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).
Proto-Canaanite script, later known as the
There are dozens of alphabets in use today, the most popular being
Latin alphabet (which was derived from the Greek ). Many
languages use modified forms of the Latin alphabet, with additional
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
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
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 . By the 27th
century BC, 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
Middle Bronze Age , an apparently "alphabetic" system known as
The Proto-Sinaitic or
Proto-Canaanite script and the Ugaritic script
were the first scripts with a limited number of signs, in contrast to
the other widely used writing systems at the time,
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
Some adaptations of the Latin alphabet are augmented with ligatures , such as æ in Danish and Icelandic and Ȣ in Algonquian ; by borrowings from other alphabets, such as the thorn þ in Old English and Icelandic , which came from the Futhark runes; and by modifying existing letters, such as the eth 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 , which uses the letters j, k, x, y and w only in foreign words.
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
Old Hungarian script
The longest European alphabet is
Beyond the logographic Chinese writing , many phonetic scripts are in
existence in Asia. The
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 -------------------------
* 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
* Paleohispanic (semi-syllabic) 7 c. BCE
* Aramaic 8 c. BCE
* Kharoṣṭhī 4 c. BCE
* Brāhmī 4 c. BCE
* E.g. Tibetan 7 c. CE
* 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
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
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 é, à, and ô) and of certain
combinations of letters (multigraphs ). In French, these are not
considered to be additional letters for the purposes of collation.
However, in Icelandic , 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
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.
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 the Great Vowel Shift : A, B, C and D are pronounced /eɪ, biː, siː, diː/ in today's English, but in contemporary French they are /a, be, se, de/. 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 (/ɛf, ɛl, ɛm, ɛn, ɛs/) remain the same in both languages, because "short" vowels were largely unaffected by the Shift.
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 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
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
* ^ 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)
Michael Everson 's Alphabets of Europe
* Evolution of alphabets, animation by Prof. Robert Fradkin at the
University of Maryland