An ALPHABET is a standard set of letters (basic written symbols or graphemes ) that is used to write one or more languages based upon the general principle that the letters represent phonemes (basic significant sounds) of the spoken language . This is in contrast to other types of writing systems , such as syllabaries (in which each character represents a syllable ) and logographies (in which each character represents a word, morpheme , or semantic unit).
There are dozens of alphabets in use today, the most popular being
Alphabets are usually associated with a standard ordering of letters. This makes them useful for purposes of collation , specifically by allowing words to be sorted in alphabetical order . 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.
* 1 Etymology
* 2 History
* 2.1 Ancient Northeast African and Middle Eastern scripts * 2.2 European alphabets * 2.3 Asian alphabets
The English word _alphabet_ came into Middle English from the Late Latin word _alphabetum_, which in turn originated in the Greek ἀλφάβητος (_alphabētos_). The Greek word was made from the first two letters, _alpha _ and _beta _. The names for the Greek letters came from the first two letters of the Phoenician alphabet ; _aleph _, which also meant _ox_, and _bet _, which also meant _house_.
Sometimes, like in the 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 for knowing the basics about anything.
ANCIENT NORTHEAST AFRICAN AND MIDDLE EASTERN SCRIPTS
The history of the alphabet started in ancient Egypt . Egyptian writing had a set of some 24 hieroglyphs that are called uniliterals, to represent syllables that begin with a single consonant of their language, plus a vowel (or no vowel) to be supplied by the native speaker. These glyphs were used as pronunciation guides for logograms , to write grammatical inflections, and, later, to transcribe loan words and foreign names. A specimen of Proto-Sinaitic script , one of the earliest (if not the very first) phonemic scripts
In the Middle Bronze Age , an apparently "alphabetic" system known as the Proto-Sinaitic script appears in Egyptian turquoise mines in the 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 script with 30 signs including three that indicate the following vowel was invented in 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 , which is conventionally called "Proto-Canaanite" before ca. 1050 BC. The oldest text in Phoenician script is an inscription on the sarcophagus of King Ahiram . This script is the parent script of all western alphabets. By the tenth century, two other forms can be distinguished, namely Canaanite and Aramaic . The Aramaic gave rise to the Hebrew script. The South Arabian alphabet , a sister script to the Phoenician alphabet, is the script from which the Ge\'ez alphabet (an abugida ) is descended. Vowelless alphabets, which are not true alphabets, are called abjads , currently exemplified in scripts including Arabic , Hebrew , and Syriac . 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 ). These letters have a dual function since they are also used as pure consonants.
The Proto-Sinaitic or
The script was spread by the Phoenicians across the Mediterranean. In Greece, the script was modified to add the vowels, giving rise to the ancestor of all alphabets in the West. The vowels have independent letter forms separate from the consonants, therefore it was the first true alphabet. The Greeks chose letters representing sounds that did not exist in Greek to represent the vowels. The vowels are significant in the Greek language, and the syllabical Linear B 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.
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 . One of these became the
Some adaptations of the
Another notable script is Elder Futhark , which is believed to have evolved out of one of the Old Italic alphabets . Elder Futhark gave rise to a variety of alphabets known collectively as the Runic alphabets . 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.
Glagolitic alphabet was the initial script of the liturgical
Old Church Slavonic and became, together with the Greek
uncial script, the basis of the
Cyrillic script .
The longest European alphabet is the
Beyond the logographic Chinese writing , many phonetic scripts are in existence in Asia. The Arabic alphabet , Hebrew alphabet , Syriac alphabet , and other abjads of the Middle East are developments of the Aramaic alphabet , but because these writing systems are largely consonant -based they are often not considered true alphabets.
Zhuyin (sometimes called _Bopomofo_) is a semi-syllabary used to
phonetically transcribe Mandarin Chinese in the Republic of
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 and Persian ) and sometimes as a complete alphabet (as with Kurdish and Uyghur ).
Predominant national and selected regional or minority scripts ALPHABETIC ogographic and yllabic ABJAD ABUGIDA
History of the alphabet -------------------------
_ Egyptian hieroglyphs _ 32 c. BCE
* _ Hieratic _ 32 c. BCE
* _Demotic _ 7 c. BCE
* _Meroitic _ 3 c. BCE
* _Proto-Sinaitic _ 19 c. BCE
* _Ugaritic _ 15 c. BCE
* _Epigraphic South Arabian _ 9 c. BCE
* Ge’ez 5–6 c. BCE
* _Phoenician _ 12 c. BCE
* _Paleo-Hebrew _ 10 c. BCE
* Samaritan 6 c. BCE
* _ Libyco-Berber 3 c. BCE_
* _Paleohispanic _ (semi-syllabic) 7 c. BCE
* Aramaic 8 c. BCE
* _ Kharoṣṭhī _ 4 c. BCE
* _Brāhmī _ 4 c. BCE
* Brahmic family _(see)_
* E.g. Tibetan 7 c. CE
* Hangul (core letters only) 1443
* Canadian syllabics 1840
* Hebrew 3 c. BCE
* _Pahlavi _ 3 c. BCE
* _Avestan _ 4 c. CE
* _Palmyrene _ 2 c. BCE
* Syriac 2 c. BCE
* _Nabataean _ 2 c. BCE
* Arabic 4 c. CE
* N\'Ko 1949 CE
* _Sogdian _ 2 c. BCE
* _Orkhon (old Turkic)_ 6 c. CE
* _Old Hungarian _ c. 650 CE
* _Old Uyghur _
* Mongolian 1204 CE
* Mandaic 2 c. CE
* Greek 8 c. BCE
* _Etruscan _ 8 c. BCE
* Latin 7 c. BCE
* Cherokee (syllabary; letter forms only) c. 1820 CE
* _Runic _ 2 c. CE
* _Coptic _ 3 c. CE * _Gothic _ 3 c. CE * Armenian 405 CE * Georgian (origin uncertain) c. 430 CE * _Glagolitic _ 862 CE
* _Old Permic _ 1372 CE
* v * t * e
The term "alphabet" is used by 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 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, abjads and
abugidas . 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 diacritics 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 Wadi el-Hol script ,
believed to be an abjad, which through its successor Phoenician is the
ancestor of modern alphabets, including Arabic , Greek , Latin (via
Old Italic alphabet ),
Examples of present-day abjads are the Arabic and Hebrew scripts ;
true alphabets include Latin , Cyrillic, and Korean hangul ; and
abugidas are used to write Tigrinya , Amharic ,
All three types may be augmented with syllabic glyphs. Ugaritic , for
example, is basically an abjad, but has syllabic letters for /ʔa,
ʔi, ʔu/. (These are the only time vowels are indicated.)
The boundaries between the three types of segmental scripts are not
always clear-cut. For example,
Sorani 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,
Phagspa script of the
Mongol Empire was based closely on the
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 Tigrinya abugida and the 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 logographic .
(See below.) Ge\'ez Script of
Thus the primary classification of alphabets reflects how they treat vowels. For 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 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 (a true alphabet) and 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 and 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 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 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
and five long vowels. However, Hawaiian
The largest segmental script is probably an abugida,
The largest known abjad is Sindhi , with 51 letters. The largest
alphabets in the narrow sense include Kabardian and Abkhaz (for
The Georgian alphabet (Georgian : ანბანი _Anbani_) is
alphabetical writing system. It is the largest true alphabet where
each letter is graphically independent with 33 letters. Original
Georgian alphabet had 38 letters but 5 letters were removed in 19th
Ilia Chavchavadze . The Georgian
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 word for "alphabet" is այբուբեն _aybuben_
(Armenian pronunciation: ), named after the first two letters of the
Main article: Alphabetical order
Alphabets often come to be associated with a standard ordering of their letters, which can then be used for purposes of collation —namely for the listing of words and other items in what is called _alphabetical order _.
The basic ordering of the
In German, words starting with _sch-_ (which spells the German phoneme /ʃ /) 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 , 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 umlaut are collated ignoring the umlaut—contrary to 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 as _Jäger_ appear also with the spelling _Jaeger_, and are not distinguished in the spoken language.
The Danish and Norwegian alphabets end with _æ_—_ø_—_å_, whereas the Swedish and 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 where a definite order is required. However, a dozen
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 , Greek , Armenian , Gothic ,
Runic used an unrelated Futhark sequence, which was later simplified . 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 , Aramaic , Syriac , Hebrew , Greek and Arabic .
The names were abandoned in 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
ORTHOGRAPHY AND PRONUNCIATION
Main article: Phonemic orthography
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 phonemes (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 and 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 digraphs and three-letter groups are called trigraphs . German uses the tetragraphs (four letters) "tsch" for the phoneme and (in a few borrowed words) "dsch" for . 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 , _sz_ for , _zs_ for , _dzs_ for ). * 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: ⟨ι⟩, ⟨η⟩, ⟨υ⟩, ⟨ει⟩, ⟨οι⟩, and ⟨υι⟩ (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" 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 vocabulary.
National languages sometimes elect to address the problem of dialects by simply associating the alphabet with the national standard. However, with an international language with wide variations in its dialects, such as English , it would be impossible to represent the language in all its variations with a single phonetic alphabet.
Some national languages like Finnish , Turkish , Russian , Serbo-Croatian (Serbian , Croatian and Bosnian ) and 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 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 , 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 , 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
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
The standard system of symbols used by linguists to represent sounds in any language, independently of orthography, is called the International Phonetic Alphabet .
A Is For Aardvark _
Butterfly Alphabet _
* ^ _A_ _B_ _C_ Coulmas 1989 , pp. 140–141
* ^ _A_ _B_ _C_ _D_ Daniels & Bright 1996 , pp. 92–96
* ^ Coulmas, Florian (1996). _The Blackwell Encyclopedia of Writing
Blackwell Publishing . ISBN 0-631-21481-X .
* ^ Millard 1986 , p. 396
* ^ "What
* Coulmas, Florian (1989). _The Writing Systems of the World_.
Blackwell Publishers Ltd. ISBN 0-631-18028-1 .
* Daniels, Peter T.; Bright, William (1996). _The World's Writing
Oxford University Press
_ Look up ALPHABET _ in Wiktionary, the free dictionary.
_ Wikimedia Commons has media related to ALPHABETS _.
* The Origins of abc
* "Language, Writing and Alphabet: An Interview with Christophe
Rico", _Damqātum 3_ (2007)