History of the alphabet

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Chart showing details of four alphabets' descent from Phoenician abjad, from left to right Latin, Greek, original Phoenician, Hebrew, Arabic.

The history of the alphabet begins in Ancient Egypt, more than a millennium into the history of writing. The first pure alphabet emerged around 2000 BCE to represent the language of Semitic workers in Egypt, and was derived from the alphabetic principles of the Egyptian hieroglyphs. Most alphabets in the world today either descend directly from this development, for example the Greek and Latin alphabets, or were inspired by its design.[1]

Early history[change | change source]

Beginnings in Egypt[change | change source]

By 2700 BCE the ancient Egyptians had developed a set of some 22 hieroglyphs to represent the consonants of their language, plus a 23rd that seems to have represented word-initial or word-final vowels. The first purely alphabetic script is thought to have been developed around 2000 BCE for Semitic workers in central Egypt. Over the next 500 years it spread north, and all subsequent alphabets around the world have either descended from it, or been inspired by one of its descendants, with the possible exception of the Meroitic alphabet, a 3rd century BCE adaptation of hieroglyphs in Nubia to the south of Egypt.

Semitic alphabet[change | change source]

The oldest examples are in Egypt and date to around 1800 BCE [1]/[2].[1] These inscriptions may show that the alphabet was invented in Egypt.[2]

References[change | change source]

  1. 1.0 1.1 Himelfarb, Elizabeth J. "First Alphabet Found in Egypt", Archaeology 53, Issue 1 (Jan./Feb. 2000): 21.
  2. Hamilton, Gordon J. "W. F. Albright and Early Alphabetic Writing", Near Eastern Archaeology 65, No. 1 (Mar., 2002): 35-42. page 39-49.