Charles Morton's 1759 updated version of Edward Bernard's "Orbis eruditi",[1] comparing all known alphabets as of 1689
Terracotta jar (probably inkwell) with abecedarium of the Etruscan alphabet, 630–620 BCE

An alphabet is a standardized set of basic written symbols or graphemes (called letters) that represent the phonemes of certain spoken languages.[2] Not all writing systems represent language in this way; in a syllabary, each character represents a syllable, and logographic systems use characters to represent words, morphemes, or other semantic units.[3][4]

The first fully phonemic script, the Proto-Canaanite script, later known as the Phoenician alphabet, is considered to be the first alphabet and is the ancestor of most modern alphabets, including Arabic, Cyrillic, Greek, Hebrew, Latin, and possibly Brahmic.[5][6] It was created by Semitic-speaking workers and slaves in the Sinai Peninsula (as the Proto-Sinaitic script), by selecting a small number of hieroglyphs commonly seen in their Egyptian surroundings to describe the sounds, as opposed to the semantic values of the Canaanite language.[7][8] However, Peter T. Daniels distinguishes an abugida, or alphasyllabary, a set of graphemes that represent consonantal base letters that diacritics modify to represent vowels (as in Devanagari and other South Asian scripts), an abjad, in which letters predominantly or exclusively represent consonants (as in the original Phoenician, Hebrew or Arabic), and an "alphabet", a set of graphemes that represent both consonants and vowels. In this narrow sense of the word, the first true alphabet was the Greek alphabet,[9][10] which was based on the earlier Phoenician alphabet.

Of the dozens of alphabets in use today, the most popular is the Latin alphabet,[11] which was derived from the Greek alphabet, and which is now used by many languages worldwide, often with the addition of extra letters or diacritical marks. While most alphabets have letters composed of lines (linear writing), there are also exceptions such as the alphabets used in Braille.

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. ^ Edwin JEANS (1860). A Catalogue of Books, in all Branches of Literature, both Ancient & Modern ... on sale at E. Jeans's, bookseller ... Norwich. J. Fletcher. pp. 33–.
  2. ^ Pulgram, Ernst (1951). "Phoneme and Grapheme: A Parallel". WORD. 7 (1): 15–20. doi:10.1080/00437956.1951.11659389. ISSN 0043-7956.
  3. ^ Daniels & Bright 1996, p. 4
  4. ^ Taylor, Insup (1980), Kolers, Paul A.; Wrolstad, Merald E.; Bouma, Herman (eds.), "The Korean writing system: An alphabet? A syllabary? a logography?", Processing of Visible Language, Boston, MA: Springer US, pp. 67–82, doi:10.1007/978-1-4684-1068-6_5, ISBN 978-1-4684-1070-9, retrieved 19 June 2021
  5. ^ Cite error: The named reference Coulmas 140 was invoked but never defined (see the help page).
  6. ^ Daniels & Bright 1996, pp. 92–96
  7. ^ Goldwasser, O. (2012). "The Miners that Invented the Alphabet - a Response to Christopher Rollston". Journal of Ancient Egyptian Interconnections. 4 (3): 9–22. doi:10.2458/azu_jaei_v04i3_goldwasser.
  8. ^ Goldwasser, O. (2010). "How the Alphabet was Born from Hieroglyphs". Biblical Archaeology Review. 36 (2): 40–53.
  9. ^ Coulmas, Florian (1996). The Blackwell Encyclopedia of Writing Systems. Oxford: Blackwell Publishing. ISBN 978-0-631-21481-6.
  10. ^ Millard 1986, p. 396
  11. ^ Haarmann 2004, p. 96

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