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Who created the alphabet? A historian describes the millennia-long story of the ABCs

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Who created the alphabet and made up our minds its order? – Priti C., age 12, Mumbai, India


A, B, C, D, E, F, G – makes you wish to have to hum the alphabet song. However there’s no actual explanation why other people will have to be told those letters on this order. There are many tactics lets construction the alphabet; the pc keyboard in entrance of me supplies one selection. Numerous different alphabets exist too, in addition to languages that don’t use alphabets in any respect.

So why did we finally end up with this one – and who’s chargeable for it?

As a historian, I really like “why” questions. I incessantly like them much more than “who” questions, as it’s if truth be told actually uncommon for a unmarried individual to switch the arena. As an alternative, maximum of historical past’s largest inventions come from teamwork, collaboration and teams understanding how you can make lifestyles higher, more uncomplicated and extra a laugh.

An enchanting tale at the origins of writing.

What’s a letter?

The alphabet is an ideal instance of this procedure. Our ABCs, referred to as the Latin alphabet, are the results of thousands and thousands of other people over 1000’s of years slowly operating in combination and in the end agreeing on which letters to make use of and beneath what instances.

To determine why they settled at the model now we have these days, you first want to perceive what a letter is and what an alphabet is. Then, you’ll be able to hint your as far back as the first actual examples of each.

Letters are symbols, similar to emojis or crosswalk indicators. Letters are shapes that we – the customers – go together with a valid in a selected language.

However many letters alternate sound totally once they seem in a distinct language. The English “H,” for instance, makes a “ha” sound, however the similar image “H” is pronounced as “en” in Russian; within the Cyrillic alphabet, “H” makes a “n” sound.

Even if the form and sound of a letter keep the similar inside of a unmarried language, the letters themselves may have other names. In The us, “Z” is named “zee,” whilst in Canada, the UK and just about each different English-speaking nation, it is named “zed.”

All this selection is conceivable as a result of letters, like languages, evolve and change over time in response to what native other people do out of dependancy or pattern or simply for the joys of it.

What’s an alphabet?

An alphabet is a choice of letter-symbols which were kind of standardized, and which incessantly – although now not at all times – replicate the entire sounds made in a selected language.

Some languages, like Chinese, don’t have alphabets in any respect, the use of symbols to constitute entire phrases. Others, like Cherokee, use symbols that constitute syllables.

The primary alphabet used to be invented in ancient Egypt, greater than 5,000 years in the past, and used to be advanced to document spiritual texts. That’s the place its identify “hieroglyphs,” or “sacred carvings,” comes from.

Hieroglyphs are stunning they usually do a just right activity recording prayers, however they’re tough to put in writing briefly, as a result of they’re so detailed and incessantly take the type of animals, people or day-to-day objects. Over the years, other people advanced simplified types of every glyph so they might take notes and write informally.

Whilst hieroglyphs had been most commonly utilized by clergymen and elites, commonplace other people, together with vacationers and buyers from different puts, learned informal writing. Those guests learned the Egyptians had advanced one thing helpful – a strategy to document gross sales or ship letters that may be transparent to those that may just learn it however mysterious to everybody else. Many of us by no means realized to learn in any respect, as a result of they didn’t want to or as a result of they had been denied get right of entry to to schooling.

As soon as guests realized hieroglyphs, the arena took a significant step towards the advent of our alphabet.

Vowels, consonants and the letter ‘J’

An important buyers on this length were from Phoenicia – identified these days as Syria, Lebanon and Israel – they usually unfold the alphabet to the cities and villages that surrounded the Mediterranean Sea.

The Phoenicians established alphabetical order to make it more uncomplicated to be told and percentage with others. However the Phoenicians and Egyptians used simplest consonants; in the end, as other people started to put in writing increasingly more, and extra phrases had to be created to explain various things, the Greeks adopted vowels.

The Greek alphabet seems so much like ours, however our letters took their ultimate shape in Italy. First the Etruscan other people, after which the Romans, tailored Greek letters to suit their language. The Romans unfold their language, Latin, and its alphabet all over the place fashionable Europe, the Close to East and North Africa. The earliest instance of the Latin alphabet in use is named the duenos inscription and is derived from the 6th century BCE, 2,500 years in the past.

Even then, the alphabet used to be nonetheless incomplete, as a result of Latin didn’t have all of the sounds which might be commonplace these days. The obvious is the letter “J”; despite the fact that the primary month of the Roman calendar used to be January, it used to be written with an “I,” “ianuarius,” and pronounced with a “ya” sound. The “J” came into use during the Renaissance – right through the 1500s in Europe – two or 3 centuries after the “W” used to be added, right through the Heart Ages.

And there’s no reason why to suppose the alphabet would possibly now not alternate once more. English, particularly, has a dependancy of borrowing phrases from different languages, like karaoke from Jap, cookie from Dutch and avatar from Sanskrit. Perhaps, on account of this borrowing, we would possibly in the end want to upload new symbols to our alphabet. Briefly, as the arena grows extra hooked up, the alphabet could have to conform. It received’t be the primary time.


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