically, it is regarded as one of the spoken languages of the Israelites and their longest-survivi ...

Hebrew
,
Greek#REDIRECT Greek Greek may refer to: Greece Anything of, from, or related to Greece Greece ( el, Ελλάδα, , ), officially the Hellenic Republic, is a country located in Southeast Europe. Its population is approximately 10.7 million as of ...

Greek
and
Arabic Arabic (, ' or , ' or ) is a Semitic language The Semitic languages are a branch of the Afroasiatic language family originating in the Middle East The Middle East is a list of transcontinental countries, transcontinental region ...

Arabic
. The names were abandoned in
Latin Latin (, or , ) is a classical language belonging to the Italic languages, Italic branch of the Indo-European languages. Latin was originally spoken in the area around Rome, known as Latium. Through the power of the Roman Republic, it became ...

Latin
, which instead referred to the letters by adding a vowel (usually e) before or after the consonant; the two exceptions were Y and Z, which were borrowed from the Greek alphabet rather than Etruscan, and were known as ''Y Graeca'' "Greek Y" (pronounced ''I Graeca'' "Greek I") and ''zeta'' (from Greek)—this discrepancy was inherited by many European languages, as in the term ''zed'' for Z in all forms of English other than American English. Over time names sometimes shifted or were added, as in ''double U'' for W ("double V" in French), the English name for Y, and American ''zee'' for Z. Comparing names in English and French gives a clear reflection of the Great Vowel Shift: A, B, C and D are pronounced in today's English, but in contemporary French they are . The French names (from which the English names are derived) preserve the qualities of the English vowels from before the Great Vowel Shift. By contrast, the names of F, L, M, N and S () remain the same in both languages, because "short" vowels were largely unaffected by the Shift. In Cyrillic originally the letters were given names based on Slavic words; this was later abandoned as well in favor of a system similar to that used in Latin. Letters of Armenian alphabet also have distinct letter names.


Orthography and pronunciation

When an alphabet is adopted or developed to represent a given language, an orthography generally comes into being, providing rules for the spelling of words in that language. In accordance with the principle on which alphabets are based, these rules will generally map letters of the alphabet to the
phoneme In phonology and linguistics, a phoneme is a unit of sound that distinguishes one word from another in a particular language. For example, in most List of dialects of English, dialects of English, with the notable exception of the West Midlan ...
s (significant sounds) of the spoken language. In a perfectly phonemic orthography there would be a consistent one-to-one correspondence between the letters and the phonemes, so that a writer could predict the spelling of a word given its pronunciation, and a speaker would always know the pronunciation of a word given its spelling, and vice versa. However this ideal is not usually achieved in practice; some languages (such as Spanish language, Spanish and Finnish language, Finnish) come close to it, while others (such as English) deviate from it to a much larger degree. The pronunciation of a language often evolves independently of its writing system, and writing systems have been borrowed for languages they were not designed for, so the degree to which letters of an alphabet correspond to phonemes of a language varies greatly from one language to another and even within a single language. Languages may fail to achieve a one-to-one correspondence between letters and sounds in any of several ways: * A language may represent a given phoneme by a combination of letters rather than just a single letter. Two-letter combinations are called digraph (orthography), digraphs and three-letter groups are called trigraph (orthography), trigraphs. German language, German uses the tetragraphs (four letters) "tsch" for the phoneme and (in a few borrowed words) "dsch" for . Kabardian language, Kabardian also uses a tetragraph for one of its phonemes, namely "кхъу". Two letters representing one sound occur in several instances in Hungarian as well (where, for instance, ''cs'' stands for [tʃ], ''sz'' for [s], ''zs'' for [ʒ], ''dzs'' for [dʒ]). * A language may represent the same phoneme with two or more different letters or combinations of letters. An example is modern Greek which may write the phoneme in six different ways: , , , , , and (though the last is rare). * A language may spell some words with unpronounced letters that exist for historical or other reasons. For example, the spelling of the Thai word for "beer" [เบียร์] retains a letter for the final consonant "r" present in the English word it was borrowed from, but silences it. * Pronunciation of individual words may change according to the presence of surrounding words in a sentence (sandhi). * Different dialects of a language may use different phonemes for the same word. * A language may use different sets of symbols or different rules for distinct sets of vocabulary items, such as the Japanese hiragana and katakana syllabaries, or the various rules in English for spelling words from Latin and Greek, or the original Germanic languages, Germanic vocabulary. National languages sometimes elect to address the problem of dialects by simply associating the alphabet with the national standard. Some national languages like Finnish language, Finnish, Armenian language, Armenian, Turkish language, Turkish, Russian language, Russian, Serbo-Croatian language, Serbo-Croatian (Serbian language, Serbian, Croatian language, Croatian and Bosnian language, Bosnian) and Bulgarian language, Bulgarian have a very regular spelling system with a nearly one-to-one correspondence between letters and phonemes. Strictly speaking, these national languages lack a word corresponding to the verb "to spell" (meaning to split a word into its letters), the closest match being a verb meaning to split a word into its syllables. Similarly, the
Italian Italian may refer to: * Anything of, from, or related to the country and nation of Italy ** Italians, an ethnic group or simply a citizen of the Italian Republic ** Italian language, a Romance language *** Regional Italian, regional variants of the ...

Italian
verb corresponding to 'spell (out)', ''compitare'', is unknown to many Italians because spelling is usually trivial, as Italian spelling is highly phonemic. In standard Spanish language, Spanish, one can tell the pronunciation of a word from its spelling, but not vice versa, as certain phonemes can be represented in more than one way, but a given letter is consistently pronounced. French language, French, with its silent letters and its heavy use of nasal vowels and elision, may seem to lack much correspondence between spelling and pronunciation, but its rules on pronunciation, though complex, are actually consistent and predictable with a fair degree of accuracy. At the other extreme are languages such as English, where the pronunciations of many words simply have to be memorized as they do not correspond to the spelling in a consistent way. For English, this is partly because the Great Vowel Shift occurred after the orthography was established, and because English has acquired a large number of loanwords at different times, retaining their original spelling at varying levels. Even English has general, albeit complex, rules that predict pronunciation from spelling, and these rules are successful most of the time; rules to predict spelling from the pronunciation have a higher failure rate. Sometimes, countries have the written language undergo a spelling reform to realign the writing with the contemporary spoken language. These can range from simple spelling changes and word forms to switching the entire writing system itself, as when Turkey switched from the Arabic alphabet to a Latin-based Turkish alphabet. The standard system of symbols used by linguists to represent sounds in any language, independently of orthography, is called the International Phonetic Alphabet.


See also

* ''A Is For Aardvark'' * Abecedarium * Acrophony * Akshara * Alphabet book * Alphabet effect * Alphabet song * Alphabetical order * ''Butterfly Alphabet'' * Character encoding * Constructed script * Cyrillic * English alphabet *
Hangul The Korean alphabet, known as Hangul, . Hangul may also be written as following South Korea's standard Romanization. in South Korea South Korea, officially the Republic of Korea (ROK), is a country in East Asia, constituting the ...

Hangul
* NATO phonetic alphabet, ICAO (NATO) spelling alphabet * Lipogram * List of alphabets * Pangram * Thai script#Alphabet listing, Thai script * Thoth * Transliteration * Unicode


References


Bibliography

* * Overview of modern and some ancient writing systems. * * * Chapter 3 traces and summarizes the invention of alphabetic writing. * * * * * * * * Chapter 4 traces the invention of writing


External links


The Origins of abc

"Language, Writing and Alphabet: An Interview with Christophe Rico"
''Damqātum 3'' (2007) * Michael Everson'
Alphabets of Europe


animation by Prof. Robert Fradkin at the University of Maryland
How the Alphabet Was Born from Hieroglyphs
Biblical Archaeology Review
An Early Hellenic Alphabet



The Alphabet
BBC Radio 4 discussion with Eleanor Robson, Alan Millard and Rosalind Thomas (''In Our Time'', 18 Dec. 2003) {{Authority control Alphabets, Orthography