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This article is about sets of letters used in written languages. The Proto-Canaanite script, later known as the Phoenician alphabet, is the first fully phonemic script. Thus the Phoenician alphabet is considered to be the first alphabet. Many languages use modified forms of the Latin alphabet, with additional letters formed using diacritical marks. 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.
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Knowing one’s ABCs”, in general, can be used as a metaphor for knowing the basics about anything. The history of the alphabet started in ancient Egypt. 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. The Proto-Sinaitic script eventually developed into the Phoenician alphabet, which is conventionally called “Proto-Canaanite” before ca. The oldest text in Phoenician script is an inscription on the sarcophagus of King Ahiram.
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 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. 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.
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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 was the initial script of the liturgical language Old Church Slavonic and became, together with the Greek uncial script, the basis of the Cyrillic script. The longest European alphabet is the Latin-derived Slovak alphabet which has 46 letters. Beyond the logographic Chinese writing, many phonetic scripts are in existence in Asia.
Most alphabetic scripts of India and Eastern Asia are descended from the Brahmi script, which is often believed to be a descendant of Aramaic. In Korea, the Hangul alphabet was created by Sejong the Great. Mandarin Chinese in the Republic of China. European alphabets, especially Latin and Cyrillic, have been adapted for many languages of Asia. 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.
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All three types may be augmented with syllabic glyphs. These are the only time vowels are indicated. 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 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. 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. 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 largest segmental script is probably an abugida, 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 largest known abjad is Sindhi, with 51 letters.
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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 century by Ilia Chavchavadze. The Georgian alphabet is much closer to Greek than the other Caucasian alphabets. Syllabaries typically contain 50 to 400 glyphs, and the glyphs of logographic systems typically number from the many hundreds into the thousands.
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Thus a simple count of the number of distinct symbols is an important clue to the nature of an unknown script. It was introduced by Mesrob Mashdots around 405 AD, an Armenian linguist and ecclesiastical leader, and originally contained 36 letters. Armenian alphabet Ա այբ ayb and Բ բեն ben. The Armenian script’s directionality is horizontal left-to-right, like the Latin and Greek alphabets. 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 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. 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.
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. 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. 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. Kabardian also uses a tetragraph for one of its phonemes, namely “кхъу”.
A language may represent the same phoneme with two or more different letters or combinations of letters. 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. Different dialects of a language may use different phonemes for the same word.
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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. 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. 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. The Blackwell Encyclopedia of Writing Systems. What Language Has the Largest Alphabet? Languages like Chinese, technically, do not use an alphabet but have an ideographic writing system.
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Chinese representing different words, syllables and concepts. The Development of the Western Alphabet”. Exclusivity—Mixed Script Predates the Japanese Colonial Period”. For critics of the abjad-abugida-alphabet distinction, see Reinhard G. How Many Letters Needs an Alphabet?
Alex de Voogt and Joachim Friedrich Quack, Leiden: Brill 2012, p. The Literature of Georgia: A History. Glen Warren Bowersock, Peter Robert Lamont Brown, Oleg Grabar. Late Antiquity: A Guide to the Postclassical World.
The Creation of the Caucasian Alphabets as Phenomenon of Cultural History”. Archived from the original on 2 January 2010. La ‘i griega’ se llamará ‘ye'”. The Writing Systems of the World. Overview of modern and some ancient writing systems.
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Schweich Lectures on Biblical Archaeology S. In the Beginning: A Short History of the Hebrew Language. Chapter 3 traces and summarizes the invention of alphabetic writing. The Alphabet Effect: A Media Ecology Understanding of the Making of Western Civilization. ETC: A Review of General Semantics. Mysteries of the Alphabet: The Origins of Writing.
Homer and the Origin of the Greek Alphabet. Writing: Theory and History of the Technology of Civilization. Look up alphabet in Wiktionary, the free dictionary. Wikimedia Commons has media related to Alphabets. Evolution of alphabets, animation by Prof. Diacritic is primarily an adjective, though sometimes used as a noun, whereas diacritical is only ever an adjective.
The main use of diacritical marks in the Latin script is to change the sound-values of the letters to which they are added. In Gaelic type, a dot over a consonant indicates lenition of the consonant in question. In other alphabetic systems, diacritical marks may perform other functions. Greek diacritical marks, which showed that letters of the alphabet were being used as numerals. This varies from language to language, and may vary from case to case within a language. In some cases, letters are used as “in-line diacritics”, with the same function as ancillary glyphs, in that they modify the sound of the letter preceding them, as in the case of the “h” in the English pronunciation of “sh” and “th”. The tilde, dot, comma, titlo, apostrophe, bar, and colon are sometimes diacritical marks, but also have other uses.