The history of alphabet began with the Phoenicians during the 1800s and 1900s in Egypt. In the earliest form, the alphabet was in the form of hieroglyphics. Continue reading further to know more about the history of alphabet.
1. Introduction to The Alphabet
Way back in time, people used drawings on cave walls as a form of non-verbal communication. Though, the use of drawings would complicate things, especially for records, administration, science, and medicine. If you want to witness such writings back in history, you can visit some of the ancient monuments and shrines where the walls and the ceilings are filled with alphabets from the past. Some other interesting history of alphabets is listed below:
- 22 letters began during the Semitic language including the areas such as North Africa, Southern Europe, and the Iberian Peninsula.
- During the 11th century AD, 26 characters came into existence, which were later increased to 33 characters. (See What are the benefits of studying a foreign language?)
1. History of Alphabet
Looking back onto the history of alphabets, during 1800 and 1900 BC in the Proto – Canaanite period, alphabets came into existence. Although, researches reveal that its use was not so well-known. Greeks added vowels while Romans added Etruscan characters including G, J, V/U, W, Y, and Z. Read more about Who Invented The English Alphabet? here. Here are some other interesting facts about the history of alphabets:
- The existence of the concept of alphabets started way back in 2700 BCE, in ancient Egypt. Even the cave painting showed the early signs of alphabets with some of the oldest ones are found in the Middle East, China, and Central America.
- The letters in the language are often known as alphabets. Egyptian writing has a set of some 22 hieroglyphs. It begins with a single consonant of their language with the presence and absence of vowels. Though they seem like alphabets, these original words were not used in Egyptian speech.
- The Proto – Sinaitic form of writing began in the year 1800 and 1900 CC, but some thought that this script was developed early in Egypt around 1700 BCE. Since the appearance of letters was similar to Egyptian hieroglyphs it was believed so.
- This proto-Sinaitic was later developed into the Proto-Canaanite alphabet, which was later turned into the Phoenician alphabet and further developed into the South Arabian alphabet.
- Phoenician was the first-ever major Phonetic script which contained only two dozen letters which made it simple for traders to learn.
- But the common thing for the above scripts is that they lacked vowels, which made them look lesser than an alphabet. These vowelless alphabets are still found in some languages that are Hebrew and Arabic. Such languages are categorized as Semitic languages.
So, it is safe to stay that the history of alphabets started with Semitic languages. (Also See Do you know the Greek alphabet?)
2. History Behind Each English Alphabet
Now, that we know the history of alphabets, let us learn more about each English alphabet. The entire list of alphabets wasn’t made the way we believe it to exist. In the 16th century, modern alphabets came into existence as follows:
- Letter A: It began its journey in the 1800s as an upside-down of the currently existing alphabet A. Origin of this letter traces back to Egyptian hieroglyphs.
- Letter B: It represented a shelter about 4,000 years ago. Letter D in around 800BC was formed a triangle edged structure. The letter came from Egyptian pictogram, rune, and adaptions from Greek and Romans.
- Letter C: It has a Phoenician origin. It came into English through Latin. Letter C was taken from the Greek word gamma with the same shape as of today.
- Letter D: Its origin is from Egyptian hieroglyphs later it was borrowed by Greek and Latin and finally made its way to English.
- Letter E: It came through the Latin alphabet which adopted the Greek letter Epsilon, whose origin traces back to Semitic.
- Letter F: The word Waw which was adopted by Greek was later changed by Romans when they borrowed it from them. Then, it finally entered into the English language. Letter F looked more like Y at the time it was established, unlike the day’s shape.
- Letter G and H: Letter G was inspired by the Greek Zeta. It was introduced around 3,800 years and was pronounced as H before 700 BC. These two letters appeared in Rome around 200-300 BCE, these letters were adapted from Greek. The flowchart of adoption and borrowing letters started from Semitic, Phoenician, Greek, Latin, and finally to English. Letter H was used as a symbol for a fence in Greece.
- Letter I: Greek adopted this letter from Phoenicians and English borrowed this letter from Greek. Letter I was found during 700 BC and was known as iota by the Greeks.
- Letter J: This was the last letter added to the English alphabet. The development of this letter was under the influence of French and Spanish. Letter J in ancient times was mostly avoided and I was used instead
- Letter K: This word comes from the Semitic letter Kaf. Letter K was adopted in about 800 BC from the Egyptian hieroglyphics and was known as kappa which was flipped to the right.
- Letter L: It was adopted by Phoenicians through the Greek alphabet. Letter L was unlike the present-day L and was flipped upside down. The alphabet had its meaning the Phoenicians as the God.
- Letter M: Its origin is adapted from Egyptian hieroglyph which represents water. Letter M in the 1800BC has wavy vertical lines a. But, the advancement in 800 BC turned the alphabet to have a zigzag and a flipped horizontal letter M.
- Letter N: It was originated from hieroglyphs then was passed through Phoenician, Greek, Arabic, Latin, and finally English. Letter N was originated in 1000BC and was used to symbolize fish.
- Letter O: Originated from hieroglyphs and both the letters looked similar in a sense. In hieroglyphs, it represented the eye. Letter O was called an eye in Egypt.
- Letter P: Its current form was developed by Romans which was earlier adopted by Phoenicians. Letter P looked like an inverted V with a diagonal hook-like shape.
- Letter Q: It came from the Etruscans language through Romans. Letter Q initially was developed as a circle, unlike the modern-day alphabet.
- Letter R: It was adopted from Phoenician letter Resh.
- Letter S: Adapted by Romans from a Greek letter Sigma. Letter S was originally the flipped version of today’s alphabet.
- Letter T: One of the alphabets which found similarity in shape and sound in Phoenician, Etruscan, Greek, and Latin.
- Letter U, V, and Y: It is a trace to the Phoenician alphabet and from the letter Waw. U and V were distinguished around the 17th Letter U and V were used interchangeably in the 1400s.
- Letter W: This was developed from the digraph VV in the 14th
- Letter X: Its origin was Greek and was brought in by Romans
- Letter Z: It came from the word Zeta, which was borrowed by Romans from Greek. (See Kudos Origin and Meaning)