History of Alphabet;5 Facts You Must Know

It is believed that the history of the alphabet started in Ancient Egypt , when more than a millennium of writing history had passed . The first consonant alphabet would have appeared around 2000 BC, representing the language of the Semitic workers in Egypt (see Alphabets of the Middle Bronze Age ), and which was influenced by the alphabetical principles of Egyptian hieratic writing . Almost all alphabets in the world today are directly descended from, or inspired by, this development. [ 1 ]

The most widely used alphabet in the world is the Latin alphabet , [ 2 ] derived from the Greek alphabet , the first ” real ” alphabet, for consistently assigning letters to both consonants and vowels . [ 3 ] The Greek alphabet, in turn, came from the Phoenician alphabet , which in reality was an abjad – a system in which each symbol represents a consonant.


  • 1Prehistory
  • 2Consonantal alphabets
    • 1Semitic alphabet
    • 2Descendants of the Aramaic abjad
  • 3True alphabets
    • 1Greek alphabet
  • 4Notes and references
  • 5Bibliography

Prehistory [ edit | edit source code ]

Two writings are well attested since before the end of the fourth millennium BC; the Mesopotamian cuneiform and the Egyptian hieroglyphs . Both were well known in the Middle East region where the first alphabet to be used on a large scale, the Phoenician , emerged . There is evidence to show that the cuneiform is beginning to develop alphabetic properties in some of the languages ​​for which it has been adapted, as could be seen again later in ancient Persian cuneiform writing . The syllabary of Biblos has suggestive graphic similarities both with the hieratic Egyptian as well as with the Egyptian alphabet, but until today it has not been deciphered, and little can be said about the role he played – if at all – in the history of the alphabet.

Consonantal alphabets [ edit | edit source code ]

Semitic alphabet [ edit | edit source code ]

See also: Genealogy of protosinaitic derivative writings

The proto-Sinaitic writing of Egypt has not been fully deciphered. It appears, however, to be alphabetic, and it registered a text in the Canaanite language . The oldest examples were graffiti found in the Sinai region dating from around 1850 BC

Reconstructed ancestral form      
Phoenician ;
ʾAlp ox bet house gaml bat digg fish haw, hll hurray! waw hook zen, ziqq handcuff ḥet patio rodat wheel yad arm kap hand lamd spur mem water naḥš snake samek fish Olhoen eye curve piʾt ṣad plant qup monkey head roots šananuma bow signature taw

This Semitic writing allocated Egyptian hieroglyphics consonant values ​​based on their Semitic translations. [ 4 ] Thus, for example, the hieroglyph per (“house” in Egyptian) became bayt (“house” in Semitic). [ 5 ] Writing was used only sporadically, and maintained its pictographic nature for half a millennium, until it was adopted for administrative use in Canaan . The first Canaanite states to make extensive use of the alphabet were the Phoenician city-states , and for this reason the late stages of Canaanite writing are called the Phoenician alphabet.. These cities in Phenicia were maritime states , centers of a vast trade network; the Phoenician alphabet quickly spread across the Mediterranean . Two variants of the Phoenician alphabet had a major impact on the history of writing: the Aramaic alphabet and the Greek alphabet . [ 6 ]

Descendants of the Aramaic abjad [ edit | edit source code ]

Table showing the details of the four alphabets descended from the Phoenician abjad : from left to right, the Latin alphabet , the Greek , the original Phoenician , Hebrew and Arabic .

The Phoenician and Aramaic alphabets, like their Egyptian prototype, represented only consonants, a system called abjad . The Aramaic alphabet, which evolved from the Phoenician in the seventh century BC as official writing used in the Achaemenid Empire , seems to have been the ancestor of almost all modern Asian alphabets :

  • The Hebrew alphabet began as a local variant of imperial Aramaic (the original Hebrew alphabet is still used by Samaritans , in the form of the Samaritan alphabet ). [ 7 ] [ 8 ]
  • The Arabic alphabet is descended from the Aramaic alphabet, through the Nabataean alphabet , used in the region of present-day southern Jordan .
  • The Syriac alphabet , used after the 3rd century AD, evolved, through the Palavi and Sogdian , until it became the North Asian alphabets, such as the Orkhon script , the Uighur alphabet , the Mongolian alphabet and the Manchu alphabet .
  • The Georgian alphabet has an uncertain origin, but seems to be part of the Perso-Aramaic (or perhaps Greek) group.
  • The Aramaic alphabet is also the most likely ancestor of the Brahim alphabets of the Indian subcontinent (see Brami script ), which spread to Tibet , Mongolia , Indochina and the Malay archipelago , along with the Hindu and Buddhist religions . The China and Japan , however, although they have absorbed Buddhism, were already literate and retained their writing systems logographic and syllabic .
  • The Hangul alphabet was invented in Korea in the 15th century. Local tradition says it would have been a stand-alone invention; American Professor Gari Ledyard , however, of Columbia University , pointed out that parts of its consonantal system could have been based on half a dozen letters derived from Tibetan writing through the alphabet phagspa imperial, used by the Yuan Dynasty of China . Tibetan himself is a brami script. Considered unique among alphabets in the world, the rest of the consonants were derived from this central group, as a system of distinctive characteristics . [9 ]
Western ← Phoenician → Brami → Korean
Latin Greek Gujarat Devanagari Tibetan
C, G Г
D Δ ધ (ઢ) ध (ढ)
AND Ε (ㅱ)
F, V Ϝ, Υ
Z Ζ દ (ડ) द (ड) ད (ཌ)
Θ થ (ઠ) थ (ठ) ཐ (ཋ)
I, J Ι
L Λ ㄹㄹ
P Π પ, ફ प, फ པ, ཕ
s Σ
T Τ ત (ટ) त (ट) ཏ (ཊ)

The table shows how the alphabet spread to the west (Greek, Latin) and to the east (brami, Korean); the exact correspondence between the Phoenician (through Aramaic) to the brami, however, is uncertain, especially due to the hissing and the letters in parentheses. The transmission of the alphabet from Tibetan (through phagspa) to hangul is also controversial.

True alphabets [ edit | edit source code ]

Greek alphabet [ edit | edit source code ]


Main article: History of the Greek alphabet

Greek alphabet in ancient vase in black figure .

Around the 8th century BC the Greeks adapted the Phoenician alphabet to their own language, [ 10 ] creating in the process the first “true” alphabet, in which the vowels had a status equal to that of the consonants. According to the Greek legends transmitted by the historian Heródoto , the alphabet would have been taken from Phenicia to Greece by Cadmo . The letters of the Greek alphabet were the same as those of the Phoenician alphabet, and both were arranged in the same order. [ 10 ]However, while the presence of separate letters for vowels would have ended up hindering the legibility of the Egyptian, Phoenician or Hebrew, its absence was that it became problematic for Greek, a language in which the vowels play a much more significant role. [ 11 ] The Greeks used to represent the vowels some of the Phoenician letters that represented Phenician phonemes that had no equivalent in Greek. All the names of the letters of the Phoenician alphabet started in consonants, and these consonants indicated what the letters represented – a phenomenon known as the acrophonic principle .

As mentioned, several of these Phoenician consonants did not exist in Greek, and therefore several letter names started to be pronounced with initial vowels. As the name of the letter was supposed to indicate the sound of this letter, these letters started to designate vowels in Greek. For example, the Greeks did not have a glottal stop , or an h , so the Phoenician letters ‘ alep e h became alpha and o e (later epsilon ), and designating the vowels / a / and / e / , instead of consonants / ʔ / and / h /. As this change only generated five or six (depending on the dialect) of the twelve vowels existing in Greek at the time, the Greeks eventually created digraphs and other modifications, such as hey , or , and o (which became omega ), or in some cases merely ignored this deficiency, as in the case of long a , i and u . [ 12 ]

Several variants of the Greek alphabet have been developed. One, known as West Greek or Chalcidic , was used west of Athens and in southern Italy . Another variant, known as Eastern Greek , was used in Asia Minor (now Turkey ). The Athenians , around 400 BC, adopted this latter variation and eventually the rest of the Greek world followed suit. After initially writing from right to left, the Greeks eventually chose to write from left to right (unlike the Phoenician and most Semitic languages).


The Greek alphabet, in turn, became the source of all modern European writing . The alphabet of archaic Western Greek dialects, in which the letter eta remained an h , gave rise to the ancient and Roman italic alphabets . In the Eastern Greek dialects, which did not have a / h /, the eta took the place of a vowel, and remained as such in modern Greek and in all alphabets derived from these oriental variants, such as Glagolytic , Cyrillic , Armenian , Gothic (which used Greek and Roman letters) and, perhaps, Georgian .[ 13 ]

Although this description has presented the evolution of writing in a linear way, this is a simplified view. The Manchu alphabet , for example, which descended from the abjads of western Asia, was also influenced by the Korean hangul , which was considered either to be independent (traditional point of view) or itself to have been derived from the abugadas of South Asia. Georgian, on the other hand, apparently derives from the Aramaic family, but was strongly influenced, in his conception, by the Greek. The Greek alphabet is itself, in turn, a derivation of hieroglyphics through that first Semitic alphabet, which later adopted half a dozen demotic hieroglyphsadditional when it came to be used to spell the Coptic Egyptian ( Coptic alphabet ). The Cree syllabary , an abugid that appears to be a fusion of Devanagari and Pitman’s shorthand developed by missionary James Evans , an independent invention, also has its origins in cursive Latin writing.


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